My brother-in-law once told me “you go to college to get a degree, then you get a job and get an education.” The older I get, the more I realize how true those words are. In college, I remember thinking that upon graduation I would be completely prepared for the career I sought, but I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Graduating college proved that I was “qualified” for a certain position, and my GPA proved how well I did in class, but there was very little real world, professional experience involved in obtaining this degree. Unfortunately education has become the opportunity to earn a very expensive piece of paper that proves students had the discipline it took to get through, but didn’t necessarily prove that students had learned. True understanding would come well after graduation.
One of my favorite authors, Ally Fallon once said “I’m not as strong as I once was, yet I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be.” I believe wisdom begins the moment we realize how much we don’t know. There will always be much more to learn, and the experience we gain along the way is preparing us for the unknown. Experience and willingness to grow are our greatest teachers. The path to understanding will be full of setbacks and humbling moments, but if we remind ourselves that learning is always the goal, we will be on the path to become influential leaders.
This is why I believe effective professional learning is the catalyst in creating a learning revolution. Much of the professional development we experience today is similar to traditional “sit and get” school. We attend workshops, conferences, required in-service meetings, but it is rarely specific to my needs in my classroom. We have evidence of continued education credits as a ticket to renew our teaching certificate upon expiration, however the irony is that we still have to pay money to renew that certificate. The experience we gained through working in this career isn’t necessarily considered when it is time to renew. It is more about our willingness to swipe our credit cards so that a new expiration date appears under our renewed certificate. Does this prove we have learned anything in the process? College is for those able to pay or take out loans that will take a lifetime to pay back. A teaching certificate will be renewed as long as we are willing to pay money toward keeping it current. This creates a pattern that education is for those who have funds to pay for it. There has to be a better way to help teachers grow, expand their professional learning experience that is meaningful and relevant to their context. Our students’ time matters, but our teachers’ time matters, too.
Professional learning should be just that, learning. If we expect our students to be learning, then we should be given authentic opportunities to learn as well. School was intended to be for learning, however it has become more about how to “do school.” Often, I’ve heard “oh he/she doesn’t like school.” I understand that. Many students don’t like school, but I have a difficult time believing that they wouldn’t like learning if they were given opportunities to do so. It is difficult to see where our education system went “south,” so it’s hazy when attempting to cast blame. It is easy to complain and justify our complaints with all that is wrong with our education system, but that is wasting time and removing our focus back to the intended goal: learning. We have far too often embraced the “whirlwind” of school and our to-do list, and lost sight of why we do what we do. If learning is the goal, then it should always be our focus.
Over the last 9 months of learning within the Digital Learning and Leading program, I have developed an Innovation Plan that focuses on implementing campus-wide Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Blended Learning for our students. As I considered how to best execute this plan, I reflected on professional learning for our teachers, myself included. From what I have observed over the last seven years of teaching, new ideas are often tough to gain “buy-in” because so often teachers feel defeated when attempting to implement something new because their initial exposure to this new idea never went beyond that: exposure. We not only have to expose these new ideas, but to effectively execute them there must be ongoing training that is specific to each teacher’s needs. It must be modeled in their classroom with their students as well as ongoing support while they adopt new pedagogies. Much of the professional development trainings we attend are ineffective not because they’re not good or interesting, but because it’s a limited “sit and get” rather than active and ongoing.
Through this year-long training period, we will train a new teaching cohort in PBL and Blended Learning.
Fallon, A. (2016, Sept). Running, hiding, and falling in love. Retrieved from https://allisonfallon.com/falling-in-love/