When professional learning mirrors the student experiences we hope to create, teachers inherently have a deeper understanding of the feelings and effects on the learning that the experience creates. Understanding how students might feel has the potential to elevate teachers’ commitment to change since they are able to understand firsthand how active learning supports deep learning (Sawyer & Stukey, 2019).
It seems obvious, right? Good instruction is good instruction–whether we are working with 4th graders or experienced teachers. Unfortunately, many professional learning opportunities rely on a transmission model–the facilitator presents information and the participants “absorb” the content. Then, they are expected to enact it! Sometimes, we label sessions like this, “sit and get.” Consider the following vignette:
The scenario above plays out in districts all over the county many times a year. One missing piece is that participants never actually experienced the learning necessary to enact a different instructional routine into their own practice. Consider an alternative scenario:
While the vignette is simplistic, it highlights an important part of planning for professional learning. First, the experiences the teachers had were very similar to the experiences we would want the students to have: a piece of text was presented and a discussion to deepen the understanding of the text was facilitated. Through that experience, the teachers learned about the instructional strategy. They then had the opportunity to connect that learning to the relevant materials they use every day. The experiences the teachers had in professional learning mirrored the experience we want them to use with their students.
How might we begin to think more deeply about professional learning experiences and the opportunities for teacher engagement?
Simply, we can engage adults in active learning–teachers benefit from constructing their own knowledge and engaging in action in the same way that students do. Active learning refers to participants being engaged in their learning through observations, discussions, planning, and practice. This characteristic is in direct contrast to the “sit and get,” passive learning models that have been typically promoted in professional development (Sawyer & Stukey, 2019). Meaningful active learning occurs when learners are both actively engaged in constructing knowledge and provided many opportunities to apply newly learned skills.
Think about the professional learning you plan and ask yourself the following two important questions:
- Are teachers directly engaged in constructing knowledge?
- Are they actually applying new skills they have learned?
Then, think about how your plans mirror classroom experiences.
- Are you modeling what you are teaching? If you are discussing facilitation skills with teachers, are you modeling by facilitating a rich discussion using all the techniques are teaching?
- Are you bringing technology into the opportunity in rich and extensive ways?
- Are you offering opportunities for your participants to talk to one another about their learning?
- Have you built quiet time for reflection into your session?
- Is there a “call to action” at the end? Are teachers encouraged to go back and try out the new technique on their own?
Mirroring the experiences children have in classrooms allows teachers the opportunity to feel what their students feel. Our call to action for you? Elevate your teachers’ commitment to change by making the professional learning you offer a mirror of what you hope might be happening in classrooms.