Sunday, 3 March 2019

Teacher Professional Learning and Development [BES] and my Raranga Matihiko facilitation

I felt the need to re-read Teacher Professional Learning and Development to ensure that my understanding of effective professional learning and my practice as Raranga Matihiko facilitator are on the same page. Integrating with this my trusted Golden Circle approach, I need to start with the Vision: Why are we doing this?, followed by the How are we doing this?, and finally What are we doing?

My personal professional vision has long been to provide the learners in Northland, despite their geographical isolation, their socio-economic background and any other 'challenges', with the best learning opportunities, on par with - or even beyond - what their city peers experience. 'Learners' of any age, students and teachers and school leaders and whānau etc. In the Raranga Matihiko context we are providing a PLD programme to a teacher and their class, supporting them to become experts and share their learning with others in their school and community. I have often thought of the impacting on one person, or a group of people, who then have an impact on others like the ripple effect on the water: You drop a pebble onto the water, and the rings spread out from there; so our Raranga Matihiko programme becomes the pebble, and their sharing of expertise is like the ripples. We want to be one of the factors that allow those ripples to travel further.
My explicit vision for Raranga Matihiko is to support teachers (and school leaders) to provide effective and integrated learning opportunities to their learners which allow them to develop their competence in regards to Digital Technology Hangarau Matihiko. We go about this by providing teachers from selected schools with information about the added DT HM content, show them how to integrate this with other learning area and model learning experiences with them & their learners, utilising the collections at Waitangi as well as the digital technology available within our Raranga Matihiko lab. [Thanks to that German upbringing I can construct rather complex sentences lol].

How does the way we facilitate our programme fit with effective PLD as synthesised by Timperley, Wilson, Barrer & Fung 2007? 
Most of the following quotes are from 11.3 bringing it all together, chapters for other quotes as indicated.

The authors note: "In the few studies that provided evidence of sustained, substantive students outcomes, we found that the professional development had equipped teachers with a strong theoretical base that served as a tool to make principled changes to practice..." (my emphasis). We encourage our teachers to attend our Teacher Planning Day (and we try to make attending easier by the programme paying for their teacher release if required). During that day we go over the new DT HM curriculum content in quite some detail, and we encourage teachers to do a similar activity with their colleagues back at school. Teachers who can't attend that day are invited to come on a different day, observe a class in the lab at Waitangi and then stay on after that class finishes to go through a condensed version of the TPD incl. collaborate programme planning. All teachers are provided with a copy of the new DT HM content via the shared Google Drive. During the work with the class I try to make a point to refer back to the curriculum content in conversation with the teacher, point out where students are demonstrating their competence regarding an aspect of a Progress Outcome and / or how the teacher might want to build on this in class.

Further on, the authors write: "The most successful interventions allowed teachers considerable autonomy to develop teaching programmes within the constraints of agreed theories and possible solutions" (my emphasis). We invite the teachers to fully co-construct their class' Raranga Matihiko programme with us, but the reality is that while they provide us with their inquiry project and desired learning outcomes, it is mainly us facilitators who come up with the final programme, keeping in mind not only our DT expert knowledge but also our understanding of other constraints like time, number of devices available etc. - and so far all teacher seem to have been happy with that. The programmes teachers implement in their classrooms from there are fully under the discretion of the teacher. If we had more time available, I would love to open up the planning of the RM sessions to more input from the teacher and would like to support the teachers more with the implementation in their classrooms.

I completely agree with this statement in the final conclusions: "Ongoing engagement of this kind requires a purpose" (my emphasis) - in fact I believe that any worthwhile learning needs some purpose, leading to some sort of outcome. Timperley et. al. 3.1 Determining student outcomes talk about "...academic, social, personal or performance outcomes". For me, the purpose of professional learning might be to influence students' academic, social, personal or performance. Beyond that, we have anecdotally noted an very high level of student engagement in our Raranga Matihiko classes, and increased engagement often supports other desired outcomes. In my opinion, the fact that DT HM is compulsory to be taught in NZ schools from 2020 is not enough of a purpose in itself, the teachers need to see how the inclusion of this new content will benefit students.

The biggest challenge for myself as facilitator is provided by the following statement (final paragraph of 11.3 Brining it all together): "A key finding of the synthesis has been that teachers need to have time and opportunity to engage with key ideas and integrate those ideas into a coherent theory of practice" (my emphasis). Teachers (and RM facilitators...) are notoriously time poor; however, by this PLD programme running concurrently with the teacher and the students, integrating with their regular inquiry project, I hope it is less of an add-on and therefore allows the teacher the time to engage with the ideas. By modelling in context with their students while the teacher observes and supports the RM facilitators, we try to show the integration of the new learning (integrating the new curriculum content with other learning), hoping to make it easier for teachers to implement this into practice back in the classroom.

There are some areas I don't feel my practice measures up yet:

Learning as Inquiry
Timperley et. al. talk about "... professional, self-regulated learning. [...] self-regulated learners can answer three questions: 'Where am I going?', 'How am I going?', and 'Where to next?'" as the conditions evidenced in studies of Professional Learning that led to sustained, substantive student outcomes. For me this sounds like Teaching as Inquiry, a vital part of professional practice for many NZ educators. I particularly like this spiral interpretation of the process by Timperley, Kaser & Halbert 2014:


I don't think that I have talked with teachers enough yet how their participating in the Raranga Matihiko programme fits with their professional inquiry, or how it could be part of a professional inquiry. I need to reflect more on how I can facilitate such conversations.

Where to next?
Directly taken from above quote, I have been worried about not providing teachers with enough guidance myself about the 'where to next'. However, in reflection I have come to the conclusion, it is not about me giving them with the where to, it is about directing them to places where they can learn about the 'where to next', such as Kia Takatū ā-Matihiko etc. As per my previous post, I still somewhat mourn the loss of a commonly-used and central online platform dedicated to learning and teaching around digital technology. We are still working on providing some sort of online platform/resource that can support teachers with their journey.

School Leaders
"Leaders had an active role to play in re-culturing their school so that they became evidence- informed"; while I have met some of the principals on the class visit to Waitangi or during our school visits, I have not had an in-depth conversation with most of them. Can I assume that they are behind and driving the integrated learning we are promoting with Raranga Matihiko? Again, more reflection on my part required...

There is much more in this synthesis, about student learning, how to assess effectiveness etc. but for now the sunshine calls - expect another post around this in the future...

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