Sit quietly and take your notes
Have you ever stopped and really thought about the way that many of us engage in professional learning?
We arrive at the training venue and find a seat among other eager learners. Clutching our coffees, water bottles and notepads, we sit, ready to absorb the wisdom of the expert. We listen to their anecdotes, jot down research links and view slideshows of images and content designed to inspire us to reflect on our practice. Sometimes we find ourselves in hands-on workshops, where we are able to engage with materials and test out ideas, under the guidance of a trainer. Many of us have also embraced new technology and spend an evening in our pyjamas, in front of the computer, watching a webinar.
Sounds pretty standard right?
What if we thought about how children engage with learning?
Harry (4yrs) arrives at the service, excitedly waving to his friends as he walks through the door. In one hand he holds a shell and he quickly tells Carmen (educator) that he found it on the beach this weekend. He wonders if there was an animal living in it and asks if they can get out the big book on sea animals that he knows is in the storeroom. With a few friends joining him, they look through the book carefully, until they discover that the shell may have indeed belonged to a hermit crab.
Emme (5yrs) wonders why the shell is empty now and the children begin hypothesisng, as Carmen scrawls notes about their discussion. Harry suggests that they find a video of the hermit crab leaving its shell on YouTube to try and answer the question. The exploration continues throughout the day, with children finding books and resources to further their thinking and engaging in lively debate with one another.
Sounds pretty great right?
So, why do we take such a different approach to professional learning?
We wax lyrical about the child’s ability to wonder about the world and develop his or her own ideas, yet when it comes to adult learning, we seem destined to experience death by PowerPoint!
Turning it upside down
In my role, this is something I have been reflecting on a lot over the past year. If we view children as co-constructors of their learning, surely educators should be viewed in the same way. And while we have all been to professional learning sessions where educators are regularly asked for their ideas, input or examples, I wonder if that is still quite superficial?
What would it look like if educators were “in charge” of their own professional learning?
You arrive at the training venue armed with your water bottle, your notepad and a book that you have been reading. The facilitator opens the discussions and encourages you to share what is currently plaguing your thoughts. As you talk briefly about the book and the challenges it is raising for you, you see two other educators nodding furiously. They too have read this book and are excited to delve deeper into its ideas.
The three of you break away from the main group and find a comfortable place to debate the content of the book and reflect on the implications it has for your practice. The facilitator joins your group throughout the morning and asks questions that inspire the group to seek out more research linked to the book. Your group spends over three hours locked in deep discussion about the book and you leave filled with answers, more questions and an excitement to get back to your setting and test out some theories!
And there you have it.
Just like that, the educator has progressed from passive recipient of learning, to active collaborator of learning. Too often, we simply sit and listen, occasionally taking notes or asking questions.
But what if we were to stop thinking of ourselves as simply receivers of knowledge, and embraced reciprocity in professional learning?
UNcon, and other unconventional ideas
The idea was well and truly embraced by Jeff Johnson and Lisa Murphy who, in 2015 launched UNcon – “an event where attendees are in charge, where conversation is king, and where the schedule bends to the needs of the people involved.”
When my Inspired EC Co-founder Tash, and I attended the 2017 World Forum in New Zealand, we were delighted to find a community of passionate professionals from all over the world who had so much responsibility for their own learning.
Stop and think even about our discussions in the many early childhood groups on Facebook. How many times have you engaged in a discussion or heated debate and grown your knowledge or had something pique your interest and lead you to seek more information? You participated in those conversations by choice. No one booked you in and said “next month you will be attending training on…”!
Sure, there are times (just like with children) when direct instruction is essential – First Aid and Child Protection training springs to mind, and of course, there is validity in listening to a truly wonderful speaker share their knowledge, research and experiences. I am not for a moment suggesting that these opportunities go by the wayside, simply that there are other ways of engaging in professional learning.
If you find yourself thinking “but I’m not an expert, I have nothing to offer”, firstly – you are wrong! We all have something to offer. Secondly – be brave! Look for opportunities to expand your knowledge that encourage you to ask questions, hypothesise, debate and research.
Take charge of your own professional learning.