Contexts for Professional Discourse

. . . or just plain old good conversations about the teaching profession!

One of my personal highlights of getting back to schools is the evolution of a mini professional learning community. This year, I have been able to assemble a small group of eleven teachers who are in their first few years of teaching.

We’ve broken that group down into two smaller groups. I meet with each group several times, with the purpose of observing some lead teachers. I am banking that the main event is not when we go as a group to observe the lead teacher’s class, but rather when we spend about 1.5 hours debriefing.

I can say that the first few meetings have yielded positive and open discussions. These teachers are getting to know each other better on a professional level. Being right there with them, I am getting a better idea of where they are coming from and can direct suggestions and resources to support them.

We meet in small groups, groups of two or three, and as individuals. The idea is to build a learning network that extends beyond the formal discussions of the professional development to the informal, informed, and ongoing conversations about best practice.

These new conversations are embedded in contexts and shared experience. Nobody is talking at us telling us how it should be done! We are figuring things out in an inclusive, participatory, and reflective model.

I see a model of most teachers from various departments in the school continuing their professional growth in this manner over time. In this model, teachers are encouraged and supported in the development of their Personal Learning Network—

How can we structure the (personal learning) network in such a way as to maximize the maximal value? I have suggested four criteria: diversity, autonomy, openness, and connectedness (or interactivity).

For example, networks that are more diverse – in which each individual has a different set of connections, for example – produce a greater maximal value than networks that are not.

—from The Personal Learning Network Effect by Stephen Downes

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