Educationally obese?

I love all things education. I get excited about reading a new educational book (in fact I am slightly obsessed with purchasing edubooks.) I often sign up for, and attend educational webinars. Regularly, I can be found out running and at the same time listening to an edu-podcast. And yesterday, I was proud to have co-hosted the inaugural ScotEd online professional learning festival – a full day of listening and chatting with other teachers about learning and teaching. My hope is that the event might have inspired others to discover what I already value about professional learning.

It’s been interesting for me to think about what I get out of all of this. Many might see reading, participating in online courses or listening to podcasts as more ‘work’ in an already busy world. In a profession which is already saturated with ‘to do’ lists and never-ending jobs, I can understand why others may be reluctant to spend their precious time in this way. In fact my own husband, commented during lockdown that i needed to switch off from reading edubooks otherwise I may become ‘educationally obese.’ Indeed, it has become a worry that I ensure a positive work/life balance. So this blog will share some of the benefits I’ve personally gained from professional learning. And some of the ways I am attempting to ensure that instead of ‘pigging out’ on the wide menu available and doing very little to burn off the wealth of knowledge I am gaining, I’m going to attempt to make healthier choices which combined with research and sharing classroom practice, will instead nourish and sustain my appetite for being the best I can be for our young people.

Last week my blog looked at well-being, so it is important to point out firstly that I do value, and enjoy other things in life beside my job. Fresh air, time with my boys, meeting family and friends, running, reading fiction, baking cakes and this year I’ve learned how to paddle board. As teachers, it’s vital that we put self-care high on our agenda. We cannot look after young people if we don’t look after ourselves. I encourage my own team to relax and recharge at the weekend and the benefits of this can clearly be seen in the classroom. But like our well-being, I think its also important within our professional lives to commit time to learning, for reasons which I’ll explain in more detail later. Someone once explained to me that they like to think of integrating exercise into their daily routine, in the same way as they would brush their teeth. It becomes something they do almost without thinking about it. And part of me feels this is important for professional learning in schools too. In my opinion, if we want to improve outcomes for young people, it is vital that staff are actively involved in their own professional learning. I’ve heard a few people use the analogy that we wouldn’t be keen to visit a doctor who had qualified several years ago but hadn’t kept up to date with new research or developments. So too, should teachers be keen to continue to develop as professionals.

For me, professional learning and the connection and collaboration with other teachers, has completely revitalised my teaching practice. It has made me really excited about teaching and increased my job satisfaction immensely. Wouldn’t it be great if that impact could ripple out to all teachers? Discovering more about retrieval practice, dual coding and cognitive load have all allowed me to think differently about my questioning, feedback and explanations, which has resulted in instant impact on the motivation and achievement of the young people. In many ways, it has allowed me to strip back my teaching, and focus on key areas of pedagogy and for this reason I think I have been more effective as a teacher. Many of the things I have learned in recent months made me question why I had never learned this in Initial Teacher Education. But I am so thankful I have discovered it now. And just like when we discover a new fabulous restaurant, or a great diet tip which works, we want to share it with others. ScotEd was a great example of a range of inspiring and knowledgeable educators all sharing their expertise so that others could benefit. And this was perhaps the biggest driver for organising the conference.

This weekend, I heard David Weston (@informed_edu) discuss how important it is to lead by example in regard to professional learning. I regularly share my professional reading with my poor husband, or with colleagues, and we discuss ideas or research which I’ve gleamed from other educators. This session I plan to commit much more time within our department meetings to share and discuss educational literature with the hope that by modelling this approach, others will identify their own areas of interest. I want to promote professional learning as a big part of sustained improvement within our department. CLPL isn’t something which only happens on in-service days or when we attend a course out of school. For me, the rich discussions and collaborations within the team are often more meaningful and impactful than something which it becomes difficult to find time to implement when back in school after a day long course. Indeed, there is a fair bit of research to support this. Teachers need time and space to explore professional learning for themselves.

Robin MacPherson’s presentation yesterday at ScotEd on ‘Reclaiming Professional Learning’ really struck a chord with me and helped me to clarify the ways in which my own approach to Professional learning has perhaps not been as effective as it could be. I’ll be the first to admit that I am often like a kid in a sweet shop with educational literature, blogs and podcasts, and want to try every approach I read or implement every idea I hear. I realised yesterday in listening to Robin, that professional learning is a long-term thing. It has to be strategic, sustained and fit for your own context. Others are more likely to buy in and feel ownership through bespoke professional learning. Robin talked of the two way process of professional learning, and David Weston echoed this by thinking of professional learning as a cycle. It’s important to identify the focus of the learning, just as I would do when choosing pedagogical approaches for a class. By taking a more systematic and planned approach to this, and being more informed of research, I hope to be able to ensure that I am less likely to implement fads or fashions in the classroom, but instead take a more long term view of choosing a balanced, healthy mix of approaches which support and enhance the learning and teaching I currently deliver. No one wants to be in a position where they can’t use the knowledge they have gained, or put into practice the skills they have developed. At this point we do risk becoming educationally obese. However, by observing others, discussing approaches sharing ideas and sometimes being brave enough to take risks, not only do our learners benefit, but our teams and staff do too. It’s infectious and helps burn off the calories which we’ve consumed in knowledge. I’ll end with this quote which I love.

‘Powerful professional development makes children succeed and teachers thrive.’ David Weston

Isn’t that what every teacher would hope professional learning might achieve?

Have a good week!

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