Learning for the soul, not for a role

Earlier In the year, I wrote a blog post Educationally obese about some of my thoughts on professional learning. But after listening to the wonderful @teachmrriches last week, I was inspired to write a bit more on the subject.

In the brilliant Becoming Educated podcast, Darren @dnleslie chats to the inspirational Adam Riches about lots of wonderful ways to ensure job satisfaction as a teacher, by teaching smarter. One of the areas Mr Riches touched on was, teacher reflection and professional learning.

It really struck a chord with me and made me think about the reasons teachers engage in professional learning. Obviously the desire to gain new knowledge, skills or experience are important factors. Some teachers, like me, love learning. As well as this, they are often keen to improve an aspect of their practice. And for a number, professional learning is undertaken perhaps with a view to enhancing their CV and their GTCS professional update. Or the fact it might look good if they go for another job.

I wonder how many see it as the latter. Something to ‘go through,’ to get somewhere else. A box to tick. A course to add to an application form. A presentation which could be put down on GTCS professional learning record. A training day to sit through and endure, to be able to say we are more qualified. For those people, who see professional learning as something extra and maybe too much of a mountain to climb, I hope this blog post might be useful.

Adam spoke about professional learning for yourself and not for a role. I hope I am interpreting what he meant correctly. Professional learning should be integral to our profession not because we want promotion but because we are keen to be the best we can be for our young people and our team.

I do an awful lot of professional learning but very seldom is it officially recognised in the form of a certificate. Professional reading, listening to educational podcasts, watching other teachers, online webinars and opportunities for professional dialogue have all had a big impact on my practice in the classroom. I’ve engaged in learning I’ve had a keen interest in and that I’ve identified as areas I could improve. I’ve loved the connections I’ve made, the things I’ve learned and the impact I’m seeing on the young people I teach. I feel like I’ve become a better teacher, and indeed human, as a result. It has reinvigorated my practice. And far more than this, it helps me to work more effectively which gives me huge job satisfaction. It’s for me, not for a piece of paper.

Not everything will be a success in the classroom. There will be more than a few lessons which don’t go as planned. But it is important to recognise that we can reflect and recognise where it is going well. I believe incorporating new thinking and approaches as a result of the knowledge I’ve gained, has had tangible rewards in terms of young people’s progress and engagement in learning. It keeps my practice fresh. It stops me getting bored. But it breeds success for the young person.

Embracing different ways of learning in the classroom sometimes requires me to admit to pupils that I’m Still learning and it might not work out the way we hope. However, there is something hugely powerful in this vulnerability and I hope that I am modelling to my pupils the benefits of stepping out with our comfort zone and trying new things to find the best possible way.

So for me, it’s important to participate with authenticity. To do so with my strong values at the heart of all I learn. To say no if it doesn’t fit in with my current practice. Realising that some ideas don’t just transfer from other places, but understanding the context of our own school and young people in order to create the best fit. Professional learning which I’m passionate about.

Professional learning works best when it’s driven by the individual and they feel ownership of it. Not because they think it’s a stepping stone to something else or being forced upon them. Likewise, professional learning for yourself and leading through your values is what will take you places. The grass does sometimes seem greener in a different role, but I’m a great believer in ‘what is for ye won’t pass ye by.’ A good friend who had recently been promoted, once told me to focus on being the best for the school you are in, not losing sight of that to apply for other jobs. Because ultimately that’s what will give you the joy, enthusiasm and satisfaction day in day out.

And so it is with our professional learning. Becoming better and better for ourself and our pupils should be our core reason for engaging in CLPL. It’s this that makes our role in the classroom more rewarding as we see the positive impact and our young people progressing. And for me, that’s the addictive bit.

It doesn’t need to be throwing yourself into hours and hours of reading, or attending online courses every week. This week I’m going to offer to cover a class for each of my department to allow them a quiet 45 minutes with a cuppa and a mince pie to do some professional reading from a choice of educational books. Even reading a short educational blog or article can be enough to spark a thought or idea. The key is going at your own pace but realising that whatever you do manage is incremental improvement. As the fantastic @learnimperative Mark Burns mentions, imagine if we were all to improve by 1%? The collective difference would be huge and we’d all be going in the right direction.

Enjoy the last few weeks of term. Don’t underestimate the difference you are making. Yes it’s tough right now, but try not to forget how fortunate we are to be a positive influence in the lives of our young people, especially at the time of a global pandemic. Don’t put pressure on yourself to do more. But find the thing which excites you. Your ‘why?’ If you are passionate about it, it won’t seem like work!

Have a great week!

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