Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Take a Learning Posture

[Cross-posted on the PLP blog]

One of the interesting things about the PLP model is observing how the community builds itself. This is definitely not a linear process, and one of the things I have to constantly remind myself as a “Community Leader” is that different teams, and even different participants within those teams, will move forward at different (sometimes vastly different) rates. Ray Hawthorne, an Instructional Coach in my building, often says we need to “go slow to go fast,” and I think that’s a key part of the PLP Cohort model.

From my experience with staff development at my own school, as well as my experience this fall with PLP, I’ve become more and more convinced that reflection is the key to building community and moving forward as educators. It’s also something that few schools seem to implement well; so many educators have trouble when asked to reflect on their own learning. As groups of educators devote time to thinking about teaching and learning in the 21st century, and as they have time to thoughtfully reflect on their own teaching and learning, they seem to reach a tipping point where ideas coalesce and folks are ready to move forward.

At least one of our teams in the ADVIS PLP Cohort seems to have reached that tipping point. The team from The Haverford School has recently posted some interesting and powerful reflections, both inside the private Ning and on the public wiki. Team Leader Lisa Snyder, who’s the Head of Information Services for The Haverford School, recently commented on a discussion in the Ning:
Our meetings have not had much structure until recently. At first, when we met, we simply talked about what we were learning, reading, and how it all relates to our situation here. . . I thought that we should be creating something for our administration, our colleagues, and our board to communicate our experiences in PLP and to give them an idea of what we're up to. We used our team space on the Wiki and each of us wrote a small narrative of what we're learning.

The reflective process of creating and sharing what they were doing in PLP with others seems to have crystallized each team member’s thinking. I think they can say it better than I can. (In all cases, emphasis is added by me.)

Dennis Arms talks about how PLP gets the discussion going:
The change in how our students are learning has been exponential and it’s going to take more than just me to shift teaching and learning. I think the PLP program is a great conversation starter.

Nick Romero comments on how he’s been pushed to reexamine everything he’s doing, and how the PLP community helps challenge and support him:
Joining PLP has pushed me to re-examine what I am doing in my class and how to improve it. As a teacher I constantly ask myself: how can I better engage my students and enrich their experience? How can I make their learning more meaningful? PLP is helping me find answers to those questions. Meeting (in person and virtually) teachers from other schools and learning about their successes, questions and struggles in implementing 21st Century Skills in their classrooms has been invaluable. Ever since the first meeting, my mind has been spinning. I feel there is so much to learn about what these skills are and how to effectively teach them to my students. I have a steep learning curve, but I am excited to take this on.

Dru Ciotti has come to realize what I stated above, that folks are going to move at different paces and that we have to be okay with that:
This PLP experience has, so far, been very rewarding in terms of giving me EVEN MORE to think about in terms of how to encourage the upper school faculty to view technology not as an add-on but as an integral part of their teaching and of our students' learning. I envision classroom teachers using tools like wikis, Ning, or Elluminate to eliminate the boundaries created by their classroom walls and to really empower our students with 21st century skills. Some are willing to jump on this quickly moving train, and others are still looking for parking at the station. The good conversations I've had with our group so far have opened up for me the possibility that not everyone is willing to run for the train, and I have to be okay with that. I need to focus on the ones that want to go on the journey.

And Lisa herself reflects on what it feels like to be a learner, and how important it is to assume a “learning posture”:
Boy, they weren’t kidding when they said this would be powerful! From the very first, I’ve done nothing but learn. I would admit, though, that a lot of what I’ve learned I had not expected to . . .

What I’ve come to realize is that, through PLP, we are gaining exposure to the world that our kids already inhabit easily – and learning in that environment is not neat and tidy. I wrote my first ning post about ambiguity and how learning to live – and learn – in an ambiguous world is not easy. It requires openness to new experiences and letting-go of my tradition-based ideas of what schooling is. Learning is not linear, and while I’ve espoused that for years, it wasn’t until this experience of PLP that I was able to live the non-linear, sometimes frustrating, always interesting world of a 21st century learner . . .

I’ve also experienced the very powerful feeling that comes from having a Ning colleague read my posts, find something in there of use, and respond in a thoughtful, serious way to my thoughts. Authentic assessment! Wow, I always knew it was an important concept, but I didn’t know how it would feel to receive authentic feedback from people I respect and admire. It feels great!

So, the lessons I’ve learned from PLP have been important ones – and I’m sure that Will and Sheryl intended for me (and the rest of us) to have the opportunity to share these same kinds of experiences. For those who are wondering, “what’s next?” or “when are we actually going to do something?” I would have to argue that, if you really take a learning posture – give up your control and your need to feel industrious – you will find that you are learning. And you have been all along!

All of the PLP Cohorts have invited in "Expert Voices" to share some of the tools, and I think that will help those who need something a little more concrete to help them frame the big picture ideas. But, as Lisa says so elegantly, we as educators all need to take a “learning posture” if we are going to learn and grow alongside our students.

So, when’s the last time you reflected on your own learning?


  1. I think its tough for schools and teachers to regularly reflect on what we do because we get so caught up in the day to day, we do not devote the necessary time to do it. That is one of the most powerful things for me about this PLP experience - learning from others and forcing myself to take the time and reflect. Without that reflection, action/change cannot happen.

    Thanks for quoting me...I'm honored to be in the Fischbowl.
    - Nick Romero

  2. @Nick - I think that's what's so powerful about PLP, and the 21C staff development program we have at my school - is that it gives people the time (or forces them) to reflect on their teaching and learning. We need to find a way to build that in to all schools systemically.