Wisdom rarely comes from the outside expert. It comes from our ongoing attempts to learn something that matters to us.
All of us teachers want to be better at what we do, but many of us are naturally suspicious of PD sessions. We have endured, too often, a PD session where some outside expert has brought us the latest good news, and has then either proceeded to tell us what we knew already or to advocate what we’ve already tried and found wanting.
Wisdom rarely comes from the outside expert. It comes from our ongoing attempts - supported by experienced others - to learn something that matters to us. As teachers, it comes from our ongoing attempts to help our students learn.
I work with teachers in a way that strengthens these ongoing attempts to learn something that matters.
Two of my approaches - along with participants' comments - are described below.
1. Showcasing Classroom Collaborations
A while ago, an executive teacher asked me to give a PD session on student-centred learning. “This is right up your alley,” he said. “I’m sure my staff would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.”
"Instead of someone removed from our experience telling us what it was supposed to be like and then telling us how you're supposed to deal with the challenges of being an early career teacher, we were empowered to recognise, reflect on and address the realities we faced…Having a group of people that I trusted, with whom I could explore the challenges I was facing was a game changer for me… My positive experiences working in this dynamic, have lead me to seek other professional groups with whom I might connect and bond."
Secondary Head of Department
I declined. Instead, I suggested an alternative.
“How about I work one-on-one with a few of your teachers over some weeks, on some aspect of their practice where they’d like someone at their side as they attempt to be more student-focussed. Then the four of us can present to your staff at the PD session.”
The executive teacher thought this might work, so that's what we did.
"I loved how Steve's extensive knowledge and deep understanding of education theorists helped to make sense of the feelings I was encountering teaching … The collegiality experienced in the process was wonderful and I felt such privilege and honour in working with my peers and with Steve … It acknowledges the complexity of teaching and the lived lives of all the individual people involved and explores how those lives interconnect for a few moments in time. .. Steve Shann is a wonderful human. He is sincerely interested in what you have to say and anything you say is thoughtfully considered. He has a wealth of experience both in academia and in schools and his own commitment to continuous learning and creativity helps to fill you up and give you confidence."
Early Career Teacher
One teacher wanted to work with her kindergarten class on extending the children's capacity to slow down and to stick with what might be initially daunting.
A second wanted to understand better what was behind the worrying behaviour of one of her students.
The process of sharing and discussing with Steve and our other collaborators was intensely cathartic.
… it allowed me to treat incidents more objectively and critically… I cannot think of any interaction or process that could have been more relevant to my needs during that difficult and hectic time, nor more supportive of me in my journey to becoming the teacher I wanted to be… Steve's method for working through teaching experiences opens one in a way that I have never experienced from other PD… I came to understand differing opinions and methods not as adversarial but as potentially valuable. I am more willing in general to talk to other teachers, ask for opinions, and listen to their experiences as well.
Early Career Teacher
A third wanted to structure some student-choice projects in a way that engaged those relatively unskilled at organising themselves.
We four then worked together over a number of weeks. Then we presented a PD session to the rest of the staff.
This approach works well. It puts theory – the voice of experienced others - in its proper place, looking over our shoulder as we work in the real world with real students. The energy it releases affects others.
2. Working with story
Elsewhere on this site I have written about the way the creation of a fictional story - what I've called a mythopoetic methodology - contributes to our understanding of our worlds. This is a methodology that I've used with teachers. For example, I sat with three beginning teachers and listened to them talking about their experiences of working with mentors. I then drafted a totally fictional story which contained the themes, tensions, challenges, puzzles and emotions that these three teachers had experienced. I shared the draft with them, they suggested and added sections, and a final version emerged (which was later published in the journal 'English in Australia').
This is a process I've now conducted with a number of teachers, and a number of the stories in my book Imagined worlds and classroom realities are the result.
You can read the extended testimonials of teachers with whom I've worked in this way by clicking here.