Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Time for Teaching Reflection

For the first time this school year - about half way through now - I have time to sit back and think about what is working and what is not, as well as what I'm doing well in and where I can improve.

Over the last few weeks, as Qld teachers and schools continue to bear the fallout of the Master's Review and the ensuing comments in the media (many made by those who think they know all about being a teacher) I've been involved with a number of conversations with other teachers, our Head of Curriculum, friends, my husband and other fellow members and random people I catch out in the street (well not so much the randoms), about what teachers and schools need more of to increase student performance.

The regulars are all there - money for resources, better facilities, testing that makes sense, a refill in the lolly jar - but there are some other more serious topics that arise (not that the lolly jar isn't serious).

One that comes up a lot is the kind of in-service/professional development we get as teachers. Earlier this year I, along with all the other Year 4-7 teachers in the state, were shipped off to a 5 day literacy training course. During this time, I learned one new thing I could use in the classroom (from the presenters, anyway. My peers gave me considerably more knowledge.) While this was a worthwhile thing to learn, it wasn't worth 25 hours away from my students.

It's a recurrent theme with professional development. Many times they are someone talking at us, with little thought for the different learning styles or previous knowledge which may already exist. So when someone tells teachers (in the newspaper) that they need more in-service in Grammar (or maths, or science, or whatever we're failing in this week) it gets me a little irritated.

I think this is because I use reflection to work out where I'm doing well and where I could improve. I then build on this with personal reading, watching lectures and listening to pod casts. I search out new ways to teach and try them before reflecting again. Over the four years I've been teaching, I've built up a good understanding of how I teach, what my teaching philosophy is and where I want to go next. None of which will be improved by another 'talk-at-a-large-hemogenous-group' professional development.

I honestly believe that a greater focus on teacher reflection and the chance to shape our own professional development, using the tools we have available (and with the internet we have access to the best minds in the world) will create more professional teachers in Queensland, along with improved results.

In that vein - how do you reflect on the work you do (what ever that work may be) and do you undertake any of your own professional development?

My reflection master list



  1. It's amazing that even on the other side of the globe, there's no difference in how useless most professional development is! Ironically, my philosophy is that if I learn just one thing at any given PD workshop, I consider it a success. Yes, you lost 25 hours in your classroom, but you're always going to lose that time and be sent against your better judgement, so you have to make the best of it.

    You also try to improve your PD, by researching opportunities that you think you'll get more out of and bringing those to the people in charge as alternatives. Your administrators don't want to waste your time either, but they are pressured to send you to a certain number of hours, to whatever programs other schools are sending their teachers to, and don't necessarily have the time to properly evaluate every program that comes along. Your due diligence ahead of time should result in a better use of your time (and will be appreciated by them)!

  2. if I learn just one thing at any given PD workshop, I consider it a success.
    It's interesting that you mention this, as one of the things I want to improve on is dwelling on the negatives. It requires that complete flipping of thought.

    I received an email from my Head of Curriculum last night about an opportunity to become a district tutor in literacy, which would turn the whole thing around in a different way - what kind of PD would I give? How would I deliver it?

  3. I am amazed how much tax money is spent to send us to professional development workshops that are practically useless or at least doesn't give us the "most bang for our buck." Of course as teachers, we should have a say in how PD is formed to best meet our needs. Until that happens, taxpayers' money will continue to be wasted.

  4. I find it astounding that despite the negative feedback that was given about the content (a lot of going over things teachers already know) and presentation (sit there, listen, and watch this video over and over) they are repeating the literacy PD for anyone who didn't get it before including PE and Music teachers . . .

    I suppose it comes down to the Professional thing - a professional should be able to shape their own PD based on reflection, need and preference. And if teachers are treated as professional, will the majority of them act that way?

  5. I find teacher training fascinating. I'm a nursery school teacher who works in a private school (take that to mean not publicly funded rather than ritzy). We all attend two days of staff meetings at the beginning of the year where we review health and safety as well as the school's philosophies. We attend regular staff meetings to go over issues. But it is up to us to learn what we need to learn and we are expected to do it. My wonderful boss will make suggestions if she doesn't feel you're learning what you need to be focusing on at the moment in the nicest way she can.

    I take seriously the time I spend to reflect on my teaching and my planning. I do a ton of reading to improve in the areas where I feel I am weak. I feel totally comfortable asking my boss and the other teachers where they feel I should focus my efforts next. I really wish all teachers could feel that comfortable and be able to take the time to take this same level of responsibility for their professional growth. I really don't know how you could though, if you're being shipped off to useless training and focusing so much tim on high stakes testing. What I find amazing is that so many teachers from all across the world seem to be in the same boat.

    Clearly, I'm glad to be where I am right now!

  6. I was talking to another teacher about it yesterday and she told me that she had her own foci as well (hers are indigenous and ESL) which kept getting hijacked by professional development someone has decided we have to do.

    Luckily I got to do an amazing professional development yesterday on gifted and talented and underachievement. It was awesome.