Monthly Archives: March, 2014

The importance of time out for Professional Development

This blog is titled ‘Teaching as Learning’ for a reason. I adamantly subscribe to the view that to be an effective teacher, one must also be an effective learner.

Yet, in conversations with colleagues, I notice that teachers often find a tension between their need for on-going professional development, and the fact that it takes them out of the classroom “too much.” This concern is completely understandable, but I do not believe it is completely true.

A range of professional development opportunities have come my way over the last few years, many of which have taken me out of the classroom for one or two days per term – sometimes more. This year will be no different. I am very fortunate to work for a leadership team who are supportive of this and happy to accommodate the fact that I will be away on certain days each term, because ultimately the school and – most importantly – the students benefit from involvement in these programs.

This is, of course, a huge commitment for any teacher, and there is always the worry that we are doing our students a disservice. However, I would argue that we are doing our students a disservice if we don’t take the time out occasionally to engage in training that is relevant and meaningful, and fits in with the direction that the school is taking in its approach to teaching and learning. Time spent out on such courses enhances the quality of our teaching when we are in the classroom. It improves our ability to support colleagues in their own teaching and professional learning, and it improves our own self-efficacyThe YouTube clip below from AITSL illustrates perfectly the idea that everybody involved in the school community thrives when there is a culture of learning, an important part of which is the modeling of learning by the teachers themselves!

It is crucial, however, that teachers take responsibility for their own professional learning. We cannot expect opportunities to simply fall into our laps if we do not seek them out and pursue clear, defined professional goals. The AITSL National Professional Standards for Teachers provide an incredibly useful framework for on-going self-evaluation and reflection, identifying areas of need for professional development, and goal setting.

And, just for a giggle from one of my favourite comic strips to finish off:

Image source website: http://scientificteacher.com/category/professional-development/

What do South Australian pre-service and graduate teachers really need?

I would really like to know precisely who determines which courses must be completed by pre-service teachers and what those courses should contain.

I ponder this for a reason. Too regularly throughout the first four years of my career have I questioned, “Why was I not taught this at uni?” Friends who are also teachers have expressed that they have felt the same way.

I experienced a wide range of teaching styles at uni, from some amazing lecturers and tutors to some who weren’t quite as up there. I learnt a lot about big ideas like teaching students from diverse cultural backgrounds, about the importance of relationships in education, about involving parents and families, about SACSA, SACE and even a couple of nods towards what would become the Australian Curriculum. I learnt to write elaborate lesson plans and unit plans that ticked all the boxes according to the relevant policies and frameworks.

But very rarely was I taught the HOW of teaching. Of course, we looked at educational theory both in terms of methodology and classroom management, but my university program did not prepare me for the nitty-gritty of what I teach and the medium through which I teach it: language.

Which brings me to the question: given that we were bombarded with the principle of “Literacy and numeracy are everybody’s responsibility”, why was I not adequately taught how to teach literacy and numeracy in my subject area?

Friends who attended other universities tell me that they had “Literacy” courses, but even those courses didn’t go quite far enough.

So how can we expect pre-service and graduate teachers of ANY subject area to teach literacy and numeracy effectively if they are not equipped with the skills to do so? How can we expect explicit teaching of language features in subjects other than English if teachers do not have the linguistic knowledge? (At this point, I would like to qualify my point by saying that I do not assert that teachers do not know their subject area. What I mean is, do they know how to explicitly teach the language and language features associated with that discipline?)

In the past few years I have immersed myself in Language and Literacy PD (and by Language, I am not referring to my role as a LOTE teacher, but as an English teacher) and it has made me a hundred times more effective in my role. Yet, I cannot shake the feeling that due to a lack of skills in teaching literacy in my first year of teaching, I let my students down. If I had known then a small fraction of what I know now, their learning and approach to the subject might have been different. I majored in English at uni – I can only imagine how non-English trained English teachers might feel when faced with meeting the Language Strand requirements of the Australian Curriculum. It would be like putting me in front of a Maths class!

The skills for teaching literacy and numeracy are something that I feel passionately about being more effectively integrated into pre-service teacher training and on-going graduate teacher professional development. I wonder, what else do pre-service and graduate teachers really need? According to the Australian Journal of Teacher Education, approximately 30% of teachers leave the profession within their first five years.

What can be done better at university and in the earliest years of their career to prevent this? What do those teachers require?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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