Setting The Stage For Learning
As an innovative learning design specialist, I am sometimes the primary source of teacher professional development in my district. Therefore, it is my responsibility to create significant learning environments for teachers. I chose the topic of educating teachers about blended learning and implementing a blended learning initiative as my innovation plan, because I felt it could serve as a introduction to, what I now understand to be, a constructivist view of teaching and learning.
I admittedly didn’t formally know much about this approach until I read The New Culture of Learning (Thomas & Brown, 2011) and began to explore and research the ideas and theories included in the book. The constructivist approach is based on the belief that students learn best when they gain knowledge through exploration and active learning. Students are encouraged to think and explain their reasoning instead of memorizing and reciting facts. They explore concepts and inquire to answer questions that naturally arise during the course of authentic learning. They make connections
between what they already know and the constant stream of new information as opposed to learning by memorizing or regurgitating isolated information. What I didn’t know, is that I had personally developed this type of teaching style and set the stage for learning using this approach for many of the 19 years I taught kindergarten. To be perfectly transparent, I didn’t even realize I was officially doing this. I just knew that my little learners were like sponges and it seemed quite natural to guide them in exploring their curiosities. Of course I am not suggesting that all teachers should adopt this view of instruction...or am I?
As stated, I work with other teachers, so one of the fundamental ideas from A New Culture of Learning that I hope to bring into the teacher and student learning environments is encouraging and demonstrating the importance of collaboration and community on thinking and learning. “In the new culture of learning, people learn through their interaction and participation with one another in fluid relationships that are the result of shared interest and opportunity.” (Thomas & Brown, 2011) My goal is to get teachers connected and learning from each other and other people with common passions and interests by establishing a PLN through Twitter, blogs, edcamps and a collaborative book study on Catlin Tucker’s book, Blended Learning In Action (Tucker, Wycoff & Green, 2017). On the surface this may seem to be little removed from the idea of "students" forming a collective that can drive learning that the book references. However, after careful consideration about how my personal philosophy about student learning shifted due to my participation in these types of activities, I believe this to be an important first step to lasting significant change. "A collective is a collection of people, skills and talent that produces a result greater than the sum of its parts." (Thomas & Brown, 2011) These teachers will hopefully come to understand the power of learning together through collective participation. I will be facilitating the learning and reminding them that the experience and vital connections they are making can also be replicated among students within their own classrooms.
Some challenges have already manifested themselves and I anticipate other problems in the future. Very few teachers are on Twitter in my district and none besides myself have ever attended an edcamp. The idea of learning from a PLN is viewed as a somewhat foreign concept by all but a handful of teachers. Our district operates in a primarily conservative and isolated environment that currently doesn't model or promote the idea of a PLN outside of the district. Blogs are considered irrelevant and most do not see the need to read professional books. I will be arguing the need for learning "on their own time" and not be compensated for it. Sadly, many will not consider learning outside of school hours unless they receive credit. Due to the constantly changing nature of learning in today's world, it has never been so important for teachers to model lifelong learning for students.
I firmly believe that student learning should be at the forefront of every single conversation and decision. Therefore, anything that positively impacts student learning should part of the “big picture” of any district. Blended learning and preparing teachers to shift roles and facilitate learning in a new way fits into this big idea in every way. I think creating a shift in thinking about the necessity and value of continued professional learning will impact student learning eventually. However, it involves changing people's behaviors and mindsets in a fast moving profession with very high stakes and I know it will not be easy or happen overnight. I just hope to start the journey toward lasting change that will eventually pay dividends over time.
Brown J. S. & Thomas, D. (2011). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Tucker, C., Wycoff, T., & Green, J. (2017). Blended learning in action. Thousand Oaks, California:
Corwin, a SAGE company.