I had three different experiences this week that connected in my thinking as I continued working with educators examining how Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) impact teacher learning that leads to increased student learning.
The first was while listening to Dan Meyer in an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio. Meyer was describing his views about learning mathematics and his current work on designing math textbooks of the future. As he explained the difficulty in textbook design and the important role of teachers, he stated that it was important for students to tinker, to create, and to share their thinking and learning.
Then I found Will Richardson sharing a quote from Seymour Papert in a blog titled, The Ability to Be Taught:
“The one really competitive skill is the skill of being able to learn.” Seymour Papert
Richardson suggested that while Papert made this statement 18 years ago, it is even more important today. He cautions that schools don’t put a sufficient focus on learning “how to learn” and instead focus on “how to be taught.”
To be able to be taught, students must learn to follow rules. To be able to be taught, they must conform to certain expectations. They must be grouped in certain ways, for specific amounts of time. They must get into certain routines, all of which develop them as “students” who depend on the institution to teach them what they need to know. This is our easiest path, to dictate and organize the entire experience.
It strikes me that tinkering, creating, and sharing means more of a focus on an environment for learning than teaching. Tinkering is not easy to explain in a lesson plan or to schedule learning in advance for a preset assessment date. When students are learning by tinkering and creating, teachers must be very engaged in observing, listening, questioning, coaching, and encouraging. Similarly when teachers are focused on teaching students how to learn, administrators must engage in observing, listening, questioning, coaching and encouraging because teachers will be tinkering and creating.
My third reflection occurred when a reader of my blog sent me a post, Why Introverted Teachers Are Burning Out , about introverted teachers and the push for collaboration in PLCs:
“…some teachers are citing their introversion as a reason why today’s increasingly social learning environments are exhausting them…“
The author poses that the combination of increased social learning classrooms for students along with increased collaborative structures with colleagues is stressful for more introverted educators, especially teachers who may have imagined teaching as delivering a thoughtful lecture and then sitting alone reading and responding to students papers.
I commonly hear a question from some teachers concerning the possible loss of autonomy because of working in a PLC. There is a worry that “I will have to teach this the way the group decided”. My response is that if the PLC focusses on identifying how students learn a standard, the “way to instruct,” (the “way to create options for learning)” can be open to individual teacher and student designs. A PLC that functions as a team can allow for differing styles of teaching and collegial learning and provide opportunities for its members to contribute uniquely.
To what extent do the terms tinkering, creating, and sharing define what we want to have occur during PLC collaboration? When teachers look at student work and identify students for whom the learning target hasn’t been achieved does it make sense for them to tinker with what has been previously carried out? When teachers set new raised expectations for student learning should they be creating alternative and innovative ways for students to learn? How does teacher sharing impact teacher thinking, creating, reflecting and learning?
Is teachers’ time in PLC’s too scripted, controlled, and directed in similar ways to what is happening to students in fixed instructional settings? Are too many teachers looking at curriculum pacing guides and assessment schedules as defining the path they are to take to teaching? Dan Meyer stated in the interview that teachers played critical roles in environments where students learned from tinkering, creating, and sharing. Students are not merely thrown the task and left to hopefully figure it out.
What instructional leadership behaviors are needed for teachers to learn “how to learn” in a PLC? I believe that too often I am finding teachers scheduled into a PLC, thrown a task, and left to hopefully figure it out. Way too often, teacher learning isn’t occurring. How are you supporting your PLC’s to tinker, create, and share?