By Karl Fisch
One of the fascinating things about being a “Community Leader” in a PLP cohort is the opportunity to observe the great discussions going on and ideas being generated in schools around the world, and watch as learning communities develop both in individual schools and virtually in the cohort. Recently in the ADVIS PLP cohort, Dennis wrote in a post titled Sharing, Risk Taking, and Creativity:
At our faculty meeting today I was center stage discussing teaching and learning in the 21st century. My first announcement was the fact that we were getting rid of the two computer labs in the building. We would however, be adding two Innovation Studios. Of course some people laughed, others gave me the deer caught in the headlights look, and some embraced the idea and felt inspired.
. . . However, my main point was this: we need to shift the mindset of how we use the resource (the computer lab). It is no longer a place where we just go to sit down as a whole class and do the same activities.
. . . The second announcement I had was the addition of a piece of butcher block paper on the bulletin board in the faculty room. The question on the paper “what is a learning community?” I asked everyone to write their thoughts about what a learning community is and the characteristics of a learning community.
Not long after Robin replied:
I love the studio-based learning model! One of the things I like most about Dennis’s approach is the de-emphasis of the technology piece. As independent school teachers our faculties have a good deal of control over their curriculum and what happens in their classrooms and often take risks in terms of new projects or methods. Unfortunately, for many teachers, when they hear the word technology they duck and cover. This re-frames the initiative so that technology is just one piece of a much larger picture.
As far as the question on the butcher block paper…I am not surprised that there was not a rush to add input. It has been my experience that a good chunk of the professional development that our teachers participate in is about “doing”, not “thinking”. Many teachers are not often involved in pedagogical discussions. Although I understand the value of “make and take” PD we have to encourage more “philosophical and visionary” sessions as well. This can be a hard sell for some (think how hard it has been for some of us to go so slowly with this experience) but I think it is imperative if we are truly going to promote the shifts we are working towards.
Dennis then replied back:
I guess I’m just different because I’m not afraid of being wrong, that is the only way I will ever learn anything. Through the Innovation Studio I’m hoping that people will be willing to take chances and risks and say “okay this project was a flop….however I learned along with the students what not to do and what to try next time.”
Do you find the fear of being “wrong” is an issue at your school when it comes to the faculty?
I just took a minute away to touch base with a colleague (one who does see the big picture) and she confirmed my thoughts. We have a very supportive faculty here so most people feel comfortable venturing an opinion. However, many teachers, here at least, are so consumed with the day to day business of their classroom that they do not often think about or discuss larger pedagogical ideas. This does not make them bad teachers – they are all gifted educators – it is just not a habit they have developed. I think it is up to us to start the conversations.
Dennis’s and Robin’s schools are physically about 5 minutes apart, but without PLP they most likely would never have had this exchange.
Later Russell commented:
Of course the great irony here is that we want our students to be risk-takers and to embrace learning from mistakes…and yet our assessments typically don’t reward taking risks, but rather punish risk-taking by holding up a single right answer. It is critical that we as adults learn to take risks and be wrong, so that we can model this for our kids.
Helping students and adults develop what Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset” is key here. If you’re not familiar with Dweck’s work, it’s terrific:
Not only does Russell continue and expand on the conversation, but he links to resources that other PLP participants can investigate and take advantage of.
John then contributes to the conversation, and extends it by asking another question:
Great idea – I really like the shift away from rows and rows of computers. A learning/collaboration studio, where teachers and students have access to a variety of tools and resources. What if every class room was set up like this?
Dru then comments:
Awww, if every classroom were designed like this, it would be heaven for our students, messy for the teachers, and so completely different from what we see right now in a traditional independent school. BUT, it is what we are seeing on college campuses and at workplaces across the country and around the world, so we MUST start to make these changes.
There were many other comments as well, but finally Dennis came back in with an update:
I just thought I would give an update. I checked the chart paper and here is what it said:
“What is a learning community?”
* Works together to share and build an enriching environment.
* A safe place to try, fail, and try again. A learning community takes risks together.
* An environment that fosters innovation and creativity.
* A way to discuss “Big Ideas.”
* An atmosphere of respect where people are comfortable sharing their ideas.
* A place where we can learn from our own and each others’ mistakes and feel comfortable doing so.
* A place where everyone is interested in learning.
* A place to share.
* Exchanging ideas.
* Collaboration cross-curricular/division
Then I posted another piece of paper which asked “what are the essential qualities of a learning community?”
* Be willing to share ideas.
* To know each other better as people so we feel more comfortable sharing and learning from our mistakes.
* Being okay with our mistakes.
* No one is perfect. Certainly not in this profession.
Dennis found support in the PLP cohort as he tried to foster some change in his school, and the cohort was able to learn from his experience and possibly incorporate that into their own schools. This is a great example of the support a virtual community like PLP can provide.
What are some ways you’ve seen a virtual community (PLP or otherwise) provide support for teaching and learning?