The growth of any craft depends on shared practice and honest dialogue among the people who do it. We grow by private trial and error, to be sure — but our willingness to try, and fail, as individuals is severely limited when we are not supported by a community that encourages such risks.
— The Courage to Teach; Palmer, 1998, p. 144
Experience is a truly remarkable thing. It’s a gift we in essence give ourselves each day. It’s a hard teacher, and often plans lessons we don’t want to learn. But it makes us look at things differently with each turn. Experience makes us evaluate where we have been, and what we are headed into next. It makes us collaborate with others on the journey too.
In order to experience, you need to take chances and live. It’s risky, it’s terrifying, it’s pretty awesome. If we don’t experience we don’t grow. I’m reminded of the epic conversation I had with Steve Collis and Malyn Mawby last year; Teaching is Traumatic. And remember what Ben Jones added; Trauma is good for us, it helps us grow and change and get stronger.
I’m doing something pretty awesome at the moment. I returned from my time teaching and living in the USA, into working with the PLANE Project . The most terrifying part of this challenge is that it sits outside of the classroom. There are no kids around. I miss it hugely, the happy noise. But what is extraordinary is the mix of people involved in this project; from all sectors, Public, Catholic and Independent. From classroom teachers to IT professionals, teacher leaders to new scheme. It’s a brilliantly unique situation, and an outstanding concept.
Learning is not an ‘add on,’ to be done when we have some free time or at training sessions. Some of the most significant innovations have been in infrastructures and day-to-day practices, allowing teams and intact work groups to integrate working and learning.
— “The Academy As Learning Community: Contradiction in Terms or Realizable Future?” Senge, in Leading Academic Change: Essential Roles for Department Chairs, Lucas, A. F. & Associates, 2000, pp. 280-281
So it’s a different learning I’m immersed in. It’s education professionals building something for our colleagues and friends to connect and learn together, with the clear and ultimate goal of learning being a better and more meaningful experience for kids, everywhere. The team is cognisant of what we know works best in this learning game; curiosity and fun. Frustrations arise when we try to make big visions into production realities. That’s a pretty neat place of dissonance. Take a look at PLANE.
What I see as being of greatest significance for a project such as this is the potential for data gathering. We speak about NAPLAN and the role it can (or cannot) play in the ‘value add’ for students. George Couros talked about Data and the role it has in improving learning.
My mind has been racing as it seems there are amazing things happening all over the world, and in our own community, that are pushing education forward. I see more people taking the plunge, getting elbow deep into their own learning. I am inspired every single day, and I am seeing some amazing connections between the work that educators are doing and the learning that is happening in the classroom.
Here is the question that keeps popping into my head though: Where is the data that supports this progression in our own practice resulting in success in our schools? This can be about any initiatives in schools ranging from assessment, technology integration, critical thinking, and so on. The problem is, with many things happening in education today, they are so new that the “data” is lacking. Sometimes even if data is there, it might not necessarily prove anything. For example, if we say the purpose of school is to prepare our students to be happy and contributing citizens in our society, how do high standardized tests prove this? All it really proves is that students did well on the test.
The most outstanding aspect of PLANE for educators is the sharing and collaboration of resources, stories and thoughts. I see huge potential for a repository of evidence of teaching and learning happening in Australian Schools; not of scores of NAPLAN data sets, but of examples where human stories are the key element, and we can make that brilliant teacher; experience, the most outstanding tool to support good teaching and learning. We’ve already seen examples where new scheme teachers are in virtual worlds or forums within PLANE, mentoring principals on projects or ideas. As we know, experience isn’t an age thing, or is it positional. We know learning is relational; it’s a conversation.
We are shaping a network, whereby, given time, the bank of evidence can be evaluated and read deeply. Where we can provide deep support for all educators, translating into the best learning experiences of kids. An environment that has strength online and translates offline, because it is in the organic connections and ownership of the project that people connect and share. Working with all school and learning organisations, we will have a system of reflective practitioners, who take their own learning, and the learning of others personally. An empathetic and generous learning community, empowered by their learning. A situation where practise informs evidence, and becomes the grounding for new evidence, which will inform best practise. Steve Johnson aptly said that good ideas take time and take collaboration. There is much to be said about taking the time to share what you know; simple to you extraordinary to others.
We need to create programs that bring us together structurally in some cases, intellectually and emotionally in others….Learning communities are one way that we may build the commonalities and connections so essential to our education and our society.
— Learning Communities: Creating Connections Among Students, Faculty, and Disciplines; Gabelnick, et al., 1990 p. 92