Continual, Collaborative, on the Job Learning

It’s been a few days since John Pederson posted this Tweet, but I’ve been thinking about that phrasing a lot ever since. It’s pretty obvious that as my professional life has changed, my interest has been moving away from classroom practice more toward individual learning and how we help educators understand the potentials of these spaces for their own learning first and their teaching second. The shift has been deepened by my work with Sheryl in PLP, but it’s also rooted in the continued frustration I have with a) the pace of even a coherent conversation about systemic change and b) teachers resistance to looking inward before moving outward when considering these shifts. (See these two posts and subsequent discussions for context.) While we have debated the “tools first” approach on the periphery, I’m still convinced that while we need an understanding of tools to make the connections, the personal shift around those tools drives the pedagogical shift. It’s difficult to understand the impact that online learning networks and communities can bring (and their potential downsides) without being a part of them.

So when John Tweeted “Community building is the new professional development” it really resonated, because it suggests that unlike most so-called pd that schools offer, getting our heads and our practice around this is a process, not an event. It’s learning, not training. (I cringed a couple of weeks ago when a principal said “Wow, our teachers are going to need a lot more ‘training.’” Ugh.) It’s not something we can “deliver” in a four-hour PowerPoint-like session. As Linda Darling-Hammond suggests, “…teachers need to learn the way other professionals do—continually, collaboratively, and on the job.” If that’s not a description of what I see most of us doing in these spaces I don’t know what is. Somehow, by luck or hard work or a combination, those of us who are taking advantage of the affordances of learning in online communities and networks have found a way to invest the time, not in big chunks in a physical space classroom but in as-needed, passion-driven, hour-here-fifteen-minutes-there learning flow that relies on the interactions of many learners, not on the expertise of any one person. And it’s in knowing how to effectively navigate those interactions where the value lives, not in effectively navigating the tools.

Our continued emphasis on tools in pd misses that larger point, obviously, because the power of the Read/Write web is not the ability to publish; it’s the ability to connect. Broken record, I know, but tools are easy; connections are hard. And so the question becomes how to best help educators realize these potentials in the learning sense first. Because at the end of the day, community building has to become an integral part of what we do in our classrooms with our students, as well. We have to be able to model those connections for them and understand them in ways that are meaningful to our own learning practice.

The challenge is, of course, that “continual, collaborative, on the job” learning isn’t very convenient for professional developers or for teachers in classrooms. It means re-thinking what learning looks like, and that’s a scary place still for most in education.