Designing Professional Learning for 21st Century Educators

This post was inspired by a recent tweet from George Couros:

After reading and reflecting on George Couros’s 10 Essential Characteristics of a 21st Century Educator, I wondered…what if we purposefully designed professional learning to target these characteristics and ensure that all educators have an opportunity to develop and apply them? Here are my thoughts on what that could look like:

Relationship Builder. Building relationships with our colleagues and teams is essential. We should begin the year by taking time to uncover and understand the strengths and experience of every teacher in the building. Then, we can focus on how to best utilize and develop those strengths.

Learner. When we value teachers’ strengths and areas of expertise, we can learn from each other. Opening classroom doors and inviting teachers to observe each other is a powerful way to do this. Teachers also need to know that it’s okay to take risks and try something new.

Inclusive. Schools need to not only embrace the diversity of our students – we need to embrace the diversity of our teachers. When I meet with a team of teachers, I like to begin with a question that will help us all to get to know each other better. I’m always amazed to learn about their background and unique experiences that they bring. One important question to ask teachers at the beginning of a meeting is: “What do we need to know about you as a learner?” Then, we can move forward in a way that honors and includes all learning styles.

Reflective. Reflection is key! But it won’t happen unless we intentionally make time for it. A simple, but powerful, way to reflect is Stop, Start, and Continue. What should we stop doing? What should we start doing? What should we continue doing? It’s crucial that we have time to reflect independently, with grade-level teams, and as a school. Parents and students should also be invited to share reflections throughout the year.

Networked. Teachers must be given time to collaborate. Period. The bulk of our professional learning time should be spent collaborating. Edcamps, Unconferences, and Think Tanks are also fun ways to foster cross-divisional conversations, so that we can hear from many different perspectives. Collaboration needs to extend beyond the walls of the school. Building a global network is a game-changer for educators, and opens up a new world of resources and connections. Yet, many educators are still not connected. I think a lot of it comes down to time – and teachers don’t have time for “one more thing.” Having Twitter chats as part of the school day or after-school workshops to tweet together might help with this.

Innovator. Teachers need to see themselves as innovators, and know that they have the power to innovate each and every day. I’m very excited to read Katie Martin’s new book, Learner Centered Innovation, who says “If we want to change how students learn, we must change how teachers learn.” One way teachers can do this is with a Professional Passion Project.  This project begins with teachers asking questions, then moves to seeking solutions, and finally sharing their findings.

Leader. Teachers need to see themselves as leaders in their school community. Professional learning must offer teachers many opportunities to lead – host an instructional round, lead an after-school workshop, write an article for the school newsletter, facilitate a Twitter chat, organize a book study, lead a task force, present at a parent coffee morning – there are so many options! Yet, it shouldn’t end there…professional learning should provide teachers with guidance on how they can be a leader in the global educational community, such as workshops on how to get published or offering grants to present at an international conference.

Storyteller. We are motivated and inspired by stories. Teachers, now more than ever, need motivation and inspiration. I love this idea: begin a faculty meeting by reading a picture book. Or invite faculty members to share their personal story in a Ted-like Talk. If you have the opportunity to lead professional development, make the most of it! Make that moment count! Share a story that will resonate with your teachers and inspire them to continue doing the meaningful work they do each and every day.

Designer. Think about the space where you have professional development. Is it inviting? Is it conducive to collaborating and innovating? Shouldn’t our learning spaces for teachers mirror what we want to see in the classroom? Are we meeting the learning needs of our faculty?

Artist. Teachers are artists. Many teachers, unfortunately, don’t see themselves as artists. That’s why it’s essential to give teachers time to create, to imagine new possibilities, to explore, and to play.  If we provide innovative professional learning, then we can trust that teachers will design innovative learning for their students.

I agree with George Couros, that these characteristics are timeless. These are just my initial thoughts, but these characteristics are worth thinking about deeply. They could be the foundation of how we support all teachers in truly becoming innovative 21st century educators.

What are your thoughts on these characteristics? How does your school support the development of them through professional learning?




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