I was asked to reflect in writing about a profound or transformational professional learning experience. It is hard to choose just one. I find that they come in different formats, sometimes through one on one conversations with mentors, other times through the back and forth of tweets, a great book like A New Culture of Learning or an inquiry for my Masters of Education (I fell in love with Papert this weekend). If I have to choose just one experience though it would be my Junior Specialist that focused on Instructional Intelligence.
This is a few years back now, but my board put out a call for a three part specialist program in primary or junior education that focused on Instructional Intelligence. I had already received my specialist in Computers in the Classroom (Integration of ICT today) and was looking for a new path to explore. The board kindly provided funding for the course as well so that the financial burden did not factor into my choice. It seemed like there was nothing to lose so I filled out my application and was eagerly awaiting the first day of class. There were so many valuable lessons learned through out the course, guest speakers that enhanced the experience, instructors that were supportive but I think there are a few things that made it an experience with immense impact.
It was the first time I actually engaging in a professional inquiry around student practice. The instructors did a great job at giving us just enough to get started but then also enough freedom to follow our own passions. As I reflect on how the inquiries evolved over the three course I can see how my understandings of instructional strategies and concepts evolved. Having a learning journey to share empowered me to find new ways to share with colleagues. More importantly it better allowed me to frame my understanding of teaching and learning.
Although everyone didn’t follow through with all three parts of the specialist, a core group did and it was amazing to be on a learning journey together for just over a year. It is very rare to be engaged in conversations about ‘good instruction’ with people you trust for that long. Time was essential to build relationships; to consolidate our ideas, to challenge and extend our understanding. Time is what I feel often holds me back today. Busy in the day to day needs it is hard to take the time to stop, connect, question, challenge.
After spending close to a year learning together the relationships that were formed continue to this day. The time to get to know each other, share our learning journeys, share our struggles helped build a trust that I have rarely experienced in another structured learning experience. I think partly it was due to the time we spent together. I think it is also due to the community that was established by the instructors. I think it also came to our willingness to be present in the moment. I count many as friends and can still count on many of the course members for advice now years later.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I think now that I look back I can see that active, constructivist approach situated in my classroom context coupled with an emerging community of practice facilitated a professional learning experience that has had a profound affect on my practice.