Navigating the Messiness of Professional Learning

In the last couple of weeks, I have been working with teachers who teach in multi-graded settings. What I continue to discover about my role (this is my fourth year) is that the complexity of supporting teachers is no different from the complexity of teaching students. I don’t know why, but I have to remind myself of this fact every now and then, because sometimes I forget.

I  spend a great deal of time walking the line between wanting to really distill areas of learning into manageable pieces that can then be clearly communicated to time-pressed, solution-hungry teachers and embracing the complexity and messiness of teaching and learning that is the reality. Knowing when to break things down and when to look from a wide angle is part of the challenge of my work every day. What makes it even harder is that I want to make things easy and clear but I also want to do it in the context of the wider lens and I think sometimes I hit the right balance and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I just give too much information. And sometimes, I think I have figured out some of the pieces, only to learn later that I had more work to do. Of course, the thing that makes all of this really complex is that teachers have to be in a position to learn what they, themselves,  need in the moment and this does not always line up with the ways I am working to support them. So, it is complicated.

There are moments when I can see and feel that a learning opportunity is unfolding. I feel the same energy working with teachers in moments like this as I did with students when I worked in the classroom (or as I continue to feel in my art classes). I almost have to force myself to slow down and really listen to what is going on so I don’t upset the balance of open exploration and information. I ask myself, “Is now a good time to share a new idea?” or “Is this the time to ask more questions?” This balance is so essential. I guess it boils down to co-construction vs. information delivery. I think there are times to share some information but much more time needs to be spent co-constructing understanding based on specific contexts and questions.

So, how do we make this happen more in the realm of professional learning? How do we support learning as part of discussions as opposed to simple information dissemination? How does a system plan for this in a strategic fashion? I have ideas but these are the questions I must continually ask myself every day. It is part of my own quest for understanding.

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