I spent a lot of time this past fall thinking about learning. I had read And What Do YOU Mean by Learning? by Sarason and it seemed to permeate my thoughts for quite some time. He defines “productive learning” as that in which the learner leaves wanting to learn more. Thinking back, all of my favorite times in the past two years as a consultant resulted in that infectious desire to learn more. When supporting teachers to connect, coplan and coteach with their classes via video conference I ended up with more midnight emails, skype calls and tweets with questions about new tools they could bring into their classes. They had caught the bug. They were empowered to learn more and take risks. Awesome. When running Minds On Media sessions the biggest complaint is that participants want more. More, more, more. Awesome.
Knowing that these situations supported what Sarason defines as productive learning, I started to think about what we did as “teachers” to facilitate this. I keep coming up empty handed. I didn’t teach anything. I didn’t provide any instruction. I didn’t come to the situation knowing what each participant would walk away with at the end. We just knew that they would start where they were and move along the continuum from there. Or, maybe a they’d make their own continuum. I just booked the room.
They had to do the teaching and the learning. I just supported them. I was someone to bounce ideas off. To feed creative tidbits or ideas. The work is entirely that of the participant. In all honesty, every time I do “teach” – I more often than not have go repeat it again. If I get up and “teach” a tool or set up the polycom equipment for someone, I have to go back later on and do it again. It all comes down to gradual release of responsibility.
We talk about gradual release all the time when talking about students. I think the same rings true for teachers.This is my biggest learning over the past two years. There will be some teachers who just need to see or hear about a tool or technique and off they go, willing to do it themselves. Then, there are some who need someone there the first time they try it to get over the uncomfortable feeling of trying something new and problem solve any issues. Lastly, there are those who require a few tries with support before they are comfortable doing it independently. I’ve made lots of mistakes this past two years where I have left teachers on their own too early, or stayed too long and did too much of the learning myself. When it comes down to it, we, as teachers need the same good teaching practices as our students do. We need differentiation and gradual release. This type of support can help foster that culture of productive learning where we become fully engaged and have that desire to go out and learn more.
I’m not sure teachers college really left me with the desire to learn more about teaching and learning, but once I began to network online and learn from my peers and colleagues all over the world I certainly grew a desire to learn more and more. I wonder how our job as teachers has shifted. Is “teacher” even the right term anymore? I have to remind myself not to feel too guilty on a daily basis. Being in the role of a consultant allows me to visit and talk with so many amazing educators. I learn more from them on a daily basis than I have “taught” in my entire two years in the consultant role. I wonder if I simply like Sarason’s defintion of productive learning and the idea of gradual release because it can justify all the learning I get to do while talking with other educators? 🙂