Taryn’s Taxonomy of Professional Learning Resources

As PYP Coordinator, my job is not only to support my colleagues as teachers, but also as learners. When I meet with them to talk about their professional learning I usually ask the same three questions:

  1. What have you been learning about lately?
  2. How have  you been learning about it?
  3. What do you plan to learn about next?

When I’m having these conversations, it’s often responses to the second question that stick with me and get me thinking about different types of resources, how they support different purposes and where they fit along the journey of a life long teacher-learner.

Based on my own reflections and perspectives, I created Taryn’s Taxonomy of Professional Learning Resources to illustrate my beliefs about the many different sources teachers use for their professional learning.

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Teachers Pay Teachers – I can understand why teachers use TPT. I pass no judgement on teachers who uses TPT. However I don’t like TPT for a variety of reasons, many of which are shared by fellow educators Matt Gomez and Chelsea Bashore. For these reasons, I believe that TPT is on the lower end of the taxonomy of professional learning resources. I think TPT provides teachers with things teachers can use right away in their classroom, but like Edna Sackson says, “effective professional learning is not about things you can try tomorrow, but rather big ideas that shift your understanding of teaching and learning”. I’ve yet to see TPT as source of big ideas that shift teachers’ thinking and until it does, it will remain on the bottom of my taxonomy.

Pinterest – I’ve shared my opinions about Pinterest before. So have other educators. I think similar to Teachers Pay Teaches, time spent on Pinterest is most often focused on the “what” of teaching, not necessarily the “how” or “why”. Focusing on the “what” keeps us in the cycle of doing school and prevents us from moving closer towards real learning. Many teacher-friends have been telling me that Pinterest has gotten better lately – for this reason I have placed it above TPT- but I still have my reservations. Until the comments shift from “I saw something on Pinterest I am going to try” to “I learned something on Pinterest that blew my mind and totally challenged my thinking about _____”  it will remain on the lower end of my taxonomy.

Blogs – Blogs. Now we’re getting somewhere! True, some blogs can still be stuck in the “what”, but good blogs start to move into the “hows” and “whys” of teaching and learning. Blogs allow teachers to share their practice, thoughts, questions and reflections. This reflective, narrative quality  is what opens up the conversation to allow for the exploration of how to turn theory into practice and why something is worth knowing or doing in the first place. Really excellent blogs even go so far as to critically look at teaching and learning, ask provocative questions and challenge your thinking about why we do what we do – and why we need to do it better! However, something to be cautious of, is the fact that anyone can blog, which means much of what is written is coming from one person’s experience and perspective (like this post for example!) so you have to be discerning and critical as a blog consumer.

Twitter – Twitter is in a very similar category to blogs for a few reasons. First of all, on Twitter you can find “whats”, “hows” and “whys”.  However, the benefit of Twitter is that you are exposed to a wide range of everything all at once so you can easily skip past the “whats” in search of the “hows” and the “whys”. Also – similar to blogs – you also have to be a critical consumer when reading people’s perspectives and opinions about teaching and learning. Yet, even though Twitter is a forum where personal perspectives are shared, research is also discussed and cited quite regularly. Edna Sackson advocates for professional learning that challenges our thinking by providing us with tensions to work through and big ideas to connect. In my opinion, Twitter as a resource successfully accomplishes that very goal!

Research – Education research… the highest level on the taxonomy… the apex of the pyramid… and sadly, the most seldom used source of teachers’ professional learning (present company included!).  Sources like ERIC, ASCD and Google Scholar provide access to thousands of journal articles that provide strategies for teaching and learning that are supported by data. Education research can provide answers to our questions about the “what”, “how” and “why” in research-based ways. It’s not one educator’s opinion about what they think is effective in the classroom, it’s what has been shown to be effective through rigorous research design, large amounts of data collection and sophisticated analysis and interpretation.  The question is, if all of this amazing, data-supported education research is available… why aren’t more of us using it in our professional learning?

Peers – I have placed peers as a resource for professional learning all the way up the pyramid. This is because I believe peers can be an amazing source of professional learning – depending on what is being shared. Peers can be an avenue for sharing everything from a “what” found on TPT all the way up to research-supported “hows” or “whys”.

When I think back on my own journey as a learner, I can see how I have moved up the taxonomy over the years- starting from focusing on the “what” and year by year getting closer to focusing on the “why”. I was never much a TPT user, but I was definitely a Pinterest addict and spent my early years in education looking for things I could use in my classroom. Last year I got into blogs to support my inquiries that were more focused on learning about how teachers made inquiry-based, concept-driven education a reality for their students. This year I am all about Twitter. I love scrolling through and having my own beliefs about teaching and learning challenged and learning about new ideas and initiatives that help me move away from “doing school” and closer to being able to facilitate true learning. I can clearly see where I need to head next…. in to the scary land of education research. That will be my focus for next year.

When thinking about this taxonomy and my role as PYP Coordinator, I am beginning to think that my job is not only to support teachers’ learning… but also to support teachers as learners by helping them move up the pyramid to use sources in their professional learning that are grounded in research and focus on big conceptual shifts in thinking.

Where are you on the taxonomy?

What are your perspectives on the different sources of professional learning?

What sources of professional learning am I missing? Where would you place them?

How do you help your colleagues move up the pyramid?

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Personalized Professional Learning – Take Two!

A few months ago, my partner in crime and I had a crazy idea to design a model of Personalized  Professional Learning that would hopefully model for our staff, what we expect to see in their classrooms. Our first attempt at PPL went really well and we received awesome feedback from our staff – but we wanted to challenge ourselves to reflect, refine and improve the model further.

Our biggest area of self-identified growth was linking everyone’s personalized learning to our School Improvement Plan goals and our PYP Action plan goals. When reflecting on our first iteration of PPL, we realized we had modelled open-inquiry. We asked our staff “What do you want to learn about” and we structured an afternoon to support those goals. However,  open-inquiry is often a luxury teachers -and we’ve come to discover – administrators do not have. Teachers have curriculum goals that students need to meet and administrators have school improvement plan and IB program action plan goals that staff need to meet. Thus bringing to light our challenge when designing the second iteration of PPL – how can we design a half day of personalized professional learning that is inquiry-based, differentiated, built on learner voice and choice… but still guides our staff towards meeting our school and program goals?

Here is how we went about it:

Step 1 – Rethinking and reorganizing topics of learning interests

Last time, our staff collectively built a learning menu that listed many different topics 21st Century teachers are learning about – maker space, play, e-portfolios, etc.

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We realized that many of those topics ALREADY contribute to our School Improvement Plan (SIP) goals and IB Action Plan (IBAP) goals – we just needed to make the connections more explicit. So our 8 person leadership team sat down and re-organized the menus by SIP goals and IBAP goals. This resulted in new learning menus that had all the same staff-selected topics of interest, but organized in a more purposeful way.

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Step 2 – Reflecting on our last afternoon of PPL 

At our school, we advocate for “no secret teacher business”, which means we also need to model “no secret leadership business”. So we were honest, vulnerable and transparent with our staff. We openly reflected on both the strengths an areas of growth of our first attempt at PPL. We admitted that we had used a model of open inquiry, and we were clear that next time we wanted to implement a model that was more guided and informed by our SIP and IBAP. To get our staff to begin to think of PPL in this way, we did an activity where everyone reflected on what they learned about during our first attempt at PPL and tried to retroactively find a connection to our School Improvement Plan or PYP Action Plan. We posted goals from our SIP and IBAP around the room and gave stickers to all staff to post based on goals that connected to what they had learned about on our last half day.

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We shared with our staff, that even though it was great that so much of our learning accidentally contributed to our SIP and IBAP, this time we wanted to ensure that our PPL purposefully contributed to our school and program goals.

Step 3 – Purposefully planning for our upcoming half day of PPL

Similar to last time, we wanted to give our staff some time to think about what they would learn, how they would learn and how they would share their learning for our upcoming half day – the difference being this time, we wanted their “what” to be linked to either a School Improvement Plan goal or PYP Action Plan goal. In order to do this, we used an after school staff meeting to give staff time with our newly organized learning menus to think about how they might to spend  their upcoming half day. Each staff member took a few small colour squares and wrote down what they wanted to learn, how they wanted to learn and how they planned to share their learning with others.

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Then, they had to post their squares on bulletin boards that we had divided up based on our School Improvement Plan and PYP Action plan.

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This allowed everyone on staff to not only be purposeful about what they wanted to learn and how it contributes to school and program goals, but it was also a great way to allow everyone to see what everyone else was interested in learning about on the upcoming half day.

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Step 4 -Planning in response to learning

Similar to last time, our leadership team wanted to plan the structure of the half day based on the learning needs and interests of the staff. In order to do this, we looked at our bulletin boards and recorded how staff wanted to learn and what specifically they wanted to learn about.

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We analyzed the data, specifically paying attention to numbers and trends in order to figure out how best to structure our half day of personalized professional learning. This approach revealed that most of our staff was interested in personal inquiry and collaborative inquiry and some of our staff was interested in workshops, mainly about math, literacy and technology. This allowed us to build a structure for our half day that was representative of our learners’ needs and interests.

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Step 5 – Let the learning happen

On our half day, we gathered as a whole staff to review the structure of the day, review our essential agreements and set personal goals.

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Then we just stepped back and let the learning unfold. It was amazing to see some staff attend workshops, some staff inquiring collaboratively and other staff pursuing  areas of personal exploration.

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OF COURSE, we kept adult recess which proved to be one of the day’s highlights again!

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And we finished the day reflecting on what we learned and how we learned.

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Step 6 – Track the learning

Always, at the end of professional development, we collect feedback from our staff about what went well and what could be improved for next time. In addition to feedback, this time we wanted to collect some data about the learning that took place as well and specifically how it contributed to our School Improvement Plan and PYP Action Plan.

We collected data on what staff learned:

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We collected data on how staff learned:

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We collected data on how staff shared their learning with others:

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We collected data on how staff’s learning contributed to our School Improvement Plan goals:

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We collected data on how staff’s leaning contributed to our PYP Action Plan goals:

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Once all the data was collected and organized, we made a display to ensure that our whole learning community could see the stats about our half day of personalized professional learning.

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All in all, I think it was a success! It felt good to find the synergy between having all learners learning towards to a standard collection of goals, but allowing them to do it in a way that was relevant, significant, challenging and engaging for each them as individual learners. Again, we received an overwhelming positive response to our half day of PPL. When learners are thanking you for letting them learn and asking for more and longer opportunities to learn, hopefully that means we’re on the right track!

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We still have lots of room to grow, so we would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on our model of Personalized Professional Learning! 

 

I signed up for Twitter. Now what?

A few weeks ago we designed a half day of personalized, professional learning for our staff and we had an explosion of people sign up for Twitter – which I couldn’t be more excited about! Many of them shared the same question:

“I signed up for Twitter. Now what?”

So, to all the amazing risk-takers I work with, who took the plunge and joined the wonderful world of Twitter, I dedicate this post to you.

Here is my advice about what to do next:

De-egg

I know there is often hesitation from new users to post a picture of themselves on their Twitter profile, but I can tell you that it is essential. If I’m being honest, as a Twitter user, I feel much more comfortable interacting with other Tweeters who have a profile picture and I rarely add someone who is rocking the “egg” (aka the default picture). In my experience, I have never had any Twitter experiences that have made me feel unsafe or regret my choice to de-egg.

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Clarify your purpose

Are you interested in using Twitter as a tool for your own learning or for your students’ learning?  Depending on what your primary purpose is, the nature of who you follow, what you post and how you use it will all hinge on this question. If your answer is both, I recommend having two separate accounts. One for your own learning, where you can follow other teachers, post your questions about teaching and learning and share your professional successes. And a separate one for your class where your class can follow other classes, your students can post their questions and they can share their learning successes.

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Fill in your bio

When I am deciding who to follow on Twitter, I often refer to their bio to get a sense of who they are and what they might be Tweeting about. The more specific the better. If I’m going through a list and I can’t see where you teach or what you teach, I am probably not going to follow you. It doesn’t have to be too personal, but a few lines about your position (principal, Grade 3 teacher, PYP art teacher) and educational interests (inquiry, digital citizenship, play in the classroom) can really help you connect with other educators.

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Begin to curate a collection of people you wish to follow

The more people you follow, the more useful your Twitter becomes. And the more you tailor your list of people to your specific position and interests, the more you will get out of Twitter. If you are using Twitter for your own learning, my advice is to start with this list of over 500 PYP educators. Scroll through, read the bios and follow anyone that you feel will be worth while. If you are using Twitter for your students’ learning then check out this list of tweeting classes, and scroll through with your students to select which classes you want to follow. Another great way to curate your list is to find someone relevant to your purpose and scroll through their list of followers.

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Dip in – Dip out

Twitter is a never-ending, bottomless pit of amazingness. There are always “New Tweets”. This is both a blessing and a curse. Trying to see everything and stay up to date is futile, especially if you are new to Twitter. You can literally update your homepage every second and at least one new Tweet will appear.  The best thing you can do it “dip in and dip out”. If you have 5 minutes to spare, open up your account and scroll through your homepage or your favourite hashtag. When your time is up log off.

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“Like” things you wish to save for later

One of the best things about Twitter is that you can get a lot out of 5 minutes worth of browsing. One of the worst things about Twitter is that it is constantly changing and tweets get buried pretty easily as time ticks on. If you come across something you are interested in, “like” it and come back to it later when you have more time. All of your favourite Tweets are saved and can be accessed from your profile page so you can go back to them at any time.
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Tweet something 

But only when you are ready. For the first little while after I joined Twitter, I didn’t post anything. So if you are at the stage where you just want to browse, explore and discover the awesome ideas and resources that are being shared by other educators- that’s perfectly fine! When you have something “Tweet-worthy” you’ll know it. At my school we refer to this moments as the “You gotta come see this!” phone call or email that you send to your PYP coordinator when you just know amazing learning is taking place. So when you get that feeling – that you’re doing something with your students that you want everyone to know about – take a picture, log on to Twitter, click the icon of the feather and capture the magic with 140 characters or less. To help your Tweet reach more educators, choose from this list of popular education hash tags.

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New Twitter users – what other questions do you have?

Experienced Twitter users – what other advice can you offer?