Sunday, June 10, 2012

PLG - Sharing opportunities and solutions

What’s becoming apparent in the professional learning group now is the level of interest from schools with classroom building projects ahead of them. Not new schools with entire schools to construct but those with new classroom blocks to build or existing ones to convert.

Many of these schools are looking at developing learning environments that are more relevant for third millennium learners, that will enable a great level of collaboration for teachers and that will align with contemporary pedagogies and technologies.

Those of us fortunate enough to be in new buildings are very much in the minority. It’s simply isn't the reality for the bulk of schools. Building programs inevitably focus on conversions rather than constructions, where spaces will be adapted and reconfigured rather than constructed from scratch. So a number of those present are teachers and leaders from  schools looking ahead as to how they can adapt existing classroom environments, and to find out what the reality of teaching in them actually is.

The PLG group offers a great space to dialogue, discuss and question with colleagues already working in these environments. And for those of us who are, there are certainly as many questions as there are answers! The predominant discussion focuses on teaching and learning within the spaces rather than the spaces themselves, and this seems both appropriate and relevant. Much of this conversation centres on collaboration.

Take this week’s session for example. The team at Hingaia Peninsula School took us through their SWOT analysis process looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of working in this way. The process highlighted for them the challenges of collaborative teaching, such as the time required to dedicate to discussion and planning, or the mechanisms required around timetabling when sharing a group of learners with three teachers.

The perceived strengths and opportunities were numerous however. The ability to focus on ‘stages not ages’; the ability to more easily cater for a wide spread of learners; the level of teaching as inquiry, quality of ongoing professional dialogue; and the reliability of teacher moderation.

These positives and negatives are common themes amongst schools working with collaborative spaces and those looking into it, and it was good to then have a solution focused session looking at some of the challenges. Take the issue of time for example. If it takes longer to plan and organise learning in a shared space what are some of the mechanisms that can help alleviate this?

One team I know ensures that planning for the week ahead always happens on the Thursday night, with time for data driven conversations, or for more philosophical debate given specific time elsewhere in the week. They are diligent about the time, about allocating sufficient time to discussion but still keeping task-focused. They’re also clear on what needs to be done collaboratively, what can be delegated and what can be done by someone else. Time management and agreed structures for meetings and planning sessions are key.

It’s dialogues like these that are important for schools to engage in. And it’s important for schools looking at developing collaborative teaching spaces to be a part of these discussions too. The learning environments, whether new or converted are important but it’s what happens within them that is most critical. Certainly the PLG offers an opportunity for focused professional learning and to know that there are others out there facing similar challenges and grasping similar opportunities.

Thanks to Hingaia Peninsula School for being such great hosts, to everyone who came along, and to Distinction Furniture for organising the afternoon tea. The next PLG will be announced soon. Any questions- please get in touch