“We need to understand how people learn when they have a choice — and bring that into places where they are required to learn” — David Price, Open
Student voice is all the rage at conferences and PLN discussions — people are talking almost nonstop about how important it is to bring this learning idea into classrooms. Student voice centers around the idea that teachers need to give students agency in how they learn, which goes far beyond simply giving them choice. It is about developing self-directed learners who can more easily construct their own knowledge and make effective decisions as they chart their own educational course.
Teachers also need agency and voice as they learn. Except — and this is the pivotal difference — adults are more sophisticated learners than children in development stages. Adult teachers are credentialed professionals, and they need appropriate respect. They want to be heard — to contribute to an ongoing learning conversation. They should have the opportunity to take ownership of what they learn and how they learn in order to improve their practice. Teacher voice will enhance student voice. Some school districts have found a way to include teacher voice in their professional learning, but most have NOT. As it stands, teachers have little, if any, voice in their learning practice.
A major shift in teacher PD is needed to give teachers voice. But this shift will require some scaffolding because many teachers need the training to equip them to effectively utilize new online technologies and networks like Twitter and Instagram, where powerful conversations are happening daily. For these teachers, this will have to be developed and cultivated so that they too can become partners in their learning instead of waiting for district-mandated or one-size-fits-all PD. Up to now, the only remedy for this had been the PLC.
The concept of a PLC, or Professional Learning Community, originally came about in the 1960s and was quite effective. It offered a guided conversation practice to alleviate teacher isolation that can still plague some educators even today. This idea of teachers being involved in their learning was vital — and smart. So when the PLC came into existence, administrations flocked to the idea because it seemed to give teachers that voice. But over time, this original concept was hijacked by top-down initiatives and controlling administrations who took the process out of the hands of teachers. Now in 2019, the PLC does not even suit its purpose. An idea originally intended to support voice has been co-opted for artificial discussions that do not interest busy teachers. Today, most educators would do anything to avoid their PLCs. So where do we turn?
Start by becoming familiar with terms that reflect the needs of the adult learner:
- Andragogy. Andragogy says learning should be student-centered and student-directed and is most often guided and experiential. Its learner-focused, not learning focused.
- Heutagogy. Heutagogy goes one step further by explaining that this ‘learner-focused’ approach works best when it’s highly independent and self-directed. That gaining capacity and learning how to learn are the ultimate goals.
Next, Use These School Site Changes to Foster Teacher Voice
- Time: Carve out time in a school day, schedule common prep times, or structure PD to give teachers the time to learn on their own. Curate for them a few ways to start and help scaffold some of them through the new collaborative landscape. Have teachers share their favorite learning hubs with examples of what they learned.
- Collaboration: Allow for the use of social platforms that value important conversations. Teachers need to learn to search out the one that works best for them and teach others the keys that make things easier like TweetDeck or teacher2teacher.com where conversations are already happening on one accessible platform. Heck, a couple of sessions of PD in their PJs on a cold winter night might just be the addictive force an educator needs. Let teachers share their success and failures to get comfortable with this new type of learning, and reiterate that it is more than consumption.
Use collaborative learning to teach collaborative learning!
- Freedom: Give teachers the freedom to try something new. Let teachers design their own PD and their own collaborative groups based on their own learning needs. Giving teachers some freedom is easier than you might think — just take a deep breath and know the amazing educators you hired might come up with something that will revolutionize your school and better yet many schools! All it takes is one spark to start a fire.
- Incentive: As an incentive for initiative, consider giving out ‘Social Learning Scholarships” teachers can apply for at the school or district level. Allow teachers to find an idea on a social learning platform like Twitter or Instagram and give them an opportunity to apply for a $250 dollar scholarship to try out that idea in the classroom. If they share that idea with the rest of the staff give them a bonus of $100. Most schools or parent and booster clubs have funds to use for teacher learning. Why not inspire teachers to learn on their own?