Reinventing professional development and wellbeing training for educators

Using the power of story to mobilise teacher-led innovation

“Nothing has given me more hope recently than to observe how simple conversations give birth to actions that can change lives. There is no more powerful way to initiate significant social change than to start a conversation. When a group of people discover that they share a common concern, that’s when the process of change begins.” — Margaret Wheatley

In May 2018, 350 courageous educators at St Francis Xavier College came together to experiment with the future of professional development.

This whole day event invited the colleges teaching community to share stories and have meaningful conversations about the vital importance of their learning relationships with student’s.

And wow, did the educators take advantage of this opportunity to converse in this simple yet powerful way. We heard story after story about special and joyous learning relationships that transformed lives. We also heard stories of lament where teachers wished they could go back in time to change how they related with students. As the day progressed, a compelling sense of connection and common concern started to emerge.

A beautiful example of this common concern was shared on twitter by Year 9 Learning Culture Leader, Lorinda Mutsaers;

Joanne Alford, Deputy Principal Wellbeing who co-designed the day said; “There is such a beautiful glow of gratitude across the college today.” “I feel so privileged to have played a part in this magic.”

Not your usual professional development day

Rather than hosting a traditional expert-led training day, St Francis Xavier wanted to show how fun and powerful professional development can be. Together with Jack Greig and myself, we reimagined what was possible and designed a community-led experience for their educators.

We thought rather than bringing in the big name experts, this valuable time would be better spent giving the educators time to look within, strengthen their connections and have meaningful conversations about why learning relationships matter at St Francis Xavier.

By putting the teaching community at the centre of the day, St Francis Xavier gave everyone the time and space to pursue their own deep learning, while also giving voice to their collective wisdom — the wisdom of the crowd. This created an immersive learning experience for everyone involved, where the sharing of diverse viewpoints enabled the teachers to become aware of how they could be the change they want to see in their schools.

The power of story

“Story is a tool for building community through empathy and coherence. It enables people to connect across difference and to generate narratives that hold together groups, organizations, and movements.” — Ella Saltmarshe

To foster high-quality relationships between educators on the day, and to enable everyone to connect as humans, rather than only as professionals, every teacher was invited to share a personal story of a learning relationship that mattered to them. We did this because when we invite someone to share a personal story, we are inviting them to deepen their connection with us. It’s an invitation that says we believe their experience matters. Sharing stories in this way is a powerful tool for building community and creating a web of connection around the common concerns we share.

Mobilising community-led action

“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” — Margaret J. Wheatley

While there are many benefits to hosting meaningful conversations, the reason that really stood out to us as organisers of the day is its capacity to mobilise community-led action. Change naturally emerges when groups of people connect with what is deepest and best in themselves, share what matters and take meaningful action alongside one another to make it a reality. In this way, conversation and discovering our common concerns become the foundations for transformative change.

Given the growing need for teachers to take action on issues like wellbeing, mental health, trauma and learning relationships, we feel using the transformative power of community-led approaches, as opposed to the more informative, expert-led trainings, is vital.

Want to mobilise community-led action at your school?

We think hosting conversations about things that matter is one of the most powerful ways to generate transformative change in schools. Get in touch and let’s work together if you would like to run a community-led professional development day at your school.

Our community-led days can be adapted to suit a wide range of contexts and applications. This approach can be used with large groups, such as a whole school, or it can also be used in more intimate settings, such as with a leadership group.