Teacher Professional Learning at St Leonard’s College

Faced with an “expanding universe” of what needs to be taught in schools, educators, researchers and educational systems across the world are engaging in robust conversations about “what’s worth teaching”. There was a time in the not too distant past when these decisions were more straight-forward – when curriculum was all about content which tended to focus on “traditional versions of the disciplines” and was “segregated by disciplines”. “Local and regional” approaches to history and literature were the norm, students were required to “learn about” rather than to “think with” and very little attention was given to “skills beyond basic literacies”. According to David Perkins, founding member and Co-Director of Harvard Project Zero, contemporary conversations about “learning that matters” seriously challenge this thinking. He and his colleagues suggest that in the changing universe, new trends are emerging which suggest different ways of thinking about what to teach and what students need to learn. In his book entitled Future Wise: Educating our Children for a Changing World, Perkins identifies 6 key “beyonds” that can guide our thinking about what is worth learning:

  1. Beyond content
  2. Beyond local
  3. Beyond topics
  4. Beyond traditional disciplines
  5. Beyond discrete disciplines
  6. Beyond prescribed content.

(Future Wise: Educating our Children for a Changing World by David Perkins)

While many agree that there is an imperative for change, such change brings with it serious implications for teachers, many of whom have been trained in traditional disciplines, using conventional methods. This poses a significant challenge for educational leaders in schools and across educational systems globally. How can they facilitate the authentic engagement of teachers with these ideas, while at the same time continuing to conform to the expectations and demands of a system that is founded on the delivery of traditional discipline-based content, and conventional methods of assessment?

Informed by the work of Michael Fullan, worldwide expert in Whole System Change in Education, St Leonard’s has focused on transforming our school into a powerful “Learning Organisation” that provides a multifaceted professional learning program in which all educators have opportunities to learn deeply and continuously about the changing narrative around teaching and learning. The success of such a model lies in striking a balance between access to new ideas, opportunities for debate and discussion and opportunities to transfer theory into practice and measure its success. We continue to nurture an environment in which all teachers can collaboratively engage with innovative ideas and practices, to think deeply about what is worth teaching, to challenge assumptions and beliefs about curriculum and pedagogy, to reflect deeply on existing practice in an attempt to frame best practice and to improve individual performance as well as that of their colleagues. Furthermore, our deliberate focus on engaging internationally recognised researchers and academics to work alongside our staff, reflects our investment in and commitment to being at the cutting edge of educational thinking and action.

So, what have we done throughout 2018 in the service of these goals?

This year began with an address from Professor Geoff Masters who spoke to the need for teachers to understand more about the ways in which student learning progresses across stages of development. His keynote entitled: Is there another way to think about schooling? was based on his work at ACER around developmental progressions in student learning. Success in this work relies on teachers becoming familiar with student learning data from multiple sources which is now readily available to staff through our Track One and School Box analytics programs. We have continued to engage our teachers with the Cultures of Thinking program, guided by Dr Ron Ritchhart who worked alongside 2 group of staff throughout the year; a beginners’ workshop for those with limited knowledge of his work, as well as an advanced workshop for those who wished to develop their knowledge further. Ron will continue to work with staff from the College in 2019 as we continue our journey to transform our classrooms into places that value and actively promote thinking. In July, Laureate Professor Jennifer Gore, shared with us her internationally acclaimed model of Quality Instruction and Teaching. In her keynote address: What does quality teaching and instruction look like? she provided us with an insight into the key principles of her model. Jenny will continue her work with staff in December as she guides them through her model and looks at ways in which it can be integrated into our work at St Leonard’s. Indigenous leader, Leon Egan, led a deeply moving and inspiring workshop on Indigenous Cultural Awareness. Aware of the centrality of literacy to the learning of all students at all year levels, the college engaged the services of Drs Jane Kirkby and Julie Faulkiner, who lead an audit of literacy across the college and initiated what will be an ongoing action learning program across the next 18 months looking at how we develop literacy across the curriculum from ELC-12. A team of current and prospective IB teachers have worked alongside Jenny McArthur, IB Extended Essay Examiner, who shared her knowledge and expertise on how to guide students to write extended essays.

While drawing on expertise from outside the college to inspire and inform our staff, we also encourage and provide opportunities for staff with particular areas of expertise to lead the learning of their colleagues. This is an important part of developing a learning organisation. This year a range of teachers have led the professional learning of their peers in areas such as; Building Theory of Knowledge into your teaching, teaching students with Dyslexia, Catering for EAL students: Scaffolding language for accessing the curriculum, building capacity in using thinking routines in the classroom, transforming teaching and learning using OneNote, developing and assessing collaboration, using the iPad effectively, mindfulness training and more.

Another important arm of our development as a learning organisation involves the targeted development of our existing and emerging leaders. Our academic leaders have come together as a professional learning community throughout the year to develop their knowledge and understanding of Dr Lynn Erickson’s work on concept-based curriculum and instruction. Our pastoral leaders have had opportunities to take part in workshops on restorative practices and mindfulness training. And, our emerging leaders have had opportunities to come together to develop leadership skills and have been invited by our Principal to begin learning more about the OECD Education 2030 project.

Finally, we continue to provide a vast array of external opportunities for staff to engage in professional learning that addresses not only the immediate needs of their everyday teaching, but which also serves to inspire, challenge and motivate educators to look to the future, thinking beyond immediate needs to consider the “Beyonds” that David Perkins refers to as the way of the future.

Jacqui Coker
Director of Teacher Professional Learning