Don’t worry! Despite the title, this will be a positive post. 

This week Jeanette James (@7mrsjames) and I spoke with representatives from AITSL (@aitsl), the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, who have awarded the TeachMeet Sydney crew with a grant to begin an action research project. More about this later.

This is an exciting time to be a teacher. Never before have teachers been so connected to new information and ideas, colleagues in other schools – regardless of if they are in the next street or the next country – and opportunities for new learning experiences. However, I do have concerns at the current professional learning landscape.

There is a widening gap that has been left by traditional forms of professional learning. Many institutions, associations and official bodies are under pressure to provide and document ‘professional development’. I equate this to the focus on assessment of learning in schools. There is a very important difference between learning and performance. The former is a process by which we engage with tasks and experiences with a growing level of complexity and understanding. The latter is an attempt at measuring this growth. 

Current forms of ‘professional development’ often serve ways to tick boxes, hopefully with some real value to those involved. Whether it is the provider, who may have for many decades provided static and similar events for their members, or the attendees who ‘receive’ the PD and are able to say they are certified in X many hours and now ‘know’ a certain amount more. 

Another concern I have with traditional modes of PD – and this includes postgraduate study, something I am quite keen on – is that attendees are often just that: those who attend. They are not usually ‘participating’ beyond just listening. This is partly through politeness – not many teachers I know would be brave enough to interrupt a keynote or workshop run by an ‘expert – but also through habit: we are trained to be compliant to those who are more experienced, seemingly more knowledgeable or possibly more insightful than we are.

Those keynotes, those workshop leaders – especially those who make it their profession to BE one of those people, no longer in a classroom of their own – are not the person standing in front of your students. You are. It’s time to be more than a listener. I think professional learning will only happen when ‘professional development’ actively includes the learner in the process.

This is where we come back to TeachMeets. I work under the assumption that the network of communities that several of us in Australia have established – TeachMeet Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and so on – are having some kind of impact on the teachers who participate. Thanks to the opportunity provided by AITSL, we are going to investigate the reach and impact of TeachMeets as a form of professional learning. 

Several teachers based in Sydney and around Australia (and even a few global partners) will help make this action research project come to life, and in turn we will attempt to answer the question of whether TeachMeets are worth the many volunteer hours of the passionate teachers who host, assist and participate. 

I will blog about the process, as I’m sure others in the group will. Please keep an eye out for surveys, interview opportunities (some may be conducted online!) and other ways that you might help us investigate what we are doing, whether it is working, and how we can help every teacher, everywhere, become part of a vibrant professional learning community.

When you sign up for professional development, why do you do it? Are you expected to? Do you have an expectation for yourself regarding your own learning? Are opportunities available to you? Comment below!

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