Learning is....
Planting a seed in our brain... learning to water, nurture and grow it.... so we can live on the fruit of our learning and plant more seeds.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Dr Adam Lefstein - Keynote 2 - ULearn14 - Teacher professional discourse and learning: what we talk about when we talk about our practice

The second key of ULearn14 note was presented by Dr Adam Lefstein from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.  This is his bio from the ULearn site:

Adam Lefstein is Senior Lecturer in Education at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, where he conducts research and teaches about pedagogy, classroom interaction, teacher learning and educational change. He’s particularly interested in the intersection between research and professional practice, and how to conduct research that is meaningful, rigorous and helpful for educators.
His recently published book, Better than Best Practice: Developing Teaching and Learning through Dialogue (with Julia Snell, published by Routledge), investigates the possibilities, challenges and dilemmas of dialogic teaching and learning, and offers practical tools for using discussion of video-recordings of classroom practice to hone teacher professional judgment.
Previously, Lefstein worked as a teacher and facilitator of teacher learning at the Branco Weiss Institute in Jerusalem, where he also directed the Community of Thinking programme.

You can find out more about Dr Lefstein's book at http://dialogicpedagogy.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @ALefstein as of today.  Click here for the collaborative document from the Keynote.

Below is the Storify of the tweets I and others tweeted during Dr Lefstein's Keynote presentation. 

Sadly Storify has deleted itself from the Social Media landscape and none of my Storifies exist anymore.  😭😭😭😭

A day later (and then several weeks later) I have had a chance to reflect on what we heard from Dr Lefstein yesterday.  Teachers tend to talk a lot.  We talk all day to students, we talk to the parents who we encounter in our day and we talk to our colleagues in meetings, in passing, at lunchtime.  But how often are our conversations with our colleagues of a quality that the participants come away with something they know will improve their practice?

In 2006 I was lucky enough to do the Middle Leadership Course at the Leadership Centre at the University of Waikato.  Murray Fletcher was the facilitator of the course and one of the centre points was active listening.  This keynote gave me pause to go back and reflect on what I learnt in this course and to synthesise what I know already with what I heard yesterday.

I was particularly taken by the comparison of teacher professional discourse being compared with a doctor's medical round.  When doctors do their rounds they have each other to discuss the patient's condition with.  They may consult with the nurses who have a more direct care of the patient.  They toss ideas around and come up with a diagnosis and a treatment plan. 

Teachers do do this as well, but not usually as they teach.  It usually happens in the staff room at lunch time or in a meeting to create and IEP.  Because the nature of teaching is generally one teacher in a single cell room with many children, there generally is no other adult for the teacher to confer and work with to solve those problems or take a different tack with teaching the moment that it happens.  Our conversations tend to be reactionary, after the fact, rather than in the moment.

In regards to Rule 1: Don't talk about pedagogical problems, I agree that teachers as a rule are not used to people watching them regularly, to have people come into their classrooms and talk the practice of teaching as the teacher is teaching.  However, I believe that most teachers are pretty good at talking pedagogy, particularly if something is not right - however this doesn't seem to happen in the class... it's always and after thing and mostly focused on solving an issue rather than analysing and celebrating what works and then exploring the possibility of changing that up.  Often our pedagogical conversations are based on putting out a fire rather than preventing the fire.

Teaching is an aspirational vocation.  We all have great plans at being the best teacher we can be, having the most amazing programmes, engaging children in meaningful and inspiring learning.  But we soon realise that we can't juggle all the balls at the same time, if one thing is going well it may be to the expense of another, and there is always a bit more that we can do as teachers.

Which brings me to Rule 2: Don't mind the gap between teaching aspirations and classroom realities.  There will always be the gap between what we what to provide and achieve with our learners compared to what really happens, but even though we may never consistently achieve to meet the standards we (or others) set ourselves as teachers, we should never give up or lessen our expectations.  We need to continue to challenge ourselves and exceed our previous best to keep the passion alive and extend ourselves.  We need to be clear what our leaders expect of us and our leaders need to know what we expect of ourselves as well, which means discussing and planning your aspirations with your team or senior management.

Rule 3: Dichotomize is about the opposing forces in our classroom, in our teaching, in our own perceptions and realities which are facing off each day as we teach.  This has always happened, and always will.  But good discussion with a trusted colleague will help you to identify those which are really hurting your teaching and holding back students from achieving and will enable you to come away with a bag of tricks to try to change the situation.

Rule 4: Trust your own unique experience - this is important that our experiences shape us as teachers, but we also need to be open to other experiences by our colleagues, because they may spark and idea or a system we can make our own for the betterment of our own teaching and the learning of the students.

Rule 5: No precise professional language is where Dr Lefstein and I have a fundamental difference of opinion.  I find that teaching is littered with teaching language and phrases that people who are not teachers do not understand.  I often find myself translating acronyms like RTLB, explaining what synthesising in reading is, or a number of other things as parents and friends look at me with glazed eyes.  We have plenty of technical teacher talk.

Rule 6: Hyper-criticise Dr Lefstein showed part of a video of Sir Tony Robinson on a show called The Teaching Challenge and this is the blurb for the video:
Sir Tony Robinson, presenter of Time Team and Blackadder, hated school, but has returned to take on a history class at Shireland Language College in Smethwick, Birmingham.
His challenge is to teach a lesson on the worst jobs in history relating to the evolution of public health and hygiene since 1300. He faces not only the pupils, but also the school's formidable head of history, Colin Vigar, who offers a robust critique of Tony's performance. (2005)

And Tony was rigorously critiqued by Colin.  But is a rigorous critique helpful to a teacher receiving feedback?  Personally I don't think so, and neither did the room, nor Dr Lefstein's research.  Feedback needs to be structured, specific and constructive.

Rule 7  - seems to have disappeared during the keynote so we moved on to the next rule.

Rule 8: Focus on what's missing is when the discussion focuses on what did not happen rather than on what did happen.  That can be very down heartening to the teacher who is being observed when they are only told what they haven't done and should have done instead rather than building on what was achieved.

So what did I come away with from this keynote?

  • Professionally discussing our teaching practice is important to helping me be a better teacher.
  • The conversation needs to focus on what actually is happening.
  • We shouldn't ignore our own experiences, but should be open to the experiences of others too.
  • Feedback needs to be structures, specific and constructive - the aim is to build up the teacher to go forward, not tear the teacher down.
  • It would be beneficial to have discussions with another professional as event occur, although in teaching this tends to be hard as we are a single teacher in a single room with a class most of the time.
  • We should talk about the challenges we face and not be staunch.