As we begin the New Year, we continue to reflect on the connections that we made during our session at the Learning Forward 2016 Annual Conference held in Vancouver, BC, in December. We were struck by your level of engagement at 8:00 am on the final day of that conference and were so pleased to speak to many of you both during the session and after it had finished. For us, what outlasts the event is the feedback we received. A theme in your feedback was that you noted not only what was said (content), but also how it was said (design and method). This brings to mind the opportunities we have as leaders to intentionally and purposefully design the learning process for adult learners.
We appreciate this level of “noticing.” We are intentional and purposeful in the work we do with schools and systems. Often, what brings us to you is a request for content – assessment, writing, reporting, instructional leadership, evaluation, strategic planning, etc. And yet, each time we choose to “deliver” this content through a well-designed framework, because we know, just as classroom teachers know, that content cannot stand alone.
In order to be clear, we would like to illuminate hallmarks of a structure that we use when working with a system or school over time:
· We are responsive to the learners and the system within which they work.
· We use the principles of assessment for learning as a structure for adult learning.
· We plan for both leader and teacher learning.
· We build in opportunities to learn in the presence of students, by risking our own significance and demonstrating instructional cycles.
· We use the gradual release of responsibility model not only with student learners, but with adult learners as well.
· We identify what we want the learners to notice as we teach and facilitate.
· We provide time for learners to practice and we provide them with feedback.
This structure permits us to move between adult learning sessions and classroom demonstrations/observations and back again in a seamless manner. In fact, this is, for us, a ‘coaching’ stance, allowing adult learners to access their internal resources, experience, and expertise.
Over the course of the next several months, we will elaborate on each of these statements. We will use examples and accounts to reveal how the intentionality of our design leads to deep adult learning and change in practice. Just as Kevin Fahey and Jacy Ippolito state in their article, How to Build Schools Where Adults Learn, we believe that “School improvement is built on adult learning, which changes over time and can be encouraged and supported by savvy school leaders. Moreover, a learning practice, like a teaching practice, develops in complex ways as teachers grow and learn…” (Journal of Staff Development, Vol. 35, No. 2, April 2014).
Sandra, Brenda, and Anne