A mashup of all things educational! From technology and social media to leadership and international education, this is where I will be reflecting and applying everything thing I learn from the web and my PLN. Join me on the adventure and add your opinion to the mix!

24 September 2011

9 Lifelong Learners: A Dangerous Assumption

199 - Danger sign
"Teachers are lifelong learners, that's why they teach students to learn."

Have you heard this before? Have you thought this before? Have you said this before?

I have...and now I realise that it's a dangerous assumption to make; in fact, one that may be getting many of us in trouble without realising it.  You see, all this time I've been thinking that the majority of the teachers in the world WANT to improve education and WANT to be up to date and relevant in their professional practice but don't have access to the resources that they need to implement the change.  I've been angry at districts and school boards for not giving teachers the resources needed to make change happen.  Unfortunately, I never stopped to ask myself if the teachers really WANTED to learn anything new or LIKED learning new things to make the change happen.  I had assumed, as I mentioned above, that they were inherently lifelong learners who were just in a situation that didn't allow them access to resources.

The realisation that this is a dangerous assumption hit me after a number of recent surveys with teachers alluded to the fact that they didn't have extra personal time, didn't want to give their personal time or thought it was inappropriate to give their personal time to learn anything new for work outside their contract hours.  In addition, I had a few teacher comments indirectly imply that "at their age they couldn't learn anything new, or at least it would be a lot more difficult and probably not worth the time."  I was disappointed when it finally occurred to me that what these survey results were really saying was that these teachers weren't interested in being professional learners.  For these teachers, no amount of curated internet resources, professional articles, personal learning networks or free webinars are going to make a difference since their inherent desire to learn as a professional is diminished.

Click below to read more!
If you've read my previous posts, you'll see that one of my personal areas of inquiry is change in education.  I've been following and listening to many of the top thinkers in this area (Will Richardson, David Warlick, Scott McLeod and more from the top 50 education reform blogs) and reading various books on the subject including Switch by Dan and Chip Heath.  The book outlines the following three steps for creating lasting change: direct the person with the specific change steps that you want them to follow, motivate the person to change by appealing to their emotional need for improvement and determine the path the person should follow by providing simple and clear goals for future success.  Interestingly, all of these resources and forward thinkers emphasize over and over again one critical point: motivation.

Applying this to the teachers mentioned above, the ones who are not interested in professional learning, how do we encourage change and promote professional learning from an emotional perspective?  Which approach should we use- scare tactics or inspiration?  I was planning on showing motivational videos of students and teachers learning and using technology in a "the future is now" sort of approach like Justin Tarte discussed on his blog, but now I am wondering if that would really motivate someone who has a diminished desire to learn professionally?  Perhaps we need to create videos that show what the alternative reality would be if teachers do not change and our students are left behind in a futuristic technological world?  Should we be showing videos of students who are unprepared and unable to perform compared to students in other countries?  Maybe we need to put the emphasis on the effects on students in the future instead of a "be all you can be" approach for Teacher of the Year?

What do you think? What approach do you think will motivate teachers who are not interested in learning outside work hours? What emotional approach will inspire change in teachers?

Jessica :)

Photo Source:  MrB-MMX 


Stephanie Shouldis said...

I have had this conversation with several of my co-workers. I question other teachers sense of life-long learning when they say to me, "you have so much knowledge." I always reply, "no, my PLN on twitter has so much knowledge, I just apply it." They always say they are too busy for Twitter or they wouldn't understand, even when I offer to walk them through the process. Are they really lifelong learners, and how can one inspire someone to be a lifelong learner, if they are not motivated enough to be one? I wish there was an answer to motivate other educators to be lifelong learners. However, I think it has to come from intrinsic motivation and not extrinsic intimidation.

Mrs. E said...

Great post; I think it is a dangerous assumption. And I think the question you ask about motivating teachers who are not interested in learning outside of school hours is a tough one, and one I have run up against a lot in my teacher coaching experience.

I think the primary factor in motivating these teachers is making it relevant to them (the same way we need to motivate students). I have seen admins and teachers who won't learn something new...until they see a tool or a strategy that really works in the classroom or works for them on some level. Sometimes I've seen it happen after a teacher was forced to use a tool/strategy, and sometimes it's when a teacher has seen it work for someone else with their own eyes.

Whatever the case, I think it really comes down to making the teacher see how it can benefit them. And, it's been my experience that different teachers need different ways of seeing that benefit (sometimes through being mandated, and sometimes not).

Elaine said...

I believe that those of us who love to learn for the sake of learning are in the minority. We need to treat unmotivated teachers just as we treat our disengaged students. Show them how a new way of teaching would make their job easier and more exciting. Everyone loves to learn something new when it has relevance to his own life.
Elaine Habernig
Website: www.ehabernig.wikispaces.com

Maureen Devlin said...

I think schools have to restructure. Working as teams, schools need to think deeply about the staff--their skills, passions, gifts and desires. No teacher can be all things. I'm passionate about research, but perhaps not as passionate about another area integral to our overall success. Matching professionals to jobs in the building that are a good fit could be one way to inspire continued innovation and change with the goal of success for every student.

jessievaz12 said...

Thanks for the great comments, everyone! I think there is a common thread in all of these comments.... that is one of relevance. Each of you has mentioned how important it is to make the motivation that we give relevant to those teachers who may not see value in learning outside of their work hours.

Has anyone had some particular success with this idea? There have been mentions of some teachers needing to have the use of a tool/approach mandated before they realise it is useful and relevant to them. Has this worked for others? What types of things should be mandated for example? Is there a need to mandate that teachers spend some time outside their contract hours for personal professional learning? Would that work?

Thanks for keeping the conversation going and i look forward to your comments!

jessievaz12 said...

Just had this great video pass my way and needed to post it here since it is so related. Watch: Mr. Winkle Wakes - YouTube http://ow.ly/6EM94(thanks @whatedsaid for this link!)

Anonymous said...

This is a great question addressing an issue I face with select faculty at the school where I teach. I think many of those faculty would object to my characterization of them as not being lifelong learners because they are opposed to learning new ways to teach and/or use technology to enhance the classroom experience. They would say that since they are investing time and energy reading material or attending conferences related to their discipline, that they are, in fact, lifelong learners. In other words, their definition of "lifelong learner" differs from mine.

Interestingly, we had a consultant speak to our entire faculty last week, talking about trends in technology, and she said teachers need to stop going to conferences that are comfortable and predictable for them, choosing instead a conference that will challenge them and open them up to new opportunities, especially Ed Tech conferences!

jessievaz12 said...

Great ideas to think about here. I do think that your teachers are correct in their definition partially. I think any professional development that teachers undertake on their own should be applauded! It's teachers that don't do any that worry me the most.

I do think your consultant was absolutely correct... we do need to continually push ourselves and our profession to go to conferences and use ideas that might make us feel a little uncomfortable. If we don't, how will we ever move forward?!

Do you think it is the responsibility of educational conferences to change their delivery methods to encourage more technology use by participants?

Anonymous said...

Hi Jessie,
Yes, I think educational conferences should help challenge participants to stretch themselves by offering sessions on beneficial uses of technology in the classroom. This past summer, two faculty from our US math department went to the Exeter conference and learned about using OneNote in math classes. Our teachers and students have had tablet laptops for 6 years now, with no one in the math department utilizing the tablet functionality for student notetaking. Hearing the message from someone outside of their school fired up these teachers (hooray!). Now the entire math department is using OneNote with their students in some form or fashion. I credit Exeter for providing a good lineup of presenters.

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