It may seem hard to believe but most second level teachers in this country have never seen another colleague teach their subject other than the teacher they had themselves as a student and possibly a few class observations when they were doing the hDip. Neither is there currently any obligation on us to initiate communication with colleagues in other schools either within the country or elsewhere.
This needs to change. Few if any of us are so expert in our teaching that we have nothing left to learn. In the past establishing a space for this learning to occur was the main stumbling block but now with the advent of technology there is no such excuse. The experts call it a PLN – a professional learning network – and it should revolutionise education. It works like this: sign up to twitter and start following someone (anyone – it doesn’t matter who; @thefrogblog wouldn’t be a bad starting point). Very quickly you will start receiving tweets and links from other teachers. You can then choose to ‘unfollow’ those who don’t appeal to you. It’s a very fluid process and in the main people don’t mind (or probably even know) if you unfollow them so don’t think you are signing up to some lifelong commitment. It’s quite likely you will chance upon a number of people who you know personally but didn’t realise were on Twitter.
Slowly you will begin to establish a list of people who you rate highly – you are now developing a PLN. You are in complete control and with time should come the confidence to contribute yourself. It’s only then that you realise the potential. Personally I find the posts of physics teacher @fnoschese to be of greatest benefit but that could all change tomorrow if my interests take a different turn.
I imagine many teachers have developed a PLN without ever realising what it was called and chances are that in the past it was through personal communication via a subject organisation like the ISTA. Probably the greatest assistance to my professional development over the years was a discussion group for teachers of physics in Britain and Ireland as part of the Institute of Physics. It was a place where I could post any problems that I had in either understanding a concept or indeed explaining the concept to students. But its greatest feature was in reading the comments that other teachers wrote which made me realise that concepts which I thought I understood were completely wrong and in many instances were perfect examples of the type of misconception which I was trying to eradicate in my own students’ heads.
The amount of time I was able to give to this varied enormously but now with the advent of Twitter and the smartphone all of this information is literally at the touch of a button.
One consequence of all this however is to make me realise that my style of teaching is highly questionable from a pedagogical point of view. It might be all bells and whistles, the students may love it and I get a great sense of satisfaction from it, but all the research shows that this traditional model is pretty ineffective. Frank Nochese (mentioned above) refers to it as ‘pseudoteaching’ and I like to turn that around and suggest that what my students are doing in the main is ‘pseudolearning’; I think they’re learning, they think they’re learning and the exam results are keeping everybody happy, but it only takes a little prodding to realise that much of this learning is superficial – concepts are not really understood, they are merely ‘learned off by heart’. And that’s not good enough. The use of assessment as a learning tool instead of its current function which is simply to assign grades is another example of how I have fallen behind as a professional.But that’s for another day.
The point is, whatever we call it, we all need to be in constant communication with colleagues. We all need to give and receive feedback. We all need to strive to improve.
Currently there is little external incentive to develop a PLN, neither are there any penalties for not doing so, but one would hope that it is only a matter of time before this changes. Watch this space.