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Re: Making Sense of Teacher Professional Development

As someone very interested in the professional learning of educators, I really enjoyed this piece, Making Sense of Teacher Professional Development,  and I recommend it to you for its clarity and concision.

Among the points of the article is the danger of misconceptions. To illustrate this, the author refers to this video of Harvard graduates explaining the cause of the Earth’s seasons (jump to 32 seconds):

According to the author, the Harvard grads were misled by commonly used illustrations of the earth’s orbit which suggest erroneous seasonal distances between the earth and sun.

In summarizing such “misconceptions that block learning”, the author states:

“…potentially misleading but factual information and the resulting misconceptions are dangerously strong influences to the way we process information over long periods of time.”

This is a great example of one of the domains of ‘unhealthy learning‘ that the professional development of educators must address.

We all realize that professional development, or better said, professional learning, is the key to improving schools. But professional learning about what? What can educators learn that can most help them educate? In the limited time they have for professional learning, what can educators learn that will most improve their performance as educators? Before we go into all the ways to measure and improve what we are doing, are we measuring ‘misleading but factual information’ and contributing to ‘dangerous misconceptions’?

Rather than just ‘training’ teachers to do x,y, and z according to 1,2,3, or getting them to ‘know’ the latest research factoids, I think educators can have a first-person experience of learning that opens and orients their ongoing learning as educators in ways that can’t help but help how well they steward the learning of their kids – across the board – a general effect.

The root problem is our commonly accepted misconceptions about learning and the role learning plays in our lives. Not sufficiently understanding the difference between between healthy and unhealthy learning (and other key distinctions), our attempts to improve education are based on misconceptions that misdirect our efforts just as surely as that elliptical orbit diagram led the Harvard students to their misconceptions about the seasons.

Is your work contributing to a way of thinking about educating that is perpetuating the problem? I am not saying it is or isn’t. I can’t tell. Can you?


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