Professional learning strategies for the adult learner

Offering professional learning to educators as though they were students does not work for teachers—or students
By: | September 3, 2019

Eujon Anderson is the technology director for Troy City Schools in Troy, Alabama.

As a Technology Director for a mid-sized school district, I find that professional learning strategies can focus on concepts that benefit the students more than the teachers. Though it is necessary to continue our efforts with pedagogical models of learning, we must not forget who we are training—our educators.

Offering professional learning to educators as though they were students does not work in favor of your teachers or students. I am guilty of delivering professional learning to teachers and administrators with methods that did not appease them. I set the schedule and times for the educators. I came up with the agenda and focus on learning. I even told teachers that my methods would work in all of their classrooms. This was a big mistake.

When introducing professional learning styles to educators, what must be taken into consideration is that our educators should be considered as Adult Learners. There are several theories to explain Adult Learning or Andragogy.

For the sake of this article, Adult Learning is simplified as the behavior in which Adults attain information or learning. Adult Learning should be centered around what interests the educators; current issues in the classroom, learning that gives instant gratification on a subject and is motivated by their past experiences, With Adult Learning, it is advised that Technology Directors or Technology Coaches embrace this idea, and include educators in the learning process.

Here are a few strategies to incorporate a more adult learner’s model for your school.

Professional learning schedule should be flexible. Most school systems set up their academic and professional learning calendars well before the upcoming school year. It is important that these calendars are created with educators in mind. Include several of your teachers and administrators on the professional learning schedule, to get advice on times they would prefer learning. These learning spaces and times should be flexible for the teachers. This means that teachers should choose the type of learning models (content-based, digital tools, management), the method (face-to-face, book study, online), and level (beginners, intermediate, expert) of learning. Doing so would help eliminate the “one size fits all” model that is ineffective.

Districtwide collaboration. Educators work best when they communicate and collaborate with each other. Study shows that working with other adult learners who are like-minded and can work on the same objectives, can build an emotional connection with learning. Allow teachers to work with those who teach the same subject or even cross-curriculum. Even better, ELA teachers in our schools have been known to work well with each other, whether they are in the same school or different (middle and high). These same teachers work to find other teachers in areas such as History and Science as they build strategies for student engagement in the classroom.

Create Edcamp-like training. Instructional and Technology Coaches should create professional learning sessions that reflect the different learning styles of their teachers. An example of this type of learning includes creating an Edcamp. Edcamps are known to focus more on Adult Learners because they are driven by them. Technology coaches who create edcamp-like sessions make the teachers feel as if they are in control of their own learning. Conversations and topics that are picked should suit the needs of the teacher. Because adult learning is impacted by experience, most teachers will ask for assistance as it relates to occurrences in their classroom or school. For more insight on this strategy, The Four O’Clock Faculty by Rich Czyz is a great book that focuses on these guidelines of training the adult learner.

Allow meaningful feedback. To make progress with our learning strategies, technology directors and technology coaches must allow meaningful feedback from teachers. Offering the opportunity for meaningful feedback from our teachers is essential to productive professional learning. This can be done by having exit tickets after professional learning events. Examples of creating opportunities for teacher feedback includes creating a survey, allowing a time to brainstorm for the next training or to use a digital tool such as Flipgrid to record their thoughts through video.

Be mindful of their time. When organizing any professional learning, please be empathetic of your teachers’ time. Most teachers are known to work extra hours before and after classroom instruction. We must also understand that teachers have other obligations. Professional learning has to be planned with acknowledging these factors. Administrators and central office members must be creative when offering professional learning.

In the presentation, Flipping the Staff Meeting, from FETC 2019, I explain different strategies on how administrators can replace traditional meeting times to replace them with professional learning. This could be accomplished by replacing staff meetings with opportunities for professional learning. This example has been seen at the high school. Staff meetings are replaced with teacher-driven professional learning at least twice a month. These sessions, at times, are based on data from student assessments, or facilitated by the feedback from teachers.

Eujon Anderson is the technology director for Troy City Schools in Troy, Alabama. He will be a featured presenter for DA’s FETC 2020.

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