Tony Gurr

Teacher LEARNing: What do we NEED and what can we DO for ourselves?

In Educational Leadership, Teacher Training on 30/08/2011 at 11:26 am

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine (Aisha Ertuğrul) did a guest post on Ken Wilson’s Blog.

Initially, it looked as if Aisha (who described herself as “Hungarian/Latvian/Turkish American from New York City” – I’d read anything she wrote just for that) was planning to discuss “snowboarding”. However, on closer inspection you realize that what she was doing was taking on the issue of how little attention is paid to the professional development of teachers – by their schools.


Her post was passionate – and she made a couple of very poignant points:

  • The educational “culture” (or “educational literacy”) of a country can have a powerful effect on how individual educational leaders and institutions “see” (or don’t see) professional development – and whether or not they “walk-their-talk” when they say “people (meaning teachers) are our most important asset”! Turkey, like many other countries, does not do too well on that scorecard.
  • The lack of real attention to the professional development of teachers within many institutions (and the lack of meaningful educational leadership) can lead to teachers themselves “switching off” – coming to view professional development as a “waste of time” or something they simply cannot manage to “fit into” their very busy schedules.


People who commented on Aisha’s post whole-hearted agreed:

  • The “examocracy mentality” still dominates school life – and undermines efforts to promote real learning in students (and teachers) 
  • School and university leaders do not have a clue what in-service training is 
  • “Flavour-of-the-month projects” that by their very nature do little to promote real teacher learning – distract from longer-term, meaningful projects 
  • Schools building their professional development opportunities around the freebies offered by publishers (“coursebook capitalists”) just end up offering irrelevant, cut n’ paste (or one-shot) workshops 
  • Conferences are a “waste of time” – used more as PR vehicles rather than opportunities for teacher learning

Take a read – it’s all good stuff!


When schools say “we put teachers first – they are our most important asset” – they need to mean it! Making broad “motherhood statements” about what you say you believe is not the same as actually believing it – and doing something about it!

Schools (colleges and universities, too) need to GET REAL! They need to move from “lip-service” to meaningful servicethey need to get to know what their teachers need, they need to start providing real opportunities that support the professional learning of their teachers and they need to create the conditions that allow teachers to actively engage in those learning opportunities.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for this, Tony!


I know – but forever the optimist, I have to believe that we can make some form of progress or improvement (if not a radical transformation of how we do business in teacher learning and professional development).

A short while ago, I did a post on andragogy – and attempted to summarise many of the “needs” of adult learners. In retrospect, this could have been a list of the needs of teachers – in terms of the approach to professional development that works.

I’ve re-worded it to reflect what might be a good start for educational leaders, if they want to get serious about real learning for teachers:

Teachers do NOT need:

More stand-and-deliver, one-shot workshops that have little relevance to how they do business in the classroom!

Teachers need:

  • to be involved in diagnosing and formulating their own learning needs
  • to participate in setting their own learning and professional development goals
  • to be involved in the planning their own learning opportunities
  • to be in control of choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies
  • to be encouraged to identify meaningful learning resources / materials
  • to be seen as “proactive learners” (rather than “reactive trainees”)
  • to feel that their experience and backgrounds are valued – and that they are respected as a “whole person”
  • to learn in a “warm, friendly and informal climate” that provides for flexibility in the learning process
  • guidance and support that maintains their motivation to learn and keeps them actively involved in their own learning  
  • to know why they should bother to learn something
  • opportunities to solve real-life (and school-based) problems (not be spoon-fed training content)
  • opportunities to discover, critique and create
  • to learn-by-doing and engage in active experimentation (and reflection on mistakes)
  • “just-in-time” professional development (not the “just-in-case” variety)
  • training support that is task-oriented and contextualised (rather than the “same-old, same-old” workshops)
  • peer support and group-based activities, as well as individual attention from trainers 
  • to know that their needs form the basis of any PD programme and that self-direction is the core principle of these programmes
  • to share responsibility for and take ownership of monitoring the progress of the learning experience
  • to be involved in evaluating learning outcomes and measuring their success
  • to experience a sense of progress towards their goals – and a sense of real learning and growth as professionals

Dream much, Tony?


Come on – it’s a start. But, there’s also the option of doing it for ourselves – till then!

In another recent post on “making an omelette” (!) I tried to offer a 12-step plan for teachers than might want to think a wee bit more about moving from our “traditional literacies” to the more recent “digital fluencies”.


But, when I looked at it again, I realized that it was a DIY-plan for doing our own professional development: 

STEP 1 – Read, learn and discuss more about “professional development” and the things educators are talking about – and what they “mean” for your learners and your learning-and-teaching context!

STEP 2 – Be the change you want to see in education! (nuff said – who is going to disagree with Gandhi)!

STEP 3 – Begin with the end in mind (Go on – click on it – dare you)!

STEP 4 – Just do it!

STEP 5 – Start small, begin slowly and focus on doing a few things “differently” and “well” (Rome was not built in a day…)!

STEP 6 – Know that for real improvement in learning and teaching, we need to build in a “curriculum perspective” into our planning (what do they say – “a lack of planning is almost as bad as planning to fail”)!

STEP 7 – Remember that for real change in learning and teaching, we need to build in an “assessment perspective” into our planning (after all, we all know that if it ain’t “tested”, it don’t get done)!

STEP 8 – Use technology – but remember learning is not about the hardware, the software, or the webware…it’s the “headware”, dummy!

STEP 9 – Review, evaluate and upgrade – Microsoft does not still “control” the world because it always gets-it-right-first-time (actually, it hardly ever does), it does well because it learns from our frustrations and pumps out upgrades faster than you can say “where’s my credit card”!

STEP 10 – Remember “best practice” is seldom ever enough – it is, more often than not, about somebody else’s solution to somebody else’s problem. Surely, it’s better to heed what Covey tells us about the “end” and “bearing it in mind” – and look for “Next Practice” for ourselves!

STEP 11 – Know thy learners, their needs and their current “headware” (you never know – you may not have to “teach” as much as you thought)!

STEP 12 – Damn! Why can you never think of a 12th Step  when you need one! Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference


I think the 12-steps work quite nicely for teachers! Afterall, teachers are some of the best professional learners around – and the idea of “NIL ILLEGITIMUS CARBORUNDUM” is something many of us use to survive in less-than-perfect educational climates!



Tom Peters once said that the ultimate aim of any leader was to “create an awesome place to work” – he also said a “key” to this was to “train, train, train”! Smart guy, that Peters bloke! I wonder how many of our educational leaders might want to read more of what he says…and “do” something about it!

  1. Hi Tony,

    Management can be thinking that any teacher who wants to improve can though the use of the internet. The problem is that that is true for those who are motivated- very motivated. In-service is necessary for those who have trouble effectively motivating and reflecting by themselves. Usually this is about half of the teaching staff.

    • Hi Aisha – yes, that is what they may be thinking. The problem is that this approach to teacher learning is very “limited” – in the world of business companies “invest” in their people (a lot)! Wht should education be any different. There’s a book I love – with a great title: If you don’t feed the teachers, they eat the kids 🙂

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