Waving – or drowning? | Professional learning for 21st century

A new report is out this month from NZCER that adds to the ’21st century’ schooling conversation that they have been championing for several years:

Bull, A. & Gilbert, J. (2012). Swimming out of our depth? Leading learning in 21st century schools. Wellington, NZ: NZCER.

They set out to explore the extent to which schools have shifted the way they manage learning, including professional learning, in the face of increasing exposure to thinking and conversation about ’21st century’ dispositions for learning. We are well down the track of a new curriculum that has this thinking at its heart, but

“… how are the signals it gives being interpreted by teachers, school leaders and other education stakeholders? Is the new curriculum transforming how we “do” schooling? Is it changing the sector’s “ways of thinking”? Or has the old jargon simply been replaced by new jargon, leaving the old ways of thinking intact?” (p. 5)

Is it old wine in those new bottles?

The researchers explore three schools as cases to illustrate ways in which well-led staff can nurture shared conversations in “communities of practice” (Wenger et al.), but they challenge the extent to which “learning communities” (ref. Ki te Aotūroa) are in place. That is, they find plenty of rich examples of ways in which educators gather together to exchange ideas, even deep inquiries, about their practice.

But there were far fewer examples of teachers who are:

  • objectifying their practice,
  • holding it up to the light, critically examining it for ways to improve and
  • acting upon new thinking created by this, potentially uncomfortable,  challenge to the way we usually respond to issues.

Slow slow road signKey points that were takeaways for me were:

  • the importance of leadership in deliberately creating structures that allow these uncomfortable conversations to take place safely, fostering a shared vision.
  • the need for “slow, reflective” questioning and reflection that considers practice purposefully.
  • the need for professional development to address “cognitive growth”, looking objectively at problems of practice.
  • the importance of time dedicated to the slow reflection for each teacher, as well as time to share and connect in communities, both face-to-face and online.

[Image source: ant.photos]

5 thoughts on “Waving – or drowning? | Professional learning for 21st century

  1. Kia ora Karen,
    Thanks for your thoughts on what I believe will become an important report for all of us.
    I particularly like your comment about ‘time dedicated’ to slow full reflection.
    In my VPLD work I am attempting this with one of my classes. (With varied results!)
    My next thought is: How do we get teachers in a whole Department / Staff to do this well?
    Cheers – Barry.


  2. Many thanks for your comment, Barry:-) I have been following your reflections, and those of others, in the VPLD programme, with great interest. And yes, the sloooow reflection is often easier than said than done – but good on you for making it an overt part of learning for you and your students. In terms of a larger team, I think the time has to be dedicated to it, regularly, if it’s seen as important – and by time, I mean PD time that might, at the moment, be in another form. That, plus exploration of what effective personal reflection means, what its purpose it etc. Not an easy answer but I do think it can be deliberately planned for, and I have seen schools make time each week for it:-) Good luck – I look forward to hearing more of your progress via the VPLD site.


  3. Hey Karen, thank you for the connected review – the take-aways are really helpful. You comment re “time dedicated to the slow reflection for each teacher, as well as time to share and connect in communities, both face-to-face and online,” reminded me of an EDTalk from the late Paul Reynolds (Living and learning in the cloud – http://www.edtalks.org/video/living-and-learning-cloud-paul-reynolds) in which he laments the current lack of deeply reflective places, where one can go to richly and without rush, explore your thinking with others, critically and purposefully building new understandings. Thank you for accidentally sending me back to revisit that conversation.


  4. Thank you for your comment, Nick – and I, too, had momentarily forgotten Paul’s talk..but it was a good reminder of what’s important in the way we all work these days. Time to breathe….(and to deliberately make time to breathe…). Cheers!


Thank you for your comment. Much appreciated:-)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s