Humor me with a quick merry-go-round ride. Miguel Guhlin’s response to Randy Rodgers’ reflection about Cara Hagen’s post about making room in our lives for blogging goes like this:

The real question is, Do teachers perceive learning as an event that occurs some of the time or a continuous, recursive process that happens 
ALL the time?

   

The response can be eye-opening…if it’s an event, what message are we communicating to our children? If its continuous, why is blogging such a big deal?

   

Miguel goes on to ask what role administrators have in creating "environments that support teacher construction of personal learning networks." Scott McLeod’s comment:

Right now teachers in many districts demand that they be paid to learn
(i.e., to participate in district- or school-sponsored professional
development). On the flip side, administrators schedule teachers’
professional learning in discrete chunks (i.e., staff development
days). Both sides need to rethink the professional learning paradigm.

Scott’s right. There’s much about the way professional development is structured in districts that’s at odds with the continuous, recursive learning Miguel describes. These differences can lead to the kind of tenuous professional limbo described by Cara, a foggy DMZ where would-be bloggers venture at their own risk.

Miguel’s choice of words—continuous and recursive—is fortunate. This reminds me of Stephen Brookfield’s research into how adults learn, and suggests that Miguel’s assessment of blogging’s possibilities for professional development is on target. In a 1995 article, Brookfield points out these broad characteristics of adult learning:

  • Adults are self-directed learners. They set goals, locate resources, choose learning methods, and evaluate their progress.
  • Adults engage in critical reflection. They question and reframe assumptions; they recognize alternate perspectives; and they recognize how interests can influence worldview.
  • Adults learn experientially and seek meaningful contexts. They bring rich life experiences and prior knowledge to their learning environment.
  • Adults learn how to learn. They adapt their learning strategies to different situations and styles.

Self-directed, critically reflective, experiential, contextual, adaptable. These descriptors all ring true and consistent with how Miguel describes his blogging/learning process: "a way
      to better track and organize what I’m learning as I learn it."

Back to the big question: How to reform professional development practices to make continuous and recursive second nature? I wrote recently about a new Hamline project that we hope will tangle with, among others, the question of how blogging can be used in professional development.

And there are some islands in the professional development DMZ. Many schools are embracing a professional learning community approach, where ongoing professional development occurs through collaboration, networking, and continuous research. In preliminary analysis of his Barriers to Web 2.0 survey, Dean Shareski finds that respondents think the best way for educators to learn to use Web 2.0 tools is through mentorships in small groups. These may be cracks in the traditional professional development facade, hints that Miguel’s idea of personal learning networks are closer to the surface than we might think. As a final example, I know of one local district that has integrated a blog into its mentorship and induction program for first-year teachers. The blog is primarily an internal forum, a center for discussion and resources specific to their program, and the conversation is mostly a one-way street. But their choice to use it tacitly recognizes the power of blogging to create networks, and opens the door to further steps. In this district, at least, it seems likely that blogging and reading blogs have a shot at being considered legitimate—and perhaps even valuable—school-day activities.

 

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