This article originally appears in @OECTA issue April 2016
I can’t exactly pin-point when it happened, but at one point during the last 15 years, educational reform became an imperative. Calls for modernization, engagement and higher test-scores became the dinner bell for every researcher, blogger, Tweeter, administrator and education minister. As millions of dollars were poured into initiatives and their twinned research faculties, teachers’ own voices about effective project management, professional development and inquiry were drowned out by the system.
But your Association was listening quite carefully.
OECTA has, for a decade now, sponsored and supported Collaborative Learning Communities (CLC’s) for teachers interested in pursuing their own burning questions about teaching, practice, student learning and research.
Here are 7 reasons why OECTA’s CLC’s are ideal professional learning models for teachers.
CLC applications may promote a universal theme such as math or technology, but the applying teacher-team really takes the lead on the specific subject matter they wish to pursue. This unfettered, autonomous project is fueled by teachers’ imaginations and desire to help their students achieve more.
Teachers are all-too-often overloaded with initiatives or what I call ‘perpetual pilots’ that are here today and gone tomorrow. Instead, the CLC’s provide opportunities for teachers to present ideas that they are interested in. We so often encourage student-curiosity in the context of inquiry and rarely support teachers in the same vein.
3. Authentic Assessment (Observations, documentation and so much more)
To be part of the CLC’s our teachers understand that assessment of their own processes are critical. OECTA’s respect and defense of teachers’ professional judgment is demonstrated through this aspect. CLC groups document their observations, reflect, discuss and reshape their practice and even attitude towards teaching.
4. Time and Space
Ask any teacher in any jurisdiction what they need most and you will hear, “Give me time and space to try something.” The CLC is designed to do just that and although funding is never extravagant, 4 days of colleague-to-colleague discussions often spark conversations that last a professional life-time. Sometimes all you need is that spark.
5. Observable Change
We have visited hundreds of teachers that have documented real change in both their practice and in their students. This change is documented through videos, pictures, anecdotal remarks. The most important piece to remember is that the biggest change comes from teachers’ own perspectives on learning.
6. Provincial and Global Networking
Learning as part of a small group at one school or two can be quite powerful, but connecting with like-minded, curious and courageous teachers provincially and even globally can be awe-inspiring. At OECTA we strive to assist our CLC projects connect with one another and share learning. We often refer to ourselves as the groups’ promoters.
7. Teacher-Directed, Teacher-Led
Our view of leadership is not nestled within the comfort of hierarchy. Teachers lead CLC projects from the start and their leadership is often tested academically, socially and spiritually. Teachers involved in OECTA CLC’s demonstrate true, selfless, servant-leadership. Their leadership is tested, honed and recognized throughout the process and encouraged to serve others through invitation into their work.