Leadership, Opinion, School Community, Teaching

The Patchwork Pieces of Professional Development

A response to the teacher PD dilemma

CC photo by: Jayne

How do we support teacher learning in schools? Do we give real, authentic opportunities for teachers to learn or do we tend to offer “sit’n’git” PD based on what we, in official educational leadership positions, think teachers need. Regardless of where teachers are in their learning, or where they are in their teaching career, relevant learning can happen throughout a school.

I recently received two requests relating to leadership. One was to speak to a group of current educators taking a leadership module and another was from a university student wanting to research “shared leadership” at my school which consisted of conducting an interview with me then with a teacher in order to find out the extent to which the sharing of leadership is occurring. In both instances the question of teacher professional development came up. It made me stop and consider leadership in general. How are we as a school embracing shared leadership and what benefits does it provide? How are we embedding continuous learning in our school culture in order to sustain shared leadership? Any school leader today would say having a successful school is not possible without both. So how does shared leadership correlate with professional learning?

As educators, I think we all would agree that PD is the key to improving the quality of all leadership in schools with the main focus on student learning. Professional learning represents a way of reform that stresses the importance of partnership and working together to make student outcomes better. With that partnership, there must be mutual collaboration. I only fully realized this through my tenure as principal, yet it reminded me of an article I read many years ago called The Pattern Quilt Metaphor by S.A. Maxwell. It stated, “Prioritizing the partnership through planning will enable the innovative aspects of reform to shape into a structured whole similar to how a seamstress combines pretty scraps of fabric into the envisioned patterned quilt”[i]. It goes on to say, “Professional growth becomes the binding to the quilt that makes a meaningful whole out of the patterned quilt of learning.”[ii] What beautiful imagery! I realized that this comparison of professional growth to a seamstress making a quilt so eloquently defines the purpose and focus of PD. That is, the major focus being on planning and the framework with which is required to make it all work, creating an environment where everyone is excited and energized to learn. It requires teaching to become an everchanging, dynamic experience that will not become stagnant. And for that to happen, there is a need for a school improvement plan that is site-based and driven by staff, enabling shared leadership and defining the PD that is needed. With that being the case, any change in professional learning would be looked at as a good thing. Different ideas would be welcomed. Individual teachers would be like a piece of the fabric in the quilt, with the teams being a block of the quilt and the quilt being the school. Each piece would be reviewed constantly, spreading the quilt out and seeing that all fits together for the whole and the pattern would be reflected on to see if the results are where we want them to be.

The article referenced is not recent so this is not a newfound phenomenon. It just begs for re-visiting. Re-visiting by looking at PD through in-servicing, school restructuring, and school reform. Working collaboratively in all these areas: in-servicing, consisting of teaching and learning for understanding; and school restructuring and reform, meaning that not only the school administrator would determine the school improvement plan, but it would be a collaborative effort to develop goals and actions. The opportunity for everyone to be involved would draw a school closer to a new reform, consisting of new positive attitudes and new teacher initiatives. Certainly there is no argument that with everyone involved with the process of implementation, there would be more ownership and keenness. That is the essence of shared leadership that is strongly aligned with teacher driven PD.

Thus, effective PD is not dictated, but is facilitated, according to identified individual teacher needs, team needs, and the needs of the school as a whole. This allows many things to happen:  inclusivity, creativity, innovation, and collaboration. All together are like pieces of material making a beautiful quilt. Some can take the same fabric, but make a totally different quilt, but it would be just as beautiful. It just takes thought, planning, and options. In education, this translates to better education for students. As educators, wouldn’t we all want to be masters in quilting?

[i] Maxwell, S.A. (1996). The Pattern Quilt Metaphor: Revisiting the PDS Concept Contemporary Education67(4),196.
[ii] Ibid. pg. 199.

Related Reading

Nancy Matthews wrote this feature-length article in the Nov 2014 issue of Education Canada Magazine.

The Courage to Lead Change
Making difficult changes to school culture requires perseverance – and a thick skin!

This blog post is part of CEA’s focus on the state of Teacher PD in Canada, which is also connected to Education Canada Magazine’s Teachers as Learners theme issue and The Facts on Education fact sheet, What is Effective Teacher Professional Development? Please contact info@cea-ace.ca if you would like to contribute a blog post to this series.

Meet the Expert(s)

Nancy Matthews

Associate Professor of Education, Crandall University

Nancy Matthews, PhD, MEd, BEd, BComm, has been in education in many different roles for over 30 years, starting in payroll and human resources then a classroom teacher, district technology mentor, school vice principal, district education supervisor, district director of finance and administration, school principal, and district director of curriculum and instruction.

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