Professional Development: my story & beliefs

written: February 27, 2014

Fred G. Harwood’s Philosophy of Professional Development

Teaching is not my job, it’s my passion; getting better at it – that’s my job!                     ~Jose Popoff from his website and twitter chats

This motto is a vision statement for my view of personal professional development. I have always been fascinated with learning since first observing a flaming bolide meteorite’s path through the sky at age 10. This led me on a path towards a PhD in astronomy. In my second year of university I was diverted from my path into a pursuit of a physics degree with a math minor in order to be a teacher. Beginning my career with a majority of mathematics courses, I utilized my training as a scientist to explore my role as a teacher and of students’ learning. Always curious, my focus was on learning about the craft and science of teaching while exploring mathematical ideas. Discovery-based learning is a major part of my teaching and assessment research is another major focus.

Professional development (Pro-D), in the beginning, was attending workshops and ‘receiving’ from the experts, the experienced, and the gurus. But I was learning so much from my own students through explorations, questioning and reflective observing. The learning was so rich, I felt called to share with others, not as an expert but as a passionate learner full of wonderment and joy that I wanted others to experience.

I joined the Pro-D committee and for the next 26 years was always part of the team and, on occasion, the chair. I had also discovered the joy of learning with others and being challenged and enriched by their various backgrounds and viewpoints. When we entered into curricular pods and integration, my English/Socials partner made me read Nancy Atwell’s “In the Middle” on reading and writing workshops. It was the best educational read I had had as I was constantly viewing it with thoughts of how this approach could happen in my math and science classes. The sharing together of our students’ journeys was so rich. We would also hold regular meetings to plan and pursue educational ideas together. I had been blessed with cross-curricular learning. Teachers from other disciplines helped me better understand teaching and learning. I learned to teach students and not just curriculum. I sought out other teacher teams as professional learning communities. After 16 years at London Jr. High, I moved to McRoberts as the Math & Science coordinator because I was inspired by their vice principal who raved about their young teachers passion for learning together. They had a Wednesday Morning Study Group that began as a survival group for 17 young teachers. There was a core of us veterans that knew the power of a PLC and cross-curricular learning so we joined in and grew together. It ran for 13 years and I tried to never miss a morning. The last 8 years I acted as a lead teacher/organizer. It drew to a close when many of the core teachers moved on to administrative positions and had young families.

I sought out other PLCs by joining district study groups, focus groups and book studies. I joined a series of Lesson Study investigations out at UBC hosted by the Pacific Institute of Mathematical Sciences (PIMS). At my second meeting, I was recognized as a leader and joined the team organizing it. It ran successfully for 6 years. Lesson study has taught me that professional growth is a gradual, incremental process and not a quick fix or an application of a single idea. Learning is a complex process involving many factors. Our lesson study teams were powerful groups of multi-level teachers of math, math educators and mathematicians and we learned much together. Solitary learning is inefficient.

The SFU Field Studies Grad Diploma program was offering grad classes in our district and seemed to be a perfect fit for my desires in cross-curricular and multi-age learning. Our 2007 cohort was Today’s Classrooms, Tomorrow’s Future (TCTF). We joined a cohort entering their second year, Teachers as Learners and Mentors (TLM) and then had the Diversified Learner cohort join us a year later. This was professional development at its finest. I thrived in the professional learning atmosphere where we ‘bumped up against’ a rich assortment of ideas, distant thinkers and our in-class investigations. It is talking through, observing together, and challenging one another in our learning that growth powerfully happens. It energizes us and exhorts us to learn more and to recognize the power of the participatory metaphor for learning (Sfard, 1998). Even though I was a few years away from retirement age, I knew that this was going to be a valuable direction for my own professional development. I have chosen my three references from these groups who can speak to my participation and passion for learning in the field studies program.

Another powerful source of professional development for me has been utilizing technology to access other resources, thinkers and practitioners. I love reading and hearing about theories and then synthesizing them and adapting them for my own classrooms. I have a connective intelligence that can see the efficacy of ideas. My own metaphor for learning has been weaving a tapestry. Each new idea is held up to the collective learning of my past to see how the idea fits in with the bigger picture. Sometimes the idea forces me to pull out threads from the tapestry that no longer work. The complexity of learning is like the messy jumble on the backside of a tapestry but the clarity of the front side can only come from the complexity of pulling together many threads. I joined several on-line conferences on education and have been a very active contributor to listserves like the BCAMT’s. I joined the Canadian Assessment for Learning Network (CAfLN) as another learning network. In laddering to my Masters in Education Practices, I was a major contributor to our class moodle because I knew the power of participatory learning and wanted to stimulate others and to be stimulated by their ideas and explorations. In the last few months, I have greatly expanded my professional learning network (PLN) with twitter. My twitter community is diverse, passionate and reflective. Technology has opened doors to learners for professional development and the improvement of student learning. I have used Google Docs, blogging, and EdCamps as other ways to grow as an educator and lifelong learner.

The following quote is an excellent summation of my professional development model that the Field Studies program provides.

Recent research on how people learn points to another reason why the current structure of our schools is dysfunctional. This research has demonstrated that robust, fluid, and usable knowledge must be grown by learners through highly active engagement with ideas and their interconnections. Knowledge is neither acquired nor applied mechanically or in piecemeal fashion. It evolves into ever more complex, integrated bodies of thought and skill. Knowledge does not just sit there, waiting to be retrieved; it must be tended, fed, and used. In fact, the way people learn anything — from the ABCs to cooking to astrophysics — is by energetically connecting ideas with action. . . Learning those kinds of skills is not a solitary endeavor; rather, it needs to be a highly social one.

   It depends on continual discussion and demonstration. People learn by watching one another, seeing various ways of solving a single problem, sharing their different “takes” on a concept or struggle, and developing a common language with which to talk about their goals, their work, and their ways of monitoring their progress or diagnosing their difficulties. When teachers publicly display what they are thinking, they learn from one another, but they also learn through articulating their ideas, justifying their views, and making valid arguments.

[Deanna Burney, Craft Knowledge: The Road to Transforming Schools, 2004 including a quote from (Bradford, Brown and Cocking’s)]

UPDATE: March 23, 2016  [I wrote this in 2014. I publish here as a move from my old website that mysteriously disappeared a year after retiring. Since publishing thi, I retired in June of 2014, went back to grad school at SFU for another Masters, became a mentor teacher in my district. I  volunteer mostly in elementary schools; I continue as a education consultant doing workshops, research, and other educational pursuits. I utilize twitter (@HarMath) as my main source of PD both in learning and contributing. I also attend edcamps in the area and joint proD collaborations in my district. I continue to be active on my mathematics association’s conferences and listserve. So I’m still working on getting better at my passion and sharing my passion with others to bless them as I have been blessed.]



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