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By Laura Bickle
Photo: Chalet Studio Photography
“When teachers learn, students learn.” That’s the core sentiment behind Jenni Donohoo’s work as an author and consultant focused on professional learning. She’s currently on contract with the Council of Ontario Directors of Education and has written three best-selling books, including Collaborative Inquiry for Educators: A Facilitator’s Guide to School Improvement.
“Long gone are the days of one-shot, district-mandated, ballroom approaches to professional development,” says Donohoo. “When professional development isn’t done ‘to’ teachers — when teachers have a say in the what, how and why of professional learning — there is much more uptake.”
We spoke to Donohoo about professional learning and how teachers can ensure their learning delivers the greatest benefit for themselves and their students.
What is the state of professional learning in Ontario’s education system?
We still have plenty to learn about how to close students’ achievement gaps (among applied and academic streams, Indigenous students, English-language learners and students with Individualized Education Programs).
The desire to promote professional learning in Ontario’s education system is increasing. Teachers are taking on leadership roles and they are being given opportunities to lead the work of school improvement in authentic ways.
What advice do you give educators wanting to introduce collaborative inquiry to their school?
Find a colleague (or team) interested in developing a question related to student learning and willing to experiment with different approaches. Then, use evidence of student learning to evaluate the collective impact.
This needs to be facilitated from within, by teacher-leaders, and not from the district office. The district office and school administrators need to support it by securing resources, such as time, research and tools. The process works if you place trust in teachers’ ability to innovate together. Teachers are in the best position to impact school improvement initiatives.
How do teachers determine what theories are worth implementing?
We need to help teachers access reliable sources of research to inform their theories about what works best. Next, teachers need time to try new approaches in their practice. Just because an intervention worked somewhere for somebody, we don’t know if it will work in our schools or with our students.
How can the system support professional learning?
School districts would benefit from identifying who is responsible for the quality of professional learning in school boards, and then hold people accountable for delivering high quality professional learning.
We also need to create opportunities for sharing the results from teachers’ collaborative inquiries. Let teachers’ voices be heard.