Monday, April 03, 2006

Reviewing what?

VATE has an annual organisational 'review day' where some meaty issues are nominated for extended discussion and reflection. It's held on a Saturday and provides an opportunity to get to some of those issues that are vitally important but not always urgent. With the amount of work that VATE does throughout the year some things, often the bigger picture issues to do with the wider educational policy environment, tend to get sidelined.

But getting issues on the agenda is tricky (and rather political). It takes time and 'lobbying' of a sort to ensure you have the numbers and clout. This year the main issue was 'tailor-made' professional development (as some around the table have been calling it). This is not a name that I fancy, but I guess it does suggest in part what the concept is on about.

The professional development situation is a complex and changing one. There was a time when VATE was happy to provide typical one-shot PD 'innoculations' (my term not VATE's). Some of those involved still prefer this model. I tend to think that it's rather deficit though and would love to see other things offered - ie more collaborative, over time models of learning. Of course one-shot workshops, or conferences, or PD sessions are useful for somethings, but they are obviously not the best and most powerful form of teacher learning.

The difficulty is finding a balance.

So much of the day was eaten up in discussing the finer points of how to rethink the way that VATE offers PD. School money for teacher learning is becoming more and more difficult to come by, bespite government rhetoric about 'teacher quality' and supporting professionalism and continual learning and all the other hollow platitudes. Increasingly, 'teacher learning opportunities' are becoming tied to school improvement goals. If the PD isn't seen as contributing to the teacher's ability to assist the school in achieving it's aims and goals, then the PD is not encouraged and at worst not supported (ie the teacher is not paid for or is not given time release from teaching or other duties). Rather than professionals encouraged to engage in the kinds of learning they think will help them improve their work, decisions abou what is best for students and the school and the teacher are made by administrators and others.

Tailor-made PD needs to be understood in this context. Although it's not as bleak as I paint here - there is another side to the story of course. The idea behind tailor made is to give teachers and English faculties the option of getting what they want, when and how. An English Coordinator sees a need in the faculty and asks VATE to help do something about it. Something is drawn up, people consulted and workshops run.

In many ways it's a positive step. A kind of half-way measure.

The rest of review day was excellent. I'm not going to write much about it, but Catherine Beavis and Chris Walsh spoke. Here is a paper that Catherine gave at DIGRA in 2005.


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