Creativity across Learning #7 – How can we promote creativity in professional learning?

Episode 7 looks at professional learning and as previous posts on Creativity across Learning the content is drawn from a draft of an unpublished 2011 report. The opening quote is from the Scottish Government’s 2011 review of teacher eduction:

(The) most successful education systems do more than seek to attain particular standards of competence and to achieve change through prescription. They invest in developing their teachers as reflective, accomplished and enquiring professionals who have the capacity to engage fully with the complexities of education and to be key actors in shaping and leading educational change.
(The Donaldson Report – Teaching Scotland’s Future)

The only constant in education is change.  Few institutions have gone through as much change in last century as schools and colleges.  However, much of this change has been the incremental fine-tuning of linear innovation: making the educational machinery work more efficiently. If Scottish education now needs a period of more radical, transformative innovation, what might this mean for initial teacher education and the on-going professional development of our teachers?

In 2010 the Learning and Teaching Scotland Advisory Council document Change Matters [which also seems to have disappeared from the web – LO’D], provided an overview of recent research on change, and identified six important characteristics of effective change in education that also reflect recent thinking about the nature of learning.  For adult professional educators just as much as for young people, changing the way you think and do things involves learning. The research suggests

  • that successful, sustainable change starts from where people are;
  • that real change happens when all individuals and communities are learning;
  • that people change when they believe that what they are being asked to do has integrity;
  • that effective professional learning takes place when teachers and others engage in collaborative enquiry;
  • that for change to be sustained it has to be supported by partnership and networking;
  • that leaders manage the process and create opportunities for reflection, dialogue, collaboration and feedback to inform planning for improvement.

Teachers, like doctors, engineers and others working in dynamic, applied contexts, cannot rely solely on the learning they have achieved at the start of their careers, although this should provide good foundations for lifelong professional development.  To be an effective teacher requires an on-going commitment to learning.  We should celebrate the diverse skills and approaches of our teachers. One thing that they all must have in common is that they should be role models of life-long learning, engaged with the nature of learning and the content of the curriculum, close to current innovative classroom practice, steeped in the latest educational research and aware of the ever-changing world of the learner. All of this takes time, space and energy, which are in short supply for today’s hard-pressed teachers and managers.

The Donaldson Report on teacher education recognised the importance of getting the right people into teaching in the first place and then supporting them through career-long professional development. Like other international reports on professional learning, the focus is very much on improving teaching to impact positively on learners’ progress and achievement.

Although the Donaldson Report did not deal explicitly with creativity, either for learners or for teachers, [unsurprisingly from one its main architects – LO’D]  it did offer an unqualified endorsement of Curriculum for Excellence, which provides the context for the review and opens the door to a greater focus on high-order cognitive skills and creativity.  It also emphasised the importance of professional reflection in teacher development and encouraged professionalism in all aspects of their work:

The various recommendations of the report include those that refer to the need for professional learning to involve exploration of theory through practice, emphasising ‘reflection, critical analysis and evidence-based decision making’.  They refer to

‘the need to build the capacity of teachers, irrespective of career stage, to have high levels of pedagogical expertise, including deep knowledge of what they are teaching; to be self-evaluative; to be able to work in partnership with other professionals; and to engage directly with well-researched innovation’

These approaches, alongside the advice offered on leadership in the report, are the keys to progress in developing creativity in schools and classrooms.

There are opportunities in the implementation of the Donaldson recommendations to make the link to creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship more overt.  For understandable reasons, there is a significant emphasis on promoting the development and achievement of skills in literacy and numeracy. Creativity should hold equal status. While literacy and numeracy are fundamental to the teaching profession, without the creative dimension they will no longer be sufficient to meet the needs of individuals or the ambitions of society.

[The next post covers assessment and qualifications.]

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