Professional learning through collaboration: Socio-spatial and relational practices

Year: 2016

Author: Te Riele, Kitty, Plows, Vicky, Rosauer, Karen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

At the end of 2014, participants in a forum for staff working in Flexible Learning Programs (FLPs) were asked: “Do you feel there is enough PD [Professional Development] focused on flexible learning?”. Without exception, the answer was “no”. This mirrors comments we have heard across FLPs around Australia over many years. Exploring professional learning (PL) for FLP staff, we found that for many of these educators some of the most valuable and relevant PL came not through formal ‘PD’ but through collaborations with like-minded colleagues. Research on effective PL suggests (among other factors) that it should be: primarily school-based and school managed; collaborative and participatory; sustained over time; and coherent with site / organisation vision (e.g. Cole 2012; Desimone 2009; Mayer & Lloyd 2011; Timperley 2011). This approach is reflected in also the Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and Schools Leaders (AITSL 2012) which identifies effective PL as relevant, collaborative and future focussed. Drawing on the application of human geography concepts in education (e.g. Holloway & Jöns 2012; Kraftl 2013), we discuss PL collaborations in terms of the socio-spatial and relational practices that frame staff professional learning at three ‘scales’. First, within FLPs, individual staff learnt from colleagues through informal conversations, observing other’s practice, and mentoring or coaching. Second, at the group level, many FLPs offered PL opportunities through internal staff meetings and presentations. Third, between FLPs, staff learnt from colleagues working at other FLPs, for example through site visits and sector conferences. We explore the nature of PL at these three scales, the barriers and affordances in operation, and which FLP staff have access to these kinds of PL. In contrast to traditional models of PD delivered by external experts over a short time frame, this collegial approach to PL promotes a more active, sustained and responsive process. The findings build on previous research that highlight the usefulness of collaborative and site-based PL, and also draw attention to the significance of cross-site relations as part of this. They offer implications for conceptualizing and researching PL as a socio-spatial and relational activity operating at several, interconnected, scales. Consideration of how to expand this collaborative PL to mainstream school staff and sites is important to support staff working with students at risk of disengagement and exclusion in all settings and to further spread innovative practice.