Creating an Engine Room for Learning
Some time ago I completed my PhD. The final conceptualisation of my research findings was represented as a model. I have always found that providing models of complex ideas or procedures is helpful to myself and people I work with. A model can be used as a tool to scaffold productive and focused thinking. My PhD was titled ‘Metamorphosis, model-making and meaning; developing exemplary knowledge for teacher education’. To cut a long research journey short I produced a new model which (typically for me has been recently re-modelled) and is now called The CoG Model of Professional Learning. Let me tell you how it works.
Cycles of Growth (CoG) at the heart of education
As educators we have responsibility for the learning of others. We aim to develop educational practices best suited to their needs. We seek opportunities to enhance their learning and create a lasting and positive legacy of their time with us. As educators we are also learners. We learn through our engagement with a relevant knowledge base, through our immersion in practice and through our relationships with others in our organisation, networks and communities. The opportunities that we have for professional learning shape our practices and influence our values. Where learning is at the heart of an organisation everyone is a learner, and the learning creates momentum for Cycles of Growth.
Cycles of practice development
At the heart of the CoG Model of Professional Learning is activity, both directed and more informal. This activity takes time. It is critical to ask ourselves the question; Are we learning and developing or we just ever more busy? It is valuable to know how we can refine our activity. Professional learning and the development of practice are active interlocked processes. Cycles of practice development enable learning to be cumulative and new and effective practices to be generated. They include elements of planning, practicing, enquiring and reviewing. A learning cycle can start at any point.
Approaches such as lesson study, teacher enquiry and coaching typically follow this pattern. New ideas discovered through reading or CPD presentations require activation through cycles of action in order to create and sustain change. Depending on what approaches are used the use of appropriate tools can enhance the learning and impact. These include tools for structuring activity (e.g. action plans), capturing and analysing evidence (e.g. video and data collection proformas), curating ideas and disseminating knowledge (e.g. posters, working papers and talks).
Creating cycles of growth
Ensuring that we are really learning from our professional development activity is critical. There are certain attributes held by organisation and the individual which help maximise the power of the activity. In organisations with these attributes we learn from, and about each other. We celebrate diversity and build solidarity so that everyone matters and our positive engagement with each other builds understanding.
In these learning organisations we respect each other and understand the contexts which influence us. There is confidence in who we are individually and as part of a community and we are aware of what shapes and motivates us. We know that both create authentic opportunities and valid sites for learning. We are open to a wide knowledge base and appreciate creativity. Problem solving is welcomed and there is an openness to learn from others who bring fresh perspectives and lived experiences which are different to our own.
Changes resulting from cycles of growth
Professional learning changes professional practices and behaviours. In learning organisations we are able to articulate our ideas and share our achievements through multiple internal and external networks. We recognise that we are learners and we ask for support and critique ensuring that ideas and evidence are reviewed with an informed perspective. We know that critique can be given in a generous spirit because we do the same for others.
In learning organisations we acknowledge knowledge and proficiency in others and gain confidence as we expand our own. The result is that our professional repertoires and expertise expand, and that the organisation becomes more effective in creating successful education for all. These behaviours build individual and organisational capacity and act as positive feedback securing the attributes that power professional learning.
An invitation to engage for impact
The CoG Model is informed by the evidence base of research and practice development which I synthesized in my PhD (awarded by Newcastle University in 2015). I have continued to build this evidence base through my work as Director of CollectivED at Leeds Beckett University. It helps me make sense of how those working in education can shape and drive professional learning which has a reciprocal relationship with organisational growth. If you would like to know more, you are welcome to contact me. I welcome feedback about how well the CoG model fits your own experiences or how you can use it to shape your own professional learning strategies and practices.
The model has also been used as the basis for the CollectivED: Coaching, Mentoring and Professional Learning Award. If you would like to know more about that please email CollectivED@leedsbeckett.ac.uk.
Rachel Lofthouse is Professor of Teacher Education in the Carnegie School of Education. She has a specific research interest in professional learning, exploring how teachers learn and how they can be supported to put that learning into practice.