Category Archives: Reflection

Mulling Time


The topic of what good professional learning looks like is always contentious. Some of us love to sit and listen and soak up some new knowledge from a great speaker. Others argue that the best professional learning happens in schools with colleagues through inquiry, observation and dialogue.

I think that there is a place for both and more. But both are useless we are able to do something with the new knowledge.

On the Coffee Pods podcast with Holly Ransom¹, I listened to Dom Price (work futurist at Atlassian) say that for a professional improvement event of some kind, we should ensure we have “equal parts consumption and equal parts reflection“.

This reflection is what I call mulling time.

I am a serial professional reader. I am always looking into new information, ideas, concepts, research. But sometimes I spend so much time reading that I don’t make the time to think it over and take action.

This is essentially a waste of time… what’s the point of all that reading if I don’t spend time mulling, questioning, using, discarding, sorting, trialling, implementing?

 

Plan to think deeply and at length

Price says he asks himself “What did I learn? What can I challenge? What foundations does that really go against? What might I do differently? What else could I go and read or consume on any of those topics?”

To mull, we need to think deeply, and at length. This can be difficult if we don’t set aside time or make a plan for it. Perhaps your school or organisation isn’t able to provide you with this extra time to mull but it is integral you find a way to process what you have experienced. With schools doing so much, we need to avoid going ‘an inch deep and a mile wide’. We need to make space to think deeply and at length.

After reading research, listening to a speaker, seeing a though-provoking tweet or attending a conference, think about the things you can put in place to prioritise this mulling time.

 

Schedule time to mull

Very soon after your professional learning, dedicate time to mulling and commit yourself to it. When you make plans for professional learning, like a PD day or finishing a chapter of a book, you could lock in a time you will not look into anything new, but instead process what you have already seen or heard.

 

Find a challenge partner

Make a time to meet with a colleague, mentor or someone who you can bounce off. Schedule in time to discuss your thoughts with them. Articulating your questions and conclusions out loud can help you solidify your ideas.

 

Record your thoughts

Sketchnote, journal, mindmap, blog, make lists, tweet… whatever works for you. Find a way to sort your thoughts and get them down on paper. Or iPad.

 

Don’t forget about your notes

It’s easy to put your notebook down and turn the page once you get back to work. But you most likely jotted some dotpoints or stuck in some sticky notes while listening or reading… don’t waste them. Instead reread them more than once to find the diamonds in the rough.

 

Teaching can be an overwhelming profession, with an overwhelming amount of knowledge, conversations, research and ideas on our digital doorstep at any moment. It is so important for us to identify and sharpen our professional learning needs, so we do not simply not just soak up endless information but balance out our learning with reflection so we can truly create a positive impact on student learning.

 

What do you do to make your professional learning hit home? How do you prioritise time to mull it over and make a plan for action?

 


¹Coffee Pods with Holly Ransom Coffee Pod #2: High Performing Teams & Leaders, and What to Expect from the Future of Work with Atlassian’s Dom Price

The One Best Pedagogy

Teaching is like walking through a maze… you are often sure that the turn you took was the right decision, but you’ll never be able to be absolutely sure that the turn you ignored wouldn’t also have been a good one.

A thought that has been weighing on my brain is something I heard Mike Mattos say at a PD recently, and that is “There is no one best pedagogy“.

That sentence was the breath of fresh air I needed to hear.

It was obvious, but I needed to hear it.

I have noticed myself becoming a little bogged down lately by the range of knowledge I have on the different methods and approaches I can take to help my students learn. The last couple of years have been a turning point in my thinking; I have gone from simply sponging up everything I could about teaching, to trying to connect all the dots and sink my teeth into the best stuff. This is a huge feat and one I never expect to accomplish fully… there are too many moving parts. What has really become evident to me is that what is best sometimes might not be best at other times. And sometimes there is more than one best way and you just have to make the call.

As we become more experienced and more connected as teachers we learn about so many new or different ways of doing things. It is easy to get overwhelmed in a sea of best practice talk by teachers, schools and leaders as well as by the community. While this dialogue is integral to improving our practise it can be difficult to navigate.

With all the advantages of sharing teaching approaches online, comes the risk that we get the “Instagrammed version” of people’s teaching… it means we see all the fancy, different, showy and impressive parts of what other people are doing. We often don’t see the humdrum stuff that we’re most likely all doing. With sharing, we have the natural tendency to show only our best work and this can create confusion when we try to learn from each other.

Sometimes when we hear about new pedagogical concepts we hear them from the fanatics and it comes across as all or nothing… “do it this way or you’re doing it wrong”. Out with didactic teaching! Flipped learning for everything! Inquiry learning, all the time! Explicit teaching! No explicit teaching! Sometimes we become the fanatic, trying out new ideas with enthusiasm and freaking out our colleagues in our excitement.

But if we know anything about teaching, we know that is a broad and varying skill-set with a million nuances that can make all the difference in one child’s learning. Surely our greatest skill is to know good practices that we can apply, and from that to choose the ones that will be most effective in the situation we are in.

It is important that as teachers, we stay open-minded and ready to learn. Sometimes it can feel exhausting, confusing and frustrating to always have something that needs to change and to never feel quite like you’re getting things just right. But ours is a profession that needs to be constantly evolving. We know we are working in an antiquated schooling system and have a lot of catching up to do. When we hear new things, it is essential that we engage in dialogue about our practise and think critically about the why and how of what we are doing. But we must remember that learning new things does not mean to forget everything good we’ve done so far.

This means it is also essential that as leaders, we guide and support teachers to bridge knowledge gaps and broach new territory in a way that is respectful and supportive, and in a way that values what has come before, promotes practise, failure and taking risks. Often in a leadership position we can be all too aware of the many ways our schools need to change but without building a culture of trust and open-mindedness, change is impossible.

Professional learning and the constant evolution and evaluation of our teaching practice certainly is essential to what we do. There’s no way any of us know everything there is to know about teaching and execute it all to perfection. But sometimes we just need to remember – there is no one best pedagogy.