Last night I received this email from L after I sent out the assignment rubrics and marks yesterday morning.
הי ניקי, לראשונה מזה 14 שנות עבודתי בהוראה, קיבלתי התייחסות כזו אישית ממדריכה בהשתלמות.
תודה ושנה מצויינת
Translation: Hi Nikki, This is the first time, in my 14 years teaching, that I have received a personal response such as this from a leader in a professional development course.
Thank you and have an excellent year,
Answer same day:
ל, ריגשת אותי!
You moved me!
Most of the teachers wrote back and returned my blessings for a good new year and a few remarked that they hoped I would run additional courses in the future. Some commented again on the positive learning experience they had received.
I was struck by L’s response but realized quickly that instead of smiling to myself and enjoying the compliment, the remark troubled me and opened up a flow of questions:
What did I do that was seen as being so personal?
Is this really (so) unusual?
What causes a teacher to feel seen and heard in a learning framework?
What does the Education Department have to say on these issues? Are there guidelines? Is this an issue?
Why is personal response so absent in many professional learning frameworks?
and maybe more importantly: Is this the dialogue that is so missing in the eyes of a few of the teachers I have interviewed for my PhD. It is indeed becoming more and more apparent that this is a key concept!
I have complained in the past that the decision to shorten courses to 30 hours makes it far more difficult to form significant relations with the lecturer and within the group. I have written often that it bothers me that I don’t know all the names of the teachers in these groups and I don’t always know how to match the narratives I read on the online campus with the faces I see in class.
What is the connection between personal attention and response to significant learning? We talk about it all the time in reference to pupil learning and it is somehow disregarded when considering teacher education.
Where do I place emphasis on personal and professional relationships in these courses?
I begin my courses with the letter I write to participants. The letter, inspired by the work of Dr Julian Kitchen, tells about myself and the way I see the course. In my experience, it immediately forms a sense of intimacy between myself and the teachers individually. The letters I receive in return have a personal tone to them and many teachers remark that they were excited to read my letter and to have a chance to present themselves in their own words.
Another feature of the course is the opportunity to write a narrative about the teaching of writing. Teachers are invited (required) to compose a text which describes a successful project, lesson or interaction, to present a dilemma or a problem or to describe another aspect of their work in detail. Teachers are given the stage on the online forum and then receive significant feedback from peers – compliments, thoughtful questions, ideas, advice, empathy etc. In addition, I respond, in length, personally to each and every teacher narrative. A face to face session invites the teachers to further engage in peer conferencing and evaluation surrounding the narratives before revision and reposting on the online forum.
The final assignment of the course is mainly reflection on what happened in the teachers’ classrooms and what significance the learning experience had for them personally and professionally. Maybe this opportunity to look inward and to communicate those thoughts with others contributes to the feelings of sharing and personal connection.
I return the assignment with a rubric explaining the grade and a personal comment. Usually I write which part of the assignment I found most interesting. After reading L’s email, I ask myself how other lecturers communicate with teachers about their assignments. Are the assignments returned? Are marks sent by email? What kinds of comments are written?
It seems I have little knowledge about what really goes on in other courses. I need to follow this lead as it will throw a lot of light on the stories I am hearing in my interviews with teachers.