Professional learning is more than a process of acquiring, then applying new knowledge. Creating an evidence-based practice is founded on a basis of “know-how” and “know-why”. Bereiter (2014) calls this principled practical knowledge. Working on ones own teaching practice as a design endeavour means that problems of practice serve as a starting place to being the iterative cycles of improvement. Collecting and analyzing student learning data to inform teaching improvement is integral to the professional learning process. Principled practical knowledge enables the continual and occasionally radical improvement of practice ensuring that teaching becomes a scholarly activity.
At the same time, the importance of having a solid foundation of knowledge cannot be underestimated. The knowledge and skills for teaching are acquired as much through the process of implementation as they are through someone describing or explaining theories and how to put them into practice. It is only when situational knowledge is understood in terms of the theory or principles underpinning it that teachers are able to retrieve and apply it appropriately in the moment-by-moment decisions they make every day in their classrooms (Timperley, 2011).
Teachers as adaptive experts:
Through engaging in the ongoing cycles of inquiry and building knowledge, teachers develop adaptive expertise. They’re able to retrieve, organize and apply professional knowledge when old problems persist or new problems arise. Teachers continually expand the breadth and depth of their expertise and are tuned into situations when their skills are inadequate. They can identify when known routines do not work and they seek new information about different approaches when needed (Hammerness, Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; Timperley, 2011).
Indeed, “letting go” of previously learned ideas and routines, or incorporating new information into teaching practice – choosing what to abandon and what to keep or modify – is a big part of what it means to be a lifelong learner and an adaptive expert. For an adaptive expert, discovering the need to change is perceived not as a failure, but instead, as a success and an inevitable, continuous aspect of effective teaching (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005). Additionally, true adaptive expertise for a teaching professional involves a deep appreciation for the value of actively seeking feedback from many sources in order to make the best decisions for children and to continue to learn throughout one’s life (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005).
Building adaptive expertise by assessing the impact on students: This is a continuous cycle of ongoing inquiry – assessing impact is not the end, but part of the process of delving deeper into information about students while developing a greater awareness of one’s own practice. Teachers ask themselves:
- How effective has what we have learned and done been in promoting our students’ learning?
- What should we keep going and what should we stop?
- What should we change or refine?
- What new challenges have become evident?
Remember, assessing effectiveness is not a periodic event that takes place outside regular daily activities. It happens on a lesson-by-lesson, week-by-week and more long-term basis. This checking process is an integral part of developing professional self-regulation – a key ingredient to deep learning (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005).
“My role, as teacher, is to evaluate the effect I have on my students, to understand this impact, and to act on this knowing and understanding.”
- When teachers gather defensible and dependable evidence from many sources and have collaborative discussions with colleagues and students about this evidence, the effect of their teaching visible to themselves and to others (Hattie, 2012).
As the research base on adaptive expertise expands, a clear finding is that positive outcomes for students are more evident in professional learning initiatives that develop adaptive expertise than those that do not.
Schools with high adaptive capacity develop the adaptive expertise of their teachers as they help them to construct and reconstruct their environments through cycles of inquiry and knowledge building to meet student needs better.
Adaptive capacity of the school as an organization is not developed through bypassing the learning needs of leaders. While it may be appropriate at times for specialist experts to work directly with teachers, sustainability depends on the extend to which leadership capability to undertakes this role is developed within the school (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005).