Professional learning – what lights your fire?

I attended a three-day conference on research in child development recently. The conference is held every second year and the first time I attended the conference was in 2013. Back then I had just finished studying and I was feeling quite comfortable with what I knew, but that conference blew my mind! I struggled to choose the sessions to attend because I wanted to go to everything.

Ideas that I thought were new had been studied already and were being discussed. When presenters invited questions from the audience, the questions were not just answered; they led to whole new conversations between members of the audience! Research is exciting and challenges our thinking – I left that conference knowing that I had to attend the next one.learning

A few months ago, I attended a colleague’s conference presentation. My colleague presented exciting new research data on intentional teaching in early childhood. When she offered to dim the lights for people to see the children’s work projected on a large screen, one voice spoke up from the back of the room: ‘Don’t do that. We may fall asleep!’

As early childhood practitioners, people still speak at times of the ‘new’ framework. It isn’t new. Children who were born the year it was rolled out are probably in Year 1 this year. For several years, the EYLF has emphasized the importance of on-going learning. The Code of Ethics has reminded us of the importance of on-going professional learning for even longer. The NQS (and even the NQS is not really new any more, let’s face it) emphasises the need for professional learning. Professional learning is frequently named in Quality Improvement Plans. The Graduate Teacher Standards require us to keep up with current knowledge about teaching and learning. We all know that professional development (or professional learning) is something we ought to ‘do’.

But professional learning is so much more than ‘doing’ it. As reflective practitioners we need to think about what we, as individuals, want to learn more about and then we need to go out and find that information. Professional learning should be thrilling like fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Exciting while you’re there, worth remembering, and something to talk about with friends and colleagues afterwards. We have to work out what lights our individual fires and then discover the spark. I’ve already got the dates for the next conference in my calendar.

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Caroline Cohrssen

Caroline Cohrssen is employed at the University of Melbourne as a senior lecturer/researcher on the Master of Teaching (Early Childhood). She is interested in the home learning environment and young children’s demonstrations of mathematical thinking, not only in what they say but also in what they make, draw and do. Caroline’s work aims to equip pre-service early childhood educators to recognise mathematical thinking, plan playful activities and interact purposefully with children to support and extend children's emerging mathematical skills and understanding. 'Her current research focuses on four year old children's demonstrations of spatial thinking.

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