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Teachers' Learning/Students' Learning

Dimensions of Teachers Learning 

Teachers’ learning can be viewed as having many dimensions, and four key dimensions have been included in the framework.​

  • formal/informal ​
  • personal/professional ​
  • collaborative/individual ​
  • school-based/external to the school or workplace. ​

It should be noted that the four dimensions are not mutually exclusive and can combine and overlap to create an array of different learning opportunities. For example, learning opportunities often incorporate collaborative and individual elements, such as a workshop involving group discussions and individual reflective activities. Equally, collaborative learning can be formal and informal, while school-based learning and learning that is facilitated at an external location can each be simultaneously personal and professional. 

Teachers' Learning/Students' Learning 

Students’ learning is at the heart of the Cosán framework. And the quality of students’ learning depends as much on teachers’ learning as on their teaching. For that reason, it makes sense that the graphic depicts them as being closely connected.​

Cosán facilitates teachers in valuing their learning, and in prioritising learning that benefits them and their pupils.

Individual – Collaborative

When we consulted with teachers in advance of developing Cosan, they told us that they very much value collaborative learning that involves the sharing of new ideas, methodologies and resources, and opportunities for peer support. This is reflected in the work of many theorists who have argued that all learning is social, and that teachers’ learning should be socially constructed in an environment that supports teacher interdependency.​

While emphasising the importance of teachers’ collaboration with other teachers, Wiliam notes that “currently, the available evidence does not support the idea that collaboration with other teachers will always be the best way for every teacher to improve his or her practice”. For that reason, the Council, while emphasising the importance of purposeful collaboration, recognises that individual learning also has benefits and should be recognised in Cosán.​

Furthermore, Cosán is based on the premise that while teachers involved in collaboration are working towards shared professional learning goals, each will likely have identified a personalised learning pathway towards those goals. These pathways will inevitably overlap from time to time (e.g., school-based professional learning, attendance at the same professional learning event), and it is at these points of intersection that teachers can strike an appropriate balance between the enhancement of their own practice as individuals on the one hand, and the creation of a responsive and dynamic community of practice on the other. ​

Wiliam, D. (2014). “Teacher expertise: Why it matters, and how to get more of it” In: Hallgarten, J., Bamfield, L. & McCarthy, K. (eds.). Licensed to Create: Ten essays on improving teacher quality. London: RSA Action and Research Centre. p. 33. ​

Personal – Professional

Allied to their deep interest in professional learning, teachers have a strong interest in personal development. A review of relevant literature suggests that the two are inextricably linked. Cosán has been developed in a way that recognises the interconnectedness of the two concepts, and the way in which they are mutually beneficial. 

School-based - External

Much educational research has found that “…learning that is embedded in the work itself is far more powerful than de-contextualised in-service”.​

By way of contrast, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, in its analysis of innovative professional development practices, recognised the benefits of immersive learning opportunities, which “…take people out of their normal environments and create new realities that challenge existing thinking and practice”.​

Based on the feedback from teachers during the consultation in advance of the development of Cosán, it is evident that they see value in both school-based learning opportunities and those which are external to the school. For that reason, Cosán acknowledges the value of both.

Harris, A. & Lambert, L. (2003). Building Leadership Capacity for School Improvement. Berkshire: Open University Press. p. 92. ​

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2014). Global trends in professional learning and performance & development: Some implications and ideas for the Australian education system. Melbourne: AITSL. p. 19. ​

Formal - Informal

Professional learning occurs at both a formal and an informal level. As part of the first phase of consultation in advance of developing Cosán, teachers’ feedback emphasised informal learning processes as being particularly valuable, with many teachers highlighting examples such as “the learning conversations and phonecalls”, and requesting that the framework would recognise “all forms of educationally enriched discussions”. This is echoed by Owen who says “teachers share insights with their colleagues when they can, often in brief exchanges in the corridor, at the coffee machine or in the staff room. But formal training sessions are not always the best place for meaningful collaboration, which depends on regular networking, sharing and interrogating our ideas and finding creative solutions to collective challenges”.​

Owen, L. (2014). “Continuing Professional Development: can it ever be creative?” In: Hallgarten, J., Bamfield, L. & McCarthy, K. (eds.). Licensed to Create: Ten essays on improving teacher quality. London: RSA Action and Research Centre. p. 60

Leading Learning

Cosán Learning Areas

Teaching is complex, and the breadth of teachers’ learning is extensive.  Cosán has sought to capture that breadth in the six headings here.  It is intended that, in planning their learning pathways, teachers will choose a combination of learning areas that best meet their learning needs under each of these headings:​

  • Leading Learning ​
  • Inclusion ​
  • Wellbeing​
  • ICT​
  • Literacy and Numeracy​
  • Supporting Teachers’ Learning​

Leading Learning 

Like all of the learning areas, this is defined in Cosán in very broad terms, and includes all learning related to leadership subject knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, assessment, etc.

Inclusion

The Council interprets inclusion in broad terms, and, in that context, this heading includes any aspect of teachers’ learning aimed at improving their capacity to address and respond to the diversity of students’ needs; enable participation in learning, cultures; and communities; and remove barriers within and to education through the accommodation and provision of appropriate structures and arrangements to enable each student to achieve the maximum benefit from his/her attendance at school.

Winter, E. & O’Raw, P. (2010). Literature review on the principles and practices relating to inclusive education for children with special educational needs. Meath: NCSE. p. 39.

Wellbeing

The Council interprets wellbeing in broad terms, which encompasses teachers’ own wellbeing as well as students' wellbeing. Students’ wellbeing is at the heart of every school community and is vital for their ability to access teaching and learning. Equally, the Council recognises the importance of care of self so as to be able to care for others and, in that context, teachers’ wellbeing is vital if they are to effectively lead learning, and support and facilitate students in this endeavour. Taking all of this into account, this heading includes any aspect of teachers’ learning, individually or in collaboration with other teachers or co-professionals, aimed at improving their capacity to foster a culture, ethos and environment that promote dynamic, optimal development and flourishing, for all in the school community. It can incorporate cultural, academic, social, emotional, physical or technological dimensions, with a particular focus on resilience.

ICT

Cosán recognises learning that develops teachers’ capacity to use ICT for enhancing teaching and learning. It includes learning related to the use of ICT to develop learners’ key skills, as a tool across the curriculum, and as a tool for accessing and engaging in research.

Literacy and Numeracy

Cosán recognises learning related to expanded considerations of literacy and numeracy. In this respect literacy can be interpreted as “the capacity to read, understand, and critically appreciate various forms of communication, including spoken language, printed text, broadcast media, and digital media. Numeracy is not limited to the ability to use numbers … (as) … it (further) encompasses the ability to use mathematical understanding and skills to solve problems and meet the demands of day-to-day living in complex social settings.

Department of Education and Skills. (2011b). Literacy and numeracy for learning and life: The national strategy to improve literacy and numeracy among children and young people 2011–2020. Dublin. p.8.

Supporting Teachers Learning

This includes teachers’ learning through supporting student teachers on school placement as Treoraithe, or through supporting NQTs during their induction phase as a member of a Professional Support Team. It also includes, for example, teachers’ learning through facilitating a workshop or otherwise contributing to an initial teacher education (ITE) programme, and through contributing at a staff meeting, sharing research findings, or otherwise supporting colleagues’ learning.

Mentoring and Coaching

Cosán Learning Processes

Cosán recognises the myriad of ways teachers’ engage in learning throughout their careers ​

This reflects the complexity of teaching as a profession and the findings of many educational theorists who have concluded that all individuals learn in different ways. ​

 Cosán has sought to capture that variety and breadth in the six headings here.  It is intended that, in highlighting their learning pathways, teachers will choose a combination of learning processes that best meet their learning needs under each of these headings.

Mentoring and Coaching

Teachers learn by being coached or mentored, as well as through being a coach or a mentor. A small selection of practical examples include:

Mentoring and Coaching

  • Working as a Treoraí supporting the learning of student teachers.
  • Engaging in coaching activities,
  • Working as a mentor or member of a professional support team,
  • Supporting colleagues to develop their teaching.

Practice and Collaboration

Teachers learn through their daily classroom practice, and through collaborating with colleagues. A small selection of practical examples include:

Practice and collaboration

  • Developing and implementing curriculum material,
  • Piloting new initiatives,
  • Action research projects,
  • Learning through assessment,
  • Engaging in team teaching,
  • Engagement in State examination work,
  • Sharing experiences with colleagues through making presentations or otherwise contributing to the knowledge base of teaching and learning.

Research

Teachers learn through engaging in and with research. A small selection of practical examples include:

Research

  • Carrying out research as part of an academic programme,
  • Membership of a research engagement group,
  • Engaging in action research,
  • Participation in a Researchmeet or other research event.

Reading Professional Contributions

Teachers learn through their reading, and through contributing to publications, learning events, professional conversations, etc.. 

A small selection of practical examples include:

Reading and professional contributions

  • Writing an article based on teaching or research, or otherwise contributing to a professional publication,
  • Contributing to curriculum development e.g. by engaging in NCCA consultative processes,
  • Reading books/articles/research on teaching, learning, and assessment,
  • Participating in online education debates e.g. Twitter/EdChat.ie,
  • Reading web-based information on teaching learning and assessment,
  • Delivering a lecture or facilitating a workshop or other professional learning activity.

Immersive Professional Activities

Teachers learn by moving outside of the classroom and immersing themselves in other learning contexts. A small selection of practical examples include:

Immersive professional activities

  • Engaging in a study visit,
  • Engaging in an externship in an industry or other external setting which is relevant to my role as a teacher,
  • Overseas volunteering,
  • Availing of a secondment opportunity with a teacher education provider, support service, etc.

Courses, programmes, workshops and other events

Teachers learn by attending a variety of courses, workshops and other events. A small selection of practical examples include:

Courses, programmes, workshops and other events

  • Participating at a conference or workshop, etc.
  • Engaging in post-graduate academic studies,
  • Engaging in courses, both internal and external to the school,
  • Attending lectures or seminars,
  • Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Cosán Standards

Professional standards are central to all of the Council’s work. The Council envisages that teachers’ learning journeys will be guided by standards that will facilitate them, as individuals or collectively, in: ​

  • reflecting critically on their teaching and their learning, and the relationship between them identifying areas for further professional learning ​
  • planning for their learning ​
  • celebrating their learning experiences and accomplishments, and​
  • demonstrating their ongoing commitments as learning professionals. ​

Cosán offers two standards, which are set at a high level so teachers can interpret and apply them flexibly in their own unique contexts.​

The Cosán standards are as follows: ​

As learning professionals, teachers demonstrate a commitment to: ​

  • quality teaching and learning for their students and themselves, and ​
  • continued professional growth for enhanced professional practice.​

The Council recognises that teachers’ professional learning journeys are not linear, whereby one set of standards is attained and the teacher then progresses to the next set. Cosán is based on a richer understanding of standards, which sees them less as goals to be reached and left behind, and more as providing a focus for ongoing and dynamic teacher learning processes. In other words, standards should be “growth-based” rather than “threshold-based”.​

Hargreaves, A. et al. (2012). Leading for All: A research report on the development, design, implementation and impact of Ontario’s ‘Essential for Some, Good for All’ initiative: Executive Summary. Toronto: Council of Directors of Education. p. 24

Reflective Practice

Reflection is key to Cosán. ​

When teachers reflect on their practice, whether individually or collaboratively, they can identify opportunities for development and engagement in professional learning. Equally, by reflecting on their professional learning, teachers can explore the impact this is having on their practice. Reflection is, therefore, a cyclical process. For this reason, it is depicted in the Cosán graphic as wrapping around the framework.