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In Intentional Interruption – Breaking Down Learning Barriers to Transform Professional Practice, Steven Katz & Lisa Ain Dack set out to explain how school leaders can best facilitate “true” professional learning - that is, teacher learning that has real impact on classroom practice and student achievement.In Chapter 2: The (Very) Hard Work of Learning, they provide a “psychological perspective” on learning and explain why learning is difficult. They define learning as “... a permanent change in knowledge or behavior”. (14) They posit that learning is hard because people have a “natural predisposition to preserve and conserve their existing beliefs, understandings, and behaviours” and to maintain the status quo. (15) When presented with learning that challenges one’s beliefs, the result is a cognitive dissonance. People deal with this discomfort by either avoiding it altogether, or altering the new learning to conform with a pre-existing belief (a form of assimilation). However, real learning occurs when people alter their beliefs to accommodate new information. Chapter 3, The Problem With Professional Learning, opens with a recognition of the disappointing research finding that there is often only a very small impact of teacher professional development on student achievement. The co-authors maintain that there are two inherent problems with the current vertical capacity-building model of PD that account for its minimal effect on student learning. In this model, teachers gather in a ballroom-type setting for workshops and presentations. However, this type of PD neither addresses the just-in-time differentiated learning that individual teachers need nor ensures that teachers incorporate the new learning into their classroom practice.The authors also point out the problems associated with alternate forms of PD. In classroom walkthroughs, teachers tend to imitate the practices they observe but without developing an understanding of the underlying knowledge on which these practices are based. They illustrate this point by way of the humorous example of a kindergarten walkthrough situation in which other teachers simply imitated a teacher’s practice of sitting on an inflatable ball! Networked professional learning communities (both within and among schools) also don’t always lead to improved student achievement since they emphaisze doing things together at the expense of focusing on an understanding of effective teaching practices. Three enablers of professional learning are identified in chapter 4. Enabler one is a learning focus for teachers and leaders that supports what students need to learn (as determined by evidence). Essentially, the specific content and practices teachers need to learn should be determined by the urgent student learning needs, and the content and practices school leaders need to learn are driven by the teacher learning focus. Focus is the what of professional learning. The how of professional learning is collaborative inquiry that challenges thinking and practice. Collaborative inquiry will be effective when a disciplined approach is taken, involving the use of a framework which includes: developing an inquiry question, developing a hypothesis, determining success criteria, implementing and then analyzing the plan, and reflecting on the learning to determine next steps. The who of professional learning is instructional leadership, by both promoting and participating in teacher learning and development. The authors indicate that instructional leadership is not about being the lead knower but rather the lead learner. Principals and district leaders should lead instructional learning with authenticity and even vulnerability, not being afraid to admit that they do not have all the answers. Katz and Dack explore in Chapter 5, The Barriers: How Our Minds Get in the Way, a number of biases that prevent people from engaging in deep levels of thinking. First is the tendency to move too quickly from problem to solution without engaging in a thorough problem analysis to consider all possibilities. There is also the confirmation bias – our tendency to look for evidence that confirms our beliefs rather than challenges them. This bias is particularly problematic because the things that challenge our beliefs are what lead to new learning. The illusory superiority bias – our tendency to overestimate our strengths and underestimate our shortcomings in comparison to others – is, a particularly “big” mental shortcoming. The omission bias refers to the belief that greater harm will result from taking action than from not taking action. In the final chapter, the co-authors present strategies for intentional interruption of the cognitive biases that get in the way of real professional learning, and hence, preserve the status quo. Protocols which compel people to follow steps to describe, interpret, and reflect upon teaching practices can help break through the culture of niceness and challenge these practices. Another strategy is to ask teachers to explicitly identify their preconceptions related to new learning and have them intentionally think about whether the new information confirms or challenges their preconceptions. Avoiding the confirmation bias involves actively recruiting contradictory evidence – that is, encouraging people to deliberately consider ideas that run contrary to their beliefs. A critical friend can be used in this regard. Developing an error-friendly school or district culture, in which mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities, will also encourage professional learning.

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