Sparked by Sparks

dennis-sparks To say that Dennis Sparks, sparks my thinking (yes….. I know how corny that sounds) is an  understatement.  Although I’ve never had the opportunity to be an audience member at a session  or hear him speak via a livestream, many of my colleagues have shared their respect for him  and his messages. He was a significant contributor to our Thames Valley leadership program for many years and the Literacy team has highlighted his quotes in our work with school teams.  What I do know about Dennis is that he is generous with his social media readers, always demonstrating appreciation for their retweets and comments. His responses to their comments are well crafted and demonstrate a respect for their thinking. I have also come to learn that he does not shy away from controversy.  He challenges his readers to reflect on their current situation and then brainstorm ways to improve.  Many of his posts are about professional learning ~ my current world!   As I read his blogs, what I love is that his topics can have an impact at both the school and the system level.  Teachers can easily see themselves reflected in his posts, when he talks about “leaders” and really, we need more people in the organization to see themselves as leaders (students and parents as well).

My Comments:

Let’s hope that we’re not having this conversation 40 years from now. And yet history tells us that if we don’t take the time to uncover the reasons why professional learning is not having the impact that we feel it needs to have, then we are poised to repeat the mistakes of the past. As you’ve reminded your readers on many occasions, learning (at any level of the organization ~ from student to Director) is complex. The factors involved in true learning, whereby we can no longer go back to where we once were, are multi-layered. In the professional learning that we offered through our Languages portfolio, we’ve captured a few non-negotiables which are starting to have an impact. No longer do we offer “one-ofs” (we build a year long relationship with our school teams), we want our participants to volunteer (because they see a need in their classroom), we want school teams to be a part of it, so that we can infiltrate the school culture and provide them with a common language and we require administrators to be “at the table” and learn alongside of their teachers. It is that last condition which speaks to your “four deeper explanations”. In our work, we have certainly had the vantage point of seeing the power of having a strong instructional leader at the table. And in knowing that we would be welcoming administrators, we needed to tailor the learning to meet their needs as well. We started sessions by looking at ourselves as “learners”, even before we dove into exploring ourselves as “readers”. We wanted our administrators to see themselves in the learning process (knowing that they weren’t returning to a classroom to experiment with the strategies). We also took every opportunity to model powerful presentation strategies (beyond the actual reading strategies), such as the use of social media.
I agree that leaders (classroom, school, system) are all on a continuum when it comes to igniting a passion for others to learn. I’m wondering if more of us modeled our own openness to learning and vulnerability when it comes to embracing something new, then more of our staff (students) would be open to professional learning opportunities.