My Space, Your Space, or Our Space?

After recently spending two days at a PD session, I had a discussion about ‘norms’ with a colleague.

Every school has a set of ‘norms’ established to monitor and frame the expected behaviours and attitudes of the group. The National School Reform Faculty has an effective protocol for guiding teams toward developing norms. In the book “Learning by Doing” by Dufour, et al.,  the value of norms to guide the PLC is clearly articulated.

Which leads to my current curiosity: When school teams come to a Professional Development session, do the norms from the school carry over with them, or do they adopt and adapt to any norms presented by the session facilitators? Does the ‘space’ that they have gathered in away from the school still function as “their space” or does the space belong to the facilitators? If either of these is true, what impact does that have on the conversation and learning that takes place?

Both my colleague and I concluded that the transference of norms from one location to another would likely indicate the strength of those norms and the group working within them. What do others feel? When you gather with other school teams at a district professional development session, do the norms and learning culture of your school follow you?

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Posted on November 8, 2012, in Professional Development. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Authenticity of Norms:
    When we ask a group of learners to develop a list of norms for their learning, are we honestly asking them to commit to these essential core values? Groups identify honesty, openness, trust, respect, and a willingness to be open to the ideas of others. Is it reasonable to assume that stating, ‘we will trust each other’, or ‘we will respect the ideas of others’, is sufficient to develop those complex dynamics within a group? If a group of learners believes that trust and respect, for example, are essential conditions for their learning (and are therefore listed as norms), then what are the actions that the group must engage in to develop this common group culture. How long does it take to develop trust? What intentional actions are required to cultivate this? What will the evidence be that our group is, or is not, there with respect to these values? When must norms be developed? Is this a reasonable request of a 15 minute task at the beginning of a professional learning session?

    Excellent provocation, Chris – whose space is the learning space in professional learning. The term space has its deepest implications when used metaphorically.

    • Thanks for the response. You are helping me get deeper with my thinking on this.
      So, if we assume that strong group culture is based on commonly accepted norms, with a foundation of trust and respect and cultivated through shared experiences, what is the impact on me as a facilitator having not been part of this culture? Is it ok for me to assume respect? Is it ok for me to assume acceptance? Despite publicly displaying my respect and goodwill toward a group, there is no reason for them to ‘accept’ me into their culture.
      My new thinking on this, from a personal perspective, is that I need to be more deeply involved in the work of the PD sessions between the session and in the schools. To answer my initial question on who owns the “space”, it needs to be “us”, and that means me meeting the groups half way rather than expecting my norms and theirs to transfer and mesh.

  2. I agree with your emerging position on this. As a facilitator, would you anticipate a difference in ‘space’, between co-learning with your most trusted group, and facilitating a session in a different District for the first time? What is the difference and why? What have you constructed with your most trusted group, that you haven’t with the new group? What experiences have you shared with the former, that you haven’t with the latter? More importantly, for us, I think, is how do these different levels of trust impact the space? What are the implications for our style/format/activities/focus during learning experiences? “Because we have not constructed trust yet, I need to be sure to do what/ or include what/ or frame our work this way, etc. …”. Katz references the need for true professional learning to involve conceptual change – legitimate accommodation of new information and understanding in the actions and beliefs of the learners. What is the role of ‘the space’ in his model? How likely is this type of permanent change to happen in the absence of the deep cultural conditions you described? What are the implications of this on the nature of professional learning models we construct?

  3. OK, trying to make sense of my own thoughts and responses…!

    Yes, I would expect a difference in many aspects of the work with a trusted group compared to a new one. I think shared experience leads to trust (or not, depending on the experience!) as long as the work is always done with transparency, integrity and clearly articulated purpose. I am learning every day that trust is based in action and not words. It is easy to say you trust someone or a group has trust, but the behaviours have to match this. A mistake I have made as a facilitator is to assume I am trusted because the group knows me. What they really need to know is my intent, motives and genuine care for their work. Trust follows this, it does not precede. That being said, appearing credible may accelerate this process.

    So then the implication on facilitation…with a new group who don’t have this foundation with the facilitator, motives and purpose of the session/work need to be out in the open – what do I get from this, what do you get from this. How can I learn more about you so that my work supports yours. I think the ‘space’ becomes a different one when the facilitator takes a co-learning role, and not just in word but in action. The activities of the session need to touch on this (assuming the aim is to create a space of shared learning, rather than a space for school team learning).

    I think the Katz reference (“to involve conceptual change – legitimate accommodation of new information and understanding in the actions and beliefs of the learners”) speaks again to the need for this work to be ongoing and based in schools. In education, you are not going to get to this point without the presence of the student. You may get some disonnance through professional discourse, but not the experiential, student-centred learning that changes your core beliefs.

    The ‘space’ is shared when the learning, experiences, and work is shared. The impact on our professional learning model is that the sessions need to value and reflect the work and needs of the participants, and that the work and needs of the participants needs to involve the facilitators between sessions.

    Again, I land on the need for facilitators to be more involved in what Fullan calls “the real work” back at the school.

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