Research shows that high quality teaching and leadership teams regularly share their skills, knowledge, expertise and best practice. Sharing your own work and expertise can take many different forms – from leading a PD session with faculty colleagues or posting an online education blog, to publishing an article in Teacher, or presenting your action research findings at a conference.
In our latest expert Q&A we talk to Pru Mitchell – Manager of Information Services at the Australian Council for Educational Research – about the different ways that teachers and school leaders can share their work and expertise, the benefits, and some tips for getting started.
There is so much expertise, experience and knowledge out there among teachers and leaders, what are the benefits of sharing with others?
The definition of a professional in any field is one who possesses ‘special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level, and [who is] prepared to apply this knowledge and exercise these skills in the interest of others’ (ACoP, 2003). Staying abreast of knowledge and practice in our field, and modeling this to our colleagues is surely important given our whole profession is centred on learning.
We face so many educational questions, problems, and gaps. Some of them are really ‘wicked’ problems, and as a profession the more we can share solutions, ideas and even questions, the closer we might come to solving them. While there is certainly a place for the consultants, and professional researchers or academics who provide teacher professional learning, it is immensely valuable to unlock and share the wealth of lived and grounded knowledge held by teachers and leaders.
Presenting or writing down your ideas and experiences for someone else is a step beyond personal reflection. It challenges you to organise your thoughts and expertise into a form that is succinct and logical, and is tailored to an external audience. It provides clear evidence that you are ‘doing’ or applying professional learning, as opposed to passively accruing PD hours. You end up with a feeling of achievement, as well as documentary evidence of learning or research.
So, for the person sharing there are clear benefits in terms of career development, while for their audience the benefits are the immediacy of learning from a colleague whose experience is likely to be relatable, and from a current school context similar to their own.
Sharing within schools is fairly common as colleagues participate in collaborative planning and professional learning communities, but things have become much easier in recent years to connect further afield, and with a much bigger audience. What are some of the options out there?
Research on structured discussions and strategies such as Professional Learning Communities consistently rate activities focused on learning with colleagues in your own school as among the most effective forms of professional learning. However, this can be enhanced by connecting with new ideas from further afield, and there are many ways to access teachers across schools, whether locally, across Australia or globally. Some of the options for sharing your ideas include:
Design a poster or an infographic, either digital or printed, and publish it online. Embed it in a blog post, or send it off to an academic conference.
Package your presentation as slides for a lightning talk, present them at a meeting or go all out for a conference. If you make a recording, you have a podcast or video that can be accessed across a longer timeframe.
Social media is a great option for promoting your work once you have published it somewhere more accessible so you can link to it.
Blog posts offer a flexible word length and form of reporting. You will need to identify a relevant blog channel or other platform for publishing your work.
Magazines and journals provide a place to publish, and will set some guidelines for authors to follow. An edited report of your project or action research is another option.
Can you find a network of people who will listen to you, share ideas and challenge you – whether through structured discussions, journal clubs, meetings or informal, collegial conversation?
Associations are a great way for teachers to get support, but also to share their own expertise with others. How can teachers and leaders get involved?
Professional associations offer amazing networking, news, and know-how. As an early career teacher, for me, the school library association was a secret weapon: a source of mentoring and so many ideas. As my career progressed, I had opportunities for leadership and advocacy and I presented at meetings and conferences, locally, then at national level, and even internationally.
To get involved in your subject association, you can join online, but perhaps follow up with an email to say you are keen to help out. Find someone else who is a member, or ask your university lecturer for an introduction. Attend an event – in person if you have that option. If you are remote, ask if the Board meets online and whether you could attend as an observer as part of your professional development.
Link: The Australian Professional Teachers Association (APTA) website links to the website for each state to help you find a local association: https://www.apta.edu.au/#members
What about impromptu opportunities, such as TeachMeets and the online forums and discussions that happen?
Research on teacher professional learning shows that teachers are busy and have limited time outside their working hours for professional learning. Teachers report limited opportunities relevant to their priorities and subject area, and that their schools can fund only minimal external activities each year.
Online professional learning has been a lifesaver for teacher PD, particularly for early childhood educators, regional and remote, casual relief teachers, and teachers with carer responsibilities who just cannot take a day off, or travel. Online is also an affordable way to access interstate and global presenters.
However, many educators are screen-fatigued and ‘webinarEd’ out. We know that longer doses of professional learning are more effective, but it is hard to focus fully for even a one-hour online session after work. While it is perfectly possible to use breakout rooms and promote discussion amongst online participants, many sessions are delivered as ‘presentation only’ for ease of recording for offline viewing by those who couldn’t attend in real time.
Informal gatherings, sometimes known as TeachMeets or Unconferences, can offer a more interactive, hyperlocal PD experience. If someone is prepared to organise and promote the event, it can be a great way to share short presentations on a theme, to find a project to work on with others in your discipline or special interest area, or connect with academics or industry partners. Keep an eye out on education social media channels to find out if something is coming up, or organise a meetup yourself.
For those who are doing action research or school-based improvement projects, there are lots of opportunities to share what’s happened through more formal methods – conferences and journals being just 2. For someone who’s not done this before, do you have any tips?
The lead time to submit to present at a conference can be up to a year ahead, so it pays to keep a calendar of potential key conferences. If there is a conference theme, does it fit your proposed topic? Check out presenters and papers from previous years’ conferences to get an idea of what they might expect. Future proof your abstract and keep it generic enough because things may change before you get to present it.
Do a search for your title, and your topic, to see what else has been published. Have a discussion with a colleague, a manager and someone from the target audience group to check out whether it is of interest, relevant and meaty enough to sustain a full presentation or article. Is there a colleague or an academic you could partner with?
Journal articles will also have guidelines, and these will differ between peer reviewed scholarly journals and professional journals or magazines. Generally, start with a professional journal for your first submission, unless you are looking towards postgraduate study, in which case getting your head around academic journal writing will be a good CV starter. Check out a few recent issues of the journal. The database A+ Education holds Australasian journals for professional associations and subject areas.
For publishing in journals, professional magazines and applying to present at conferences, there are sometimes disappointments and rejections. Do you have any tips for dealing with this?
Ouch – it’s never nice. But take on board any peer review or editor feedback you can get. Did you match your abstract or article to their audience and format? There are reasons for the editorial instructions, and it is important to follow these. If the feedback relates to relevance or significance, consider how to make a clear connection to professional standards, or spelling out how your project is innovative, or that it evaluates a core or widespread initiative.
Academics often have to try different journals to find one with a better fit for a particular paper, or a journal that has less of a backlog of submissions. It’s not an exact science so pick yourself up from the initial disappointment, and look at alternative options. Is there someone else you could collaborate with, or someone to help you re-work your submission? Consider whether you were writing mainly for yourself or for others? If for yourself, have you learned something? If so, perhaps that’s a sufficiently positive outcome.
The great thing is that there are lots of opportunities to self-publish these days – whether that be through a personal blog, videos or making your own podcast; there’s also the different social media platforms. Anyone can publish, but what kinds of things should people bear in mind in relation to copyright and sharing?
Aah – copyright! Remember you are not protected by the educational licence for content like this that you publish on the open web or social media. Check with someone who understands copyright such as your librarian, and if in doubt contact the source of the content and ask permission. It is wise to label (attribute) everything – images, charts, audio etc – even if it is your own work. For slides, videos, handouts you can have a credits slide or references page at the end if you prefer. Checkout the Smartcopying website. Link: https://smartcopying.edu.au
Ethics is another consideration when publishing. Teachers are in a privileged position and have access to data about students which is not theirs to publish. Nothing identifiable, recognising that it's not many steps online for someone to get from you to your school, class or an individual student or colleague. If in doubt, check with someone with expertise in this area.
Getting self-publication noticed is a challenge. Search engines favour sites with lots of visitors and lots of incoming links and it is difficult to achieve this for a once-off blog post or an online report. Most teachers don’t have the time to maintain and market a highly visited site, even on an existing platform like LinkedIn or Medium. So, it is a matter of finding a trusted platform which already has a massive audience and reach, and which has email and social media subscribers to help get the message out to readers.
Sharing to the global Teacher community
There are lots of ways you can join the ongoing collaboration of knowledge, experience and expertise that is happening through Teacher magazine. We welcome article contributions from K-12 educators, whatever their role, school sector or location. Remember that Teacher has a particular editorial focus, so please take a few minutes to read our quick guide to Reader Submissions. You can email your submission or a brief outline of your pitch to email@example.com and one of our editorial team will be in touch.
References and related reading
Australian Council of Professions. (2003). What is a professional? https://www.professions.org.au/what-is-a-professional
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). (2022). High Quality Professional Learning Toolkit. https://hqpltoolkit.aitsl.edu.au
Dabrowski, A. & Mitchell, P. (2021). Professional Learning Modes: Literature Review. The Australian Council for Education Research. https://research.acer.edu.au/professional_dev/14