Learning And Teaching for Understanding - A day of learning with PZ Sydney Network

Today I had the pleasure of joining over three-hundred educators for a day of learning and sharing. That this was a Sunday and that the event was organised as a free event for educators by educators speaks volumes of the quality and care that educators bring to their role.

This event was organised by Project Zero Sydney Network, which is a collective of educators who share an interest in the ideas which emanate from Harvard’s Project Zero. The networks aim is to share professional learning opportunities with educators at no cost and in doing so, facilitate the expansion of pedagogical philosophies that are supportive of deep-understanding, critical thinking and lifeworthy learning. Drawing on Project Zero pedagogy and practice, PZ Sydney Network believes that:

  • learning is a consequence of thinking

  • understanding is not only something you have, but something you do

  • intelligence is not one thing, but many, and is something that can be learned

  • thinking skills alone are not sufficient; we must also have the disposition to use them

  • thinking and learning are processes that are deepened when we make them visible

  • collaboration is the stuff of learning.

Today’s event is the third annual conference offered by the network and interest continues to grow. Its founding members are committed to learning, and there is extensive experience within their midst. What unites them is their desire to collaborate with others and to facilitate learning through dialogue and facilitative coaching rather than banner waving or dictatorial instruction. Attending a PZ Sydney event is more like participating in a conversation with a trusted friend than listening to a lecture. There is a clear understanding that learning is best when it is mutual and that questions drive learning in new directions while answers suggest an ending.

On this particular Sunday, we were joined by the inspiring Tina Blythe. Tina has been a researcher at Project Zero for nearly 30 years. She is part of Project Zero’s online learning leadership team and is the education chair of the Project Zero Classroom summer institute. She is also a Lecturer on Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Central to her research and teaching are how to create and sustain learning environments that support understanding. Collaborative inquiry and the collaborative assessment of student and teacher work are key focuses of her work

Among many gems, Tina shared a story of her personal learning. It was a story I have shared through this blog previously and involves Tina’s reflections on a professional learning event which did not live up to expectation. Tina utilised the metaphor of searching for driftwood on a beach to describe the process of connecting learning opportunities with our particular needs. The beach wanderer passes by many items which do not meet their needs. Only a few of the pieces of detritus will fit the wanderer's needs, maybe fitting into a particular project or perhaps offering enough possibility to be collected for one yet to be imagined. For the professional learner, the journey is the same. They engage with many ideas, strategies and solutions, but only a few are implemented or saved for future use.

“Sometimes, I go to the beach and I know exactly what I’m looking for: sea glass of a certain color, shells of a particular shape or size. Sometimes, I see something that catches my eye, and I’ll pick it up and bring it home, even though I’m not sure at that moment what I’m going to do with it. - you never bring home the whole beach.”

I found a few pieces of driftwood today that I will keep and make use of, but perhaps my favourite was one of those delightful wonderings that force you to reconsider what we might be best focusing on with our teaching. “What questions will our students inherit?” We know that the students we teach today will become adults in a world shaped mostly by the questions or challenges that we create for them today. The questions of climate change, displaced communities, a global population on the move in a world dominated by globalisation and rapidly evolving technologies are unlikely to be adequately answered in the short term and so will be passed on to the children of today. With this in mind, how will we educate our children so that they may find answers to the questions we have created?

Checkout #pzsyd on Twitter to see what others found.

By Nigel Coutts