ETL Navigators Present at 37th International Self-Directed Learning Symposium

Empowering Teacher Learning (ETL) Navigators—Heather Childress, Sherry Thomas-Paddie, Holly Weaver, and Dr. Erin West—presented at the 37th International Society for Self-Directed Learning (ISSDL) Symposium in early February. Their paper presentation, “Exploring Teachers’ Initial Perceptions of Self-Directed Learning within a Teacher-Directed Professional Learning Program,” included findings from the ‘22-’23 cohort of the ETL Project. 

About the Empowering Teacher Learning Project

Backed by a $12 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the five-year span of the ETL Project will assess the impacts of a teacher-directed professional learning program in rural, western North Carolina middle schools. At the core of the project is teacher agency. ETL believes in handing teacher professional learning back to the experts: the teachers. Ultimately, we aim to understand how this professional learning framework can positively impact student learning. 

ETL’s teacher-directed professional learning program begins with teachers evaluating their own professional learning needs. Teachers reflect upon their strengths and areas for growth, then work with their fellow educators and ETL Navigator to establish professional learning goals for the year. The teachers’ goals drive their selection of online, competency-based micro-credentials to pursue throughout the school year.

Navigators have a unique role in working with teachers. We are not instructional coaches, administrators, or curriculum facilitators. We are professional peers working alongside the teacher. Our role is a metaphorical mirror, helping the teacher reflect upon themselves and their needs. As teachers establish professional learning goals, Navigators center the voice of the teacher in every step of the process through questions such as, “What are your goals for the year?” and “What potential changes do you wish to see in your practice this year after accomplishing these goals?” 

To better understand teachers’ perceptions of the teacher-directed professional learning framework, the ETL Team surveyed teachers at the end of the goal-creation process. These findings were included in the presentation at the ISSDL Symposium. 

Highlights from the ISSDL Symposium 

As the ETL team examined teachers’ responses, we found that teachers reported feeling an increased sense of autonomy, personalization, and meaningfulness through the goal-setting process. Teachers perceived themselves as active participants in their professional learning, empowered to set goals that addressed the unique needs of their classrooms and students. Numerous teachers indicated that directing their own learning would enhance their ability to support students more effectively. 

When Navigators presented these findings at the ISSDL Symposium, we were met with thought-provoking discussion and questions about the ETL Project. There was much discussion about the importance of supporting teachers during the goal-setting process and the challenges of a program like ETL amidst the typical top-down approach to teacher professional learning. We considered the lifelong learning skills associated with self-directed learning—planning, adapting, and changing in an ever-evolving environment—and the potential for a teacher-directed professional learning model to transfer these 21st century learning skills to students.

Reflections from ETL Navigators 

The ISSDL Symposium was a time for all Navigators to pause and connect with the purpose behind the work we are doing and consider how we can make this experience better for participating teachers. With self-directed learning at the core of the ETL project, the Navigators felt we had “found our people.” We enjoyed being surrounded by so many educators who believed in the power of directing one’s own learning and we formed a deeper understanding of the importance of teacher agency in a thriving school environment. 

Through attending the various sessions, it was exciting to witness how self-directed learning spans across all disciplines. Yet perhaps even more enriching than the sessions themselves were the conversations in between. At the heart of a symposium is constructing knowledge through conversation, and these informal conversations led to thought-provoking discussion that helped us reflect and grow as a team. Navigators leaned fully into the nature of the symposium by meeting and engaging with educators all across the world and we returned excited to apply our newfound knowledge to the heart of our project: empowering teacher learning.

Written by Holly Weaver, ETL Navigator

ETL Navigators from left: Dr. Erin West, Holly Weaver, Sherry Thomas-Paddie, and Heather Childress attend the ISSDL Symposium in February
Published: Mar 7, 2024 11:14am