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Not only is it good to talk, its essential

I had a visit this week from one of my Twitter contacts. Dr Rachel Lofthouse from Newcastle University visited one of my schools to talk about professional learning, and how we have been using practitioner enquiry to support this and school development for a number of years now. Having Rachel visit reminded me again of the power and the impact of focused professional dialogue and conversations.

There is no doubt that collaboration and collegiality are cornerstones of school and system development. Such co-operative working and thinking cannot happen in a vacuum and it is through conversation and dialogue that we build relationships and understandings. For such talk to have maximum impact it needs to be open, built on professional trust and focused. Cosy chats about comfortable issues and practices, can deepen these and the thinking around them, but are unlikely to have deep impacts on and move our practice forward. We need challenging conversations, with a common focus or theme, to improve our thinking, deepen our understandings and help us identify how we can move our practice forward. Truely dialogical approaches to professional development.

Focused professional dialogue is key to developing the learning and growth culture within a school. Talking to Rachel, and thinking ahead of and following her visit, re-enforced my view, based on experience and research, that professional development is an ongoing organic process, which needs to become a professional disposition for us all. Sustainable and meaningful professional development happens over time and is the result of initial training, experience, reading, engagement with research, collaboration with colleagues and dialogue around common issues. Over time our thinking and our practice evolves and grows as a result of all these interactions. For me, change and development is continuous and happens bit by bit every day. It is not revolution but evolution that is sustainable and makes the difference. The 'one off' big-hitting events and episodes of professional development can have impact at the time they are happening, but too often their impact dissipates over time. These events can still contribute to our ongoing professional identity change, but we need to recognise them for what they are, a small contribution to that overall professional evolution. The biggest impacts come from collaboration and conversation situated in our own particular context.

For the system too, professional dialogue is key in sharing insights, overcoming challenges and moving systems forward. These interactions need to be multi-dimensional and not one way, or top down, if they are to really improve the system. All have to be recognised as having a place, and a responsibility, within developing and growing the system for the benefit of all. Again, this dialogue needs to be based on values of trust and authenticity. Tokenism and false 'consultations' won't cut it and do more damage than good. True collegiality and collaboration is not about being told what to do, but about agreeing what needs to be done, and is shaped by context.

Obviously, face to face conversations are the most powerful, but these are not always possible. No longer is this a barrier for now we have social media, and especially Twitter. Now we can have 'real time' conversations and dialogue with colleagues across the Globe, whenever we wish. The power of these new ways to connect and collaborate is incredible, but still unknown to most educators. The percentage of teachers, school leaders, system leaders and researchers who use tools like Twitter is still relatively small, but growing. No longer do we have to wait to meet face to face to begin a conversation with colleagues from an ever expanding professional learning network. However, the ways that we can have those powerful face to face conversations have also grown. Now we have TeachMeets, BeerMeets, ResearchEd and other self-organised events happening all over different system as teacher agency has grown and developed. I am sure there many other individual meetings, like the one I had with Rachel and colleagues in Australia over the summer, are happening every week, if not every day. This all makes for a very exciting time for individual, school and system development. No longer is this the preserve of a privileged few, but is a more open and available to anyone who wishes to engage and contribute.

Who are you going to be talking to next?

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