Professional development that gives voice

How do you engage more than 100 teachers, ranging from K-12 and across the faculties? The un-conference is the solution. There are no formal presenters, no PowerPoint presentations and no agenda, other than one big important question that is relevant to everyone. Here is what some teachers said at the end of the day:

  • This is a really engaging way to start the year
  • I enjoyed the option today of taking today where our passions are
  • Productive and practical
  • Format was amazing
  • I enjoyed sitting next to and talking to people I don’t normally see
  • Our ideas are valued

Over the past 10 years Northern Beaches Christian School (NBCS) has undergone significant change, addressing People, Places and Pedagogy. The school has a reputation for

  • Facilitating pedagogy that engages and excites our students as life-long learners
  • Shaping the places and spaces for learning that enable and support the pedagogy
  • Ongoing and regular professional development that equips teachers to meet the challenges of 21stC learning

We are constantly exploring how to effectively deliver and engage our teachers in professional learning that is meaningful to their work and consistent with our own values. But how can we encourage and direct our people to develop in their teaching practice and then put them through didactic lectures for our in-house PD?

Last year we discovered an approach called Open Space Technology, developed in the 1980s by Harrison Owen which has been in used in a wide variety of contexts. The approach has successfully engaged groups of between 5 and 2000 people and harnesses the knowledge, expertise and experience of everyone who’s there, not only relying on the wisdom of a handful of expert presenters.

Here is a broad overview of the process: 

With the participants seated in a circle the process is described and a significant question is presented.

Any participant can choose to facilitate a discussion around a topic which is briefly presented to the group and posted  on the ‘Marketplace’. Venues are assigned to each workshop and the participants peruse the marketplace to see which discussion will interest them in the workshop sessions.

Between 30 minutes to an hour is allocated for the workshops and during this time groups discuss and record their key points on large sheets of paper, which are displayed in the main space.

The final workshop for the day is an opportunity to take action. A similar process is undertaken, however, in this session each workshop is a call to action on topics that enthuse and inspire. Again, action points are discussed and written up.

At the close of the day, before the space is closed, there is a time for participants to reflect and share key ideas or take-aways. The notes are then typed up and distributed and key ideas prioritised for implementation.

At the staff conference before the start of the academic year we engaged our entire staff, all 140, around a question that asked:

What great ideas do you have to enhance the learning culture at NBCS in 2011?

12 workshop spaces were set up around the precinct of our main auditorium. The ideas generated ranged from…

How can we use every day experiences to promote learning in science?


Identifying sites for visual arts display/exhibition, both internal and external across the campus.

This web 2.0 world means that we can all contribute. The web is no longer pushing information out to me, I can and do upload my ideas to the world. In a similar way the Open Space approach gives voice to the people in your school and recognizes the value and contribution that each individual brings.

One thought on “Professional development that gives voice

  1. Great post Anne! OST just seems to harness the creativeness in people. I wonder if it could do the same for a bunch of bankers too! And so glad to see the new school year starting off with such vibrancy and passion in the teachers.


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