Collaboration driving teacher professional learning - Education Matters Magazine
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Collaboration driving teacher professional learning

Teachers need to continually build their skills, be cognisant of new technologies and ideas, as well as engage with other education professionals in order to ride the tides of best and next practice in their chosen career, write Andrew Napier, Jodi Gordon-Moulds and Troy Thompson.

Implicit in the developmental, the National Professional Standards for Teachers Standards is, “The understanding that throughout their teaching life, teachers like other professionals will be actively engaged in updating and extending their professional knowledge and practice. This is necessary for them to remain effective in their role as they progress to being an exemplary classroom practitioner and a leader in the profession.” (Cole, 2012)

As educators, we continually have a number of demands placed on us in order to deliver engaging, relevant and appropriate teaching programs that effectively prepare our students for both future tertiary and work pathways. Professional learning is paramount in this process. Teachers need to continually build their skills, be cognisant of new technologies and ideas, as well as engage with other education professionals in order to ride the tides of best and next practice in their chosen career.

In the Essential Guide to Professional Learning (AITSL, 2012), professional learning culture is considered to be collaborative when, “Teachers engage in frequent, ongoing formal and informal conversations about pedagogy and teaching practice” and “teachers work together to research, plan and design effective teaching strategies and programs.”

South Australian Inspired Learning (SAIL) is an exciting new collaborative, professional learning community, founded by a small group of educators in Adelaide, South Australia. Collaboration is regarded as a rewarding professional learning experience, impacting on both teacher and student learning. Through dialogue afforded by SAIL’s online collaborative space, professional sharing, experimentation and critique can occur between teachers and other members of the South Australian education community. “Collaboration can encompass a range of activities, from teachers working together in an informal, unplanned way to the implementation of more formal collaborative approaches, such as professional learning communities. Effective collaboration is frequent and ongoing and, when most successful, comprises an integral part of daily routines.” (AITSL 2012)

Within every effective professional learning community, there exists a group of teachers who regularly collaborate, with a focus on achieving continual professional improvement.

Coughlin and Kajder (2009), describe the enormous benefits of online collaboration for educators and their classroom practice. The four qualities that they attribute to successful online collaborative communities are; their infinite shelf life; the ability for teachers to access groups that are relevant to their specific interests or needs; community content can be edited, shared and reposted; and the accessibility of resources at any time.

With the launch of the SAIL Yammer professional learning community, South Australian Educators are provided with an easily accessible, vibrant online community. Teachers will have an easy platform to colaborate, share ideas and engage in dialogue… a giant leap for professional learning in South Australia.

The founders of SAIL, a group of teachers from across the various education sectors in South Australia, were the South Australian representatives of the 2015 Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Experts program, inspired to create a supportive professional learning community for teachers state-wide.

The MIE program was created to recognise global educator visionaries who are using technology effectively in their teaching environment and to foster better student learning outcomes. The program provides professional development and collaborative opportunities for its members who are then encouraged to further extend this network and reach out to other educators. Jane Mackarell, Education Programs Manager at Microsoft Australia, reflected that the MIE Program has been an inspiring journey working with passionate and innovative educators from across Australia. To have the opportunity to see how technology can transform classrooms across Australia and make a real difference to student outcomes through these amazing educators has been a privilege. To see this community grow locally in South Australia is testament to how educators are passionate about sharing with and learning from their peers.

MIE Experts work closely with Microsoft to lead innovation in education. They advocate and share their thoughts on effective use of technology in education with both peers and policy makers. They provide insight and feedback to Microsoft on new products and tools for education, and exchange best practices as they work together to promote innovation in teaching and learning. The MIE program in Australia and New Zealand is comprised of approximately 50 educators from across the two countries, drawn from all sectors of education.

Membership of the MIE program had provided this group of South Australian educators with an amazing network of teachers from throughout Australia and New Zealand, as well as connection to the worldwide MIE program. Having benefited from the opportunities provided, the challenge for this small group in Adelaide was to develop an easily accessible professional learning space for all teachers in South Australia. A space where they can keep up to date with new developments in technology and share examples of inspired teaching practice. As yet, there has never been an online professional development and networking opportunity that reached all teachers across all education sectors in South Australia. SAIL was created to satisfy this need.

South Australian Inspired Learning (SAIL), is an online Yammer community and professional learning space for educators to share ideas, experiences, stories, resources, and best practice to effectively support and foster inspired learning in all South Australian schools.

SAIL features voluntary contributions from across the South Australian education landscape, its steering committee comprising of representatives from CESA, AISSA and DECD, along with Microsoft Expert Educators and teachers. It aims to be the first place of support for all teachers seeking to access South Australia’s unique, learning-focused community. It is intended that SAIL will be accessed by as many South Australian educators as possible.

First and foremost, SAIL is a Yammer collaborative space – freely open to all educators and people interested in professional learning and networking. Participants can share their quality learning experiences, learning activities, videos, blogs, resources, anecdotes, questions…, in fact, anything that has a genuine education focus. Members are encouraged both to share and benefit from the experiences of others, participants can access mentoring and collaboration between teachers throughout the state, facilitated through the simple and easy Yammer site. This provides an opportunity for self-access to professional development for teachers. The beauty of SAIL is that it throws all South Australian teachers together in a highly collaborative mixing pot.

Also in development is the SAIL Education “Regatta”, providing an exciting opportunity for educators to meet, collaborate and share their experiences of inspirational learning in real time. SAIL Steering committee member, Rob Sieben from Prince Alfred College in Adelaide has been critical in the establishment of high-quality conference facilities at the school, and it is anticipated that the first SAIL Education Regatta will be held in April 2016 in the newly-created professional learning facility at Prince Alfred College.

The professional learning facility at PAC will be a strategic alliance of parties committed to professional learning programs and the enhancement of teaching and learning in the 21st Century. It will provide a mechanism for parties to share resources and coordinate the delivery of their programs so as to maximise the benefit to schools, teachers and school leaders throughout South Australia. PAC’s Professional Learning Centre aims to support school leaders in identifying the strategic vision for professional learning within their schools, and to work in partnership with educational professionals on a global stage to develop new approaches to teaching and learning. The centre aims to work with educational leaders and teachers to ensure that any integration of ICTs into the teaching program is considered from a learning and outcomes perspective rather than from a teacher-centered perspective. The SAIL Committee is excited to launch its first real-time, face-to-face event in this contemporary space.

SAIL was launched on July 31 at the Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron with special guests, The Honourable Susan Close MP (SA Minister for Education) along with representatives from each education sector in South Australia, including Ms Carolyn Grantskalns, Chief executive AISSA; Ms Monica Conway, Assistant Director – Catholic Education of SA (CESA); and Susan Cameron, Executive director, Teaching and Learning (DECD). A number of leaders from across the various education sectors also attended the event. The Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron provided the beautiful backdrop for the launch of SAIL, while an impressive selection of delicious Barossa Valley wines were generously provided by Kaesler Wines.

At the launch, Dr Susan Close MP, acknowledged South Australian teachers who are, “Embracing opportunities to connect and collaborate with each other, using a range of online networks to share ideas, successes and challenges and stay in touch with latest developments in education. Linking up with teachers from other schools and systems through online networks like SAIL can unlock a wealth of new ideas, activities, strategies and support, with students reaping the benefits.”

Carolyn Grantskalns, Chief executive of AISSA, commented that, “Research such as that by Patrick Griffin and others makes it clear that being part of a responsible, accountable team, empowers and adds value to student learning and teacher self-efficacy. The SAIL initiative is an exciting way to enable a professional learning team to extend beyond the boundaries of an individual school campus, enabling those interested in pursuing a shared improvement agenda to work collegially for the benefit of their students. I commend those who initiated the venture and wish all the participants a rich learning journey”.

SAIL gratefully acknowledges the support provided by founding partner, Microsoft Australia, who have provided a great deal of support and advice in the development of SAIL. “We are really pleased to be working with Microsoft Innovative Educators in South Australia to support and recognise their innovative approaches to incorporating technology in lessons to enable better learning and student outcomes. Microsoft is committed to developing teacher capabilities and confidence in design and digital technologies, in line with the new Australian Curriculum, and looks forward to partnering with SAIL to achieve this,” Dr Eva Balan-Vnuk, Microsoft South Australia.

Debbie Meich, Sponsorship Co-ordinator from Credit Union SA, who has worked with the SAIL committee to provide financial support for this initiative, says, “Credit Union SA values the work of teachers and the education community and is pleased to support SAIL in their creation of a unique and engaging professional learning space for South Australian Teachers.”

The SAIL Yammer community is free and can be accessed by all South Australian educators. Within the site, there exists a number of professional interest groups that members can join. Those interested in more information can email or visit the website, where there is a link to access the SAIL community.

Andrew Napier is a Science and Biology teacher at St John’s Grammar School in Belair, South Australia. He also has been part of the Microsoft Innovative Educator program since 2014. He is passionate about teaching Science and also holds the pastoral care position of Head of House in the Senior School. He is currently undertaking a Masters of Education at Flinders University, with a focus on ICT in education. Andrew’s personal interest in education centres on 21st century learning and eLearning design, supported by innovative use of technology.

Jodi Gordon-Moulds is currently the Director of Digital Learning Technologies at Adelaide’s Seymour College and a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (2015). Jodi is inspired and driven to provide exciting and engaging STEM and digital technology learning experiences for students of all ages. She also believes that teachers require robust professional learning opportunities to apply 21st Century Learning in their classrooms to realise the full potential technology in education. Jodi is currently undertaking her Ph.D. exploring the impact of Educational Technology Policy on teaching and learning in South Australia.

Troy Thomson is Director of Learning Technologies at Pulteney Grammar School in Adelaide. An educational leader who enjoys the challenge of leading change within schools. Currently he is working in a strategic and staff development role promoting contemporary pedagogy through the molding of teaching and learning with technology. His core professional interest is in establishing highly effective performance and development cultures within schools – built on contemporary teaching and learning practice, including blended and personalised learning styles. Troy is a Microsoft Expert Educator and 21st Century Learning Design facilitator, and is excited to be a part of the powerful conversations that assist teachers design and implement engaging learning experiences that embed innovative technologies.

AITSL. (2012). The Essential Guide to Professional Learning; Collaboration. AITSL.

Cole, P. Linking effective professional learning with effective teaching practice. Retrieved from AITSL: Viewed 2015, July 17

Coughlin, E., & Kajder, S. (2009). The Impact of Online Collaborative Learning on Educators and Classroom Practices. CISCO.
SA, T. R. (2015, July 16). Professional Learning. Retrieved from Teachers Registration Board of South Australia:



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