Learner Autonomy

Cross post from http://hsprincipal.wordpress.com/
by: Lorelie Lenaour

cpmOne of the five pillars of Intellectual Engagement identified in our review of the literature is “Student Autonomy.” When we expand the concept to “Learner Autonomy,” it then, includes all stakeholders as learners. In my role as Division Principal, I am often responsible for planning professional learning experiences for staff within our school division and learner autonomy needs to play a big role here. If teachers are to confidently turn autonomy of learning over to their students, they need more opportunity to experience autonomy in their own professional learning. In the Alberta Teacher’s Association publication, “A Great School for All – Transforming Education in Alberta” (2012), Autonomy in Professional Development and Teacher Leadership are two of the twelve dimensions for transforming education in Alberta. Factors such as teacher professional judgement, self-efficacy, collaborative professional autonomy, flexibility and innovation are identified as necessary for the successful transformation of education.

One example of a professional learning opportunity beginning in Holy Spirit Catholic Schools is our Collaborative Peer Mentor Program. The program was advertised to all teachers and to my very pleasant surprise, 27 teachers have stepped forward to participate. The 5 program sessions will occur during the school day over the course of 7 months. At a time, when I hear so often that teachers are stretched to the limit, this opportunity comes along with the commitment that teachers will plan for their absence from their classrooms, while maintaining meaningful learning for their students. This is a very dedicated group who already assume a great deal of autonomy for their own learning. The program participants along with school based administrators will define and refine what the program will look like along the way and the program participants have agreed to “mentor and be mentored.” The most important thing for me to do will be to provide the opportunity for the participants to create new knowledge and then step out of the way.

In Drive, Daniel Pink describes autonomy as an individual having control over their task, time, technique, and team. Through this lens, it is my hope that our Collaborative Peer Mentors will experience autonomy in their professional learning.

  • Autonomy over task – Teachers self-selected to be part of the program. Participants will contribute to the development of the program along the way based on their learning needs and interests.
  • Autonomy over time – Teachers choose to participate knowing that sessions would occur within the regular work day, but they would also need to provide plans for substitute teachers to cover their classes. Participants will self-select the best times to engage in practice mentoring.
  • Autonomy over technique – During the program, we will be exploring a variety of approaches to collaborative peer mentoring. Participants will choose techniques that are most suited to their learning style. This may be different from one person to the next. Perhaps we will create our own version of a mentoring observation template based on the 5 pillars of intellectual engagement identified in our AISI Literature Review– but that will be up to the group to determine.
  • Autonomy over team – Participants will choose from among the group who they will partner up with to mentor and be mentored. Over the course of the program, participants will have multiple opportunities to team up others.

As we look forward to beginning a new learning adventure together, I am confident that our learning will be worthwhile for those engaged because the participants will have autonomy over their learning.

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One Response to Learner Autonomy

  1. mreatough says:

    Hey from Australia!

    We have done something very similar in Australia. Staff selected their own projects and assembled into teams and pursued a goal. We then presented some recommendations on the future direction of the school and pitched our ideas to staff.

    A few tips:

    1. Although there should be autonomy i think we need to have a common goal. This does not need to be overly descriptive but should probably result in improved student learning (not performance in a test).

    2. The leadership of the environment/school should be strategic how it utilises its leadership. We had our senior leadership act as ‘enforcers’ not really having any idea about what we were doing. They were interested in where we were meeting and that we were meeting. Mentorship is important here as it shouldnt be all about accountability.

    3. What will the district/school (not sure of the structure) ‘do’ with the project? What if a group of staff finds that, for example, project based learning is a great strategy to employ with grade 8? will these projects or professional learning inform future opportunities? This is would really maximise the approach by turning this year’s ‘learners’ into next year’s ‘coaches’ of projects.

    just a few thoughts – interested to hear feedback.


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