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Implementing an immersive professional developmentcourse to publicschool teachers in Toronto: a case study

As the course leader of “Ganhando o Mundo Professor,” I had the opportunity to facilitate a transformative professional development journey for 75 public school teachers from Paraná, Brazil. Hosted in the welcoming and incredibly exciting city of Toronto, where I currently live, this three-week program, brought to life by the Secretaria da Educação do Estado do Paraná in partnership with Greystone College and ILSC Education, was a deep exploration into the realms of andragogy, experiential learning, and the Canadian education system, all set against the multicultural backdrop of Canadian society.

Central to our program’s philosophy was andragogy, the art and science of helping adults learn. Malcolm Knowles described andragogy as the discipline focused on the learning processes of adults, encompassing both formal and non-formal educational experiences and rooted in the understanding that adult learners bring a unique set of experiences, motivations, and learning preferences to the educational environment (Kearsley, 2010). This concept stands in opposition to pedagogy, which deals with the theories and methods of teaching children. Andragogy and pedagogy, although different in focus, are parallel terms. The origin of ‘andragogy’ is derived from the Greek for ‘leading men’ (adults of all genders), in contrast to ‘pedagogy’, which translates to ‘leading children’ (Loeng, 2018). Graham (2017) highlights Knowles’ belief in the necessity of autonomy in adult education as a key difference between these two concepts. He advocated for a learner-centric approach, emphasizing self-guided learning, as opposed to the traditional teacher-centered model prevalent in child education.

This approach was particularly pertinent given the diverse backgrounds of the 75 Brazilian educators who joined us, each bringing their rich professional histories and personal insights. The andragogical model recognizes the need for adults to see the immediate relevance and application of what they learn, a principle that guided the curriculum design and delivery. In order to fully achieve that, several sessions had pre-allocated (and rather generous) time slots that prompted teachers to (1) share what they already knew about the session theme; (2) discuss how they would adapt the session content and experience to their own context; and (3) work in groups so that they could learn directly from each other’s strengths and previous knowledge. A hallmark of our approach was the emphasis on collaborative learning and peer teaching. We facilitated sessions where educators shared their experiences, challenges, and insights, thus creating a dynamic learning community. Peer-led workshops and discussions not only enhanced the learning experience but also fostered a sense of solidarity and shared purpose among the participants.

In teacher education theories, there is a clear acceptance of the importance of professional development that emphasizes active participation and reflective practices (Clarke and Hollingsworth, 2002). However, the initial phase of introducing new concepts and methods to educators often relies on conventional methods, such as straightforward information delivery and observing ‘expert teachers’ in action. This traditional approach does not fully address the individualized aspect of professional development and, in my opinion, fails to promote ever-lasting noticeable change. Furthermore, there’s a common presumption that after participating in professional development programs, teachers will be able to effortlessly implement the strategies they have learned (Datnow, Hubbard, & Mehan, 2002). There’s an expectation for swift and widespread change, ignoring the fact that substantial evidence indicates professional development is a continuous journey and teachers need to customize their new knowledge to fit their unique teaching environments. In the course design, on top of the andragogical approach, we resorted to two other strategies that aimed at ensuring more concrete professional growth: principles of experiential learning and continuous professional development.

Experiential learning, as theorized by David Kolb (2014), was a cornerstone of our approach. This theory posits that effective learning occurs through a cycle of experience, reflection, conceptualization, and experimentation. We integrated this approach throughout the program, allowing educators to engage in hands-on activities, reflect on their experiences, conceptualize new ideas, and then test these concepts in simulated environments. From interactive technology workshops to collaborative problem-solving sessions, each element of the course was designed to facilitate an active and immersive learning experience. The group delved into inclusive education, assessment theories, critical thinking frameworks and many other themes, feeling they were real protagonists in the process.

Chapman et al. (1995) have identified some characteristics that define an activity or method as experiential learning. I feel very confident to say that this professional development initiative explored all of them (in this case, “learners” refers to the teachers who took the course):

  1. Balance Between Theory and Activity: It’s important to maintain a balance between the theoretical content and the experiential activities.
  2. Non-judgmental Environment: Instructors should create a safe space for learners to engage in self-discovery without excessive judgment.
  3. Purposeful Activities: The learning activities should be meaningful and relevant to the learner, who should play an active role in their own education.
  4. Understanding the Bigger Picture: Experiential activities should help learners connect their learning to the wider world nd understand complex systems.
  5. Importance of Reflection: Learners should reflect on their experiences, connecting theory to real-life and gaining insights about themselves and the world.
  6. Emotional Engagement: Full immersion in the learning experience is crucial, where the learner is deeply engaged and personally invested.
  7. Re-examination of Values: A safe environment for self-exploration allows learners to analyze and potentially revise their values.
  8. Meaningful Relationships: Learning should involve understanding the relationships between the learner, the teacher, and the learning environment.
  9. Stepping Out of Comfort Zones: Enhanced learning occurs when learners are pushed beyond their perceived comfort zones, including both physical and social aspects.

As I mentioned above, I do not believe that actual change can be ensured through isolated events. Hence, a key theme of “Ganhando o Mundo Professor” was the importance of continuous professional development and lifelong learning. In today’s evolving educational landscape, the need for educators to stay abreast of the latest developments and adapt their teaching methodologies is more critical than ever. The tutors and I emphasized this through sessions that allowed the group to devise individual plans focused on what they would be interested in doing after the course to ensure that their development and learning would not end with the trip. As a course designer, I understood that our role as facilitators was to create specific – and strategic – moments for this kind of guided reflection that also maintained a pragmatic perspective of the future.

I must also add that a unique aspect of the program was its focus on the interplay between culture and education, particularly within the Canadian context. The Canadian education system, known for its inclusivity, multiculturalism, and focus on equity, provided a rich learning ground for the Brazilian educators. They explored how Canadian schools embrace diversity, integrate technology in the classroom, and adopt policies that cater to a wide range of student needs. This exposure was crucial in providing them with a broader perspective on educational practices and policies. According to Little et al (2014), Durkheim believed that education reflects the social structures and cultural values of a society. He argued that to understand an education system, one must also understand the societal norms, values, and functions that shape it. Therefore, it can be said that education and culture are inherently interconnected, each complementing and supplementing the other in all facets and endeavors; the bond between education and culture should be considered inseparable.

Understanding the societal values of tolerance, diversity, and community, which are deeply embedded in Canadian education, was pivotal for the achievement of the course goals. This was facilitated through guided cultural tours, interactions with local educators and students, and discussions on the societal influences shaping Canadian education. These experiences provided the teachers with a comprehensive understanding of how societal values and beliefs can profoundly influence educational practices.

I had also been briefed that these teachers would have to spread their knowledge and help other colleagues in Paraná based on their learnings here in Toronto. Thus, an essential and underlying goal of the program was to implement the principles of cascade training. Cascade training, often depicted as a domino effect in learning, involves a sequence of instructional stages where each one initiates the next (Cheese, 1986). This approach, symbolically referred to as a ‘cascade’, creates a flow of knowledge that gradually reaches all intended recipients (Jacobs, 2001). The concept was first utilized in the context of the Training Within Industry program during World War II, specifically for job instruction training, as highlighted by Jacobs (2002). Since then, it has gained widespread international use, especially in training educators in new teaching strategies.

The essence of the cascade, or ‘train the trainer’ approach, lies in its simplicity and efficiency: one group imparts knowledge to another, who in turn educates others. This method is not only seen as a cost-effective solution for rapid knowledge transfer but also as a dynamic where participants are both recipients and propagators of information (Gilpin, 1997). By equipping these 75 educators, many of whom are also teacher trainers, with new skills, insights, and methodologies, I aimed to initiate a ripple effect of knowledge and innovation across the educational landscape of Paraná.

Finally, the inclusion of nine expert guest speakers added an invaluable dimension to the program. Covering a range of topics from techniques to foster self-awareness in students to emotional intelligence in education, these speakers brought diverse perspectives and expertise. Their contributions not only enriched the content but also provided a broader context for the educators, broadening their understanding of the educational landscape.

Leading this course was an enlightening experience for me. It was a journey of mutual learning and growth. Designing and delivering the curriculum, engaging with a diverse group of educators, and witnessing their transformation was immensely rewarding. This experience reinforced my belief in the transformative power of education and the potential of well-designed professional development programs to inspire and equip educators for the challenges of modern teaching. “Ganhando o Mundo Professor” was more than a professional development course; it was a journey of discovery, inspiration, and growth. As my fellow Brazilian educators returned home, I feel confident that they carried not just new knowledge and skills, but a renewed vision for their roles as educators, ready to inspire and bring about positive change in their communities.

About author

Vinicius Nobre is the Director of Pedagogy at Everybody Loves Languages, a Canadian EdTech with a range of international projects. He is also a tutor in the MA Program of the University of Chichester and in post graduation courses in Canada (Pures College) and Brazil (Estacio). Vinnie has coauthored three books on ELT methodologies (Getting into Teacher Education: a handbook; Getting into ELT Assessment; Teaching English Today: contexts and objectives). He has led the Academic Department of some of the most reputable and largest language centers in Brazil, was a founding partner at Troika, and is an international plenary speaker. Vinnie is also a past President of BRAZ-TESOL.
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