Thursday, July 3, 2014

The 'Matthew effect' of professional learning

If you're not familiar with the Matthew effect, it's a phenomenon named for the Biblical parable of talents, a story illustrating how the "rich get richer and poor get poorer"--for lack of a better description short of rehashing the whole story.

The theory of the Matthew effect has been applied to education and the classroom in many ways. Those students who struggle to read will typically read less, and thus fall even further behind. Teachers tend to call on students who raise their hands or who they believe will have right answers, thus allowing these students greater opportunities for active engagement and learning versus their introverted classmates who are only passive participants.

But how might this theory be applied to professional learning for educators? Teachers who are leaders in their buildings tend to have more opportunities to attend conferences and trainings. These inspiring and thought provoking experiences lead to more self-directed learning. These opportunities help them become even better learners.

Some teachers don't seem to pursue any extra professional learning opportunities. These chances may not even come their way as often. Therefore, they feel less competent with the current conversation in education and are less likely to engage. In fact, I would suggest they often withdraw even further out of self-protection. The cycle continues. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

How can all teachers be empowered to take full responsibility for their own professional learning? How can we help everyone feel safe to engage in the learning process, students and teachers?

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