The importance of ongoing learning and development is essential in all industries and workplaces. The VET sector is no exception.

In a recently released book “Supporting the Workplace Learning of Vocational and Further Education Teachers: Mentoring and Beyond” author Susanne Francisco draws on her long experience as a VET teacher educator and developer.

What are Susanne’s messages?

Susanne wrote this book to “help people understand the arrangements in a workplace that enable and constrain teacher learning – and then to do something about it.” The strategies and ideas it contains can be implemented at a range of levels within an RTO, including at the whole-of-organisation, teaching department, small team, or individual level. This involves what she calls a ‘trellis of practices.’

One of her big messages is that workplace learning can be enabled or constrained by what goes on at the work site. What is done and how it is done are also important, and these include seemingly trivial things affecting a teacher’s potential opportunities to learn like the physical arrangements in the staffroom (including access to, and placement of workstations) and access to a shared tearoom/lunchroom that teachers can use for informal but important learning. Scheduling arrangements that enable collegial and personal professional interactions are also important, and this can be as simple as a shared morning teatime. These are what she calls the ‘in-between spaces’ that are so critical for teacher learning. And, as one teacher said to me recently: there always seems to be time for ‘the urgent’, but not necessarily for what’s actually important!

Susanne believes that teachers and trainers need to have access to resources like “well-developed lesson plans, assessment tasks, and student resources (for use as part of teaching practices and also as models for the development of similar resources)” and access to team teaching opportunities. Good support mechanisms are also needed, including access to non-teaching support staff and administration staff and “easily used and accessible administration systems.” In summary she feels that site-based arrangements that enable and constrain teacher learning are more important than the usual focus on the individual teacher and their “actions, skills, and dispositions.”

Mentoring is important too, she thinks. She sees the mentoring process as “a linchpin for the development of a trellis of practices that support [teacher] learning.” But all this depends on the skills of the mentor, and as she notes:

One way to develop mentoring skills is to be a mentor. Another way (which can be combined with the first) is to be mentored. Great mentors can support the development of great mentors.

Leading the process of teacher learning involves “working together with others to identify what site-based arrangements enable and constrain teacher learning,” she points out. But making any necessary changes is not necessarily easy or a ‘quick fix’. It can be “complicated, and takes time, energy, and commitment” to achieve “positive and sustained transformation.” Using action research can help this process, she suggests.

Finally, she deals with processes required at different organisational levels to support workplace learning. In her final chapter (Chapter 9) she looks at what is required at these different levels. It’s obviously hardest at the whole of organisation level, particularly when the organisation is large and complex. She also takes a look at the departmental level as well as the small teaching team and individual levels.

Where can I learn more?

The book, just published by Routledge, is available for purchase as an eBook or in hard copy here. You can also listen to a podcast released through Campus Review where Susanne is interviewed. An earlier paper authored by her and available through the VOCEDPlus research database here may also be of interest to VDC News readers