The magic of peer learning: Michael Iannini’s passion for PD

Michael Iannini, PeerSphere co-founder

by LeeAnne Lavender, PeerSphere storyteller

When you ask PeerSphere co-founder Michael Iannini a question about professional peer learning, his eyes light up and a smile immediately surfaces. 

“It’s like creating a level playing field for all staff,” exclaims Michael. “It’s providing professional development for everyone like teaching assistants, transport managers, ELL teachers, for all people in schools that haven’t been well-served with professional learning. In that way, it’s very equitable and inclusive; that idea is key to professional peer learning.”

Michael has done a lot of thinking, talking and sharing about professional peer learning and he’s pretty excited about what his new organization, PeerSphere, has prepared for 2023/24. 

“Whenever I did an in-service at schools, there would be a table at the back of the room for the ‘specials’, people like the counselors, the librarians, the music teachers,” remembers Michael. “I wanted to create something special for those people.” 

Michael’s own professional arc in relation to education is like an elegant boomerang. He began his career researching the impact of mixed-age play groups for learners between 3 and 6 years old, and then quickly found himself teaching in Beijing. After 5 years teaching, though, he wasn’t doing what he loved but found himself caught up in the energy of the city and the growth of the corporate sector. 

“Back in 1999, Beijing was on fire in terms of its energy. There was so much happening!” remembers Michael. “I ended up launching a systems integration company to help businesses set up offices and IT networks in the city, and later got my MBA and expanded a different company into India. In the corporate world, I managed a lot of relationships and had a chance to really hone my interpersonal skills.” 

Returning to Beijing after exiting the second company, Michael’s soon-to-be wife was an educator at an international school and Michael could see there was a lot of exciting development happening in international education. Schools were growing and evolving, and Michael had some fascinating conversations with school leaders about these successes, as well as the challenges of building a good team in the face of regular staff and teacher transitions. 

“I dove right back into education and brought all of my business experience along,” says Michael. “In helping leaders think about continuity and sustainability, I focussed on middle leaders. They tend to stay the longest at schools and often know more about the school than heads of school do. They can also affect the most transformative work in schools.” 

Michael was a pioneer in creating professional learning for middle leaders, and for championing their role in schools. His book, Hidden in Plain Sight: Realizing the Full Potential of Middle Leaders, was ahead of its time and established his role as an expert in this area. Most educational networks and organizations now offer robust professional learning for middle leaders, and Michael is excited that this awareness has evolved and spread. 

Michael founded PD Academia in 2012 so he could develop workshops and programs for schools, and almost immediately was contracted by ACAMIS (Association of China and Mongolia International Schools) to coordinate professional development and work with middle leaders. The Council of International Schools also invited Michael to become an affiliated consultant. 

“My own growth can largely be attributed to all the different people in my life. Those that helped me connect with other people and resources, as well as those that I have collaborated very closely with,” reflects Michael. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for my ability to leverage the talents and experience of others, and I want to carry that forward. One of the biggest observations I’ve made as a leadership facilitator is that people learn best when they connect with others in purposeful ways. People learn best when they can leverage networks and resources when they are relevant and needed. In founding PeerSphere, I want to offer educators a way to connect more meaningfully.”

Michael knows that teachers have a lot of options to choose from when it comes to professional learning. “With PeerSphere, we want to bring together peers who are like-minded and experiencing common challenges, people who want to influence their community and share what they’ve learned along the way,” he says.

PeerSphere communities for 2023/24 (42 in total!) will bring together educators, coaches, middle leaders, administrators, heads of school, lab assistants and technicians, teaching assistants, transport managers, marketing and communications staff and more. There will be English-speaking communities, Mandarin-speaking communities and bilingual communities so there are inclusive options for as many people as possible. 

If you’re interested in joining a PeerSphere community in 2023/24, or in having a team from your school join this dynamic community, please visit peer-sphere.com or reach out directly to Michael on Twitter @MichaelIannini, or LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaeliannini/.

Michael shares his ideas about the four types of people who benefit from a peer learning community: 

 

Michael shares highlights from the 2022/23 peer learning communities: 

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