As a classroom teacher I engaged in several years of “professional development” before transitioning to a role of technology specialist, my first opportunity to design and facilitate learning sessions for my colleagues. Now as a building administrator, I often think back to the PD I experienced as a teacher.
There are very few instances I can recall with clarity. I can’t tell you most of the the topics discussed. I fail to recall activities we completed. What this indicates, to me, is that I was not a learner in those instances. I do have a rather clear picture in my memory of the workshops offered by Apple trainers when we were learning to use our new MacBooks. Perhaps those days are memorable because I’m a Mac-junkie, but more likely, it’s because I was an active participant in my learning on these occasions. We completed projects. We collaborated in teams. We were given autonomy and owned the day. We learned.
Consider the last time you experienced professional development offered by your school or district. Were you engaged in learning? How do you know? How did your learning impact your practice and influence student learning outcomes?
Learning Forward, formerly known as the National Staff Development Council, has undergone an important shift in focus and message: from one of development to one of learning. Stephanie Hirsch, Learning Forward’s Executive Director, reported in Education Week on the council’s release of the newly revised Standards for Professional Learning.
These standards call for a new form of educator learning. The decision to call these Standards for Professional Learning rather than Standards for Professional Development signals the importance of educators taking an active role in their continuous development and places emphasis on their learning. The professional learning that occurs when these standards are fully implemented enrolls educators as active partners in determining the content of their learning, how their learning occurs, and how they evaluate its effectiveness. The standards give educators the information they need to take leadership roles as advocates for and facilitators of effective professional learning and the conditions required for its success. Widespread attention to the standards increases equity of access to a high-quality education for every student, not just for those lucky enough to attend schools in more advantaged communities.
The standards are of great interest to me as an administrator who is charged with planning and implementing professional learning opportunities for my teachers and staff. In particular, I was curious to see how the standards addressed the need for educators to connect and collaborate with other educators in a variety of ways to enhance learning opportunities. I wanted to know:
– How do these standards guide educators in “taking an active role in their continuous development”?
– Is there a balanced approach that includes and respects teachers’ desires to individualize learning through professional learning network connections?
– Is there ample opportunity for teachers to own their learning, supported through the typical professional development structures of a school system?
Hirsch’s quote in bold is quite meaningful. I appreciate that the standards focus on teachers as learners. Teachers are not to be treated as vehicles through which schools deliver programs and policies. This, in my opinion, has been the focus of traditional professional development frameworks for way too long.
Teachers, like students, are first and foremost individuals who have passions, interests, and an inherent desire to learn. The goal for administrators should then become how to foster the learning spirit in each and every one of our teachers through a system of learning opportunities that cater to their individual needs. This, in turn, will ignite a true excitement for learning in our teachers, which will transfer into their practice. The result? Students who spend their days with teachers who exhibit a true desire to grow professionally and who model that learning matters.
The revised standards emphasize collaboration & community
Educators can access the Standards for Professional Learning via Learning Forward’s website. They are organized into 7 domains:
Learning Communities: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment.
Leadership: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires skillful leaders who develop capacity, advocate, and create support systems for professional learning.
Resources: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires prioritizing, monitoring, and coordinating resources for educator learning.
Data: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students uses a variety of sources and types of student, educator, and system data to plan, assess, and evaluate professional learning.
Learning Designs: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students integrates theories, research, and models of human learning to achieve its intended outcomes.
Implementation: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students applies research on change and sustains support for implementation of professional learning for long term change.
Outcomes: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students aligns its outcomes with educator performance and student curriculum standards.
Am I thrilled to see that Learning Communities is a component of the standards? Absolutely. As I addressed in my recent Reform Symposium presentation, Teachers as Learners, adult learning is enhanced through collaborative opportunities with colleagues that focus on shared passions, visions, and goals. Learning Forward describes learning communities as necessary to ensure continuous results for students, the development of collective responsibility, and the achievement of goals.
Within this domain, it is encouraging to see the standards highlight technology use as an integral way to form and foster a virtual learning community:
While some professional learning occurs individually, particularly to address individual development goals, the more one educator’s learning is shared and supported by others, the more quickly the culture of continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and high expectations for students and educators grows. Collective responsibility and participation foster peer-to-peer support for learning and maintain a consistent focus on shared goals within and across communities.
Technology facilitates and expands community interaction, learning, resource archiving and sharing, and knowledge construction and sharing. Some educators may meet with peers virtually in local or global communities to focus on individual, team, school, or school system improvement goals. Often supported through technology, cross-community communication within schools, across schools, and among school systems reinforces shared goals, promotes knowledge construction and sharing, strengthens coherence, taps educators’ expertise, and increases access to and use of resources.
This component is often neglected in typical “professional development” plans offered by school systems. How can we work to include more variety in the types of learning communities we’re forming and supporting? This coming year several of my teachers are working to implement The Daily 5 framework into their literacy blocks. I purchased books for them to read, and they will be meeting in study groups and observing classrooms throughout the year to support one another.
But some of my teachers took their learning a step farther. This week I was so pleased to see some of them engage in the #daily5 hashtag chat on Twitter. I had no idea they knew about the chat (I didn’t!), yet they sought out support and felt the desire to collaborate with other teachers who have experienced implementation of this framework. I watched as they shared ideas and knew they were indeed learning from this experience. This wasn’t dictated by our PD plan. It was something they had a passion for learning more about, and they used their PLN to facilitate their learning in this area.
I am also pleased that Leadership is a component of the Learning Forward standards. The Standards state that Leaders of professional learning are found at the classroom, school, and system levels. For far too long we have neglected to recognize our own teachers as experts in the field. Our teachers need to be given the opportunity to lead learning for their colleagues. It is essential to allow teachers to run district and school workshops and design and implement their own PD. How is this supported?
To engage in constructive conversations about the alignment of student and educator performance, leaders cultivate a culture based on the norms of high expectations, shared responsibility, mutual respect, and relational trust.
What do we need professional learning to be?
We need teachers to
- be active participants in the learning process, one supported through a culture of trust
- determine what content is important to learn
- decide how they will best learn and implement this content
- collaborate with others in communities of learning
- assume leadership roles in the learning process
- evaluate how effective their learning has been, including systemic reflection
To become more familiar with the Standards for Professional Learning and how they can support the frameworks you develop for teacher learning in your school, I recommend reading the research-base supporting each component, as well as checking out the FAQs and More FAQs shared by Learning Forward.
If you are a teacher, how will you take ownership for your learning this year? How will you communicate your needs to your administrators? If you are an administrator, how will you design and implement opportunities for your teachers to learn this year?
Latest posts by Lyn Hilt (see all)
- User-Generated Learning: A Must-Do for School Leaders Today - January 15, 2013
- Lessons in 21st Century Leadership - April 27, 2012
- What Do We Need Our Teachers to Be? - March 2, 2012
Thanks so much for this post. I am eager to share it with others.
Karen, thanks for taking the time to read and comment, for your continued support!
I am wondering if a piece has been missed here…Although you alluded to it when discussing the “daily5” hashtag, haven’t teachers always been learners? I know we have had teachers do professional growth plans my entire career yet the issue has been it has not been explicit, where this learning is open to share with others? Should the learning process not be role modeled to our students to show that our schools are a true learning community? Could this learning not be open to parents to help them move alongside the schools and take part in the learning initiatives of the school? When parents are actively engaged and reinforced the learning that is happening in school at home, this has shown to have a huge positive impact on the learning of their child.
I agree with you that the idea of “learner” is essential, but we need to find ways to share and make it explicit. We have always learned as teachers; it is when we are open and share this with our communities that we will have the biggest impact for our students.
I think most teachers have always been learners, but honestly, I think sometimes the fact that we involve them in professional development that doesn’t specifically address their needs causes them to treat PD with disdain, and does little to enhance their practice.
Even when schools require professional growth plans (which many do not), are the growth plans written to simply comply with policy and “go through the motions?” Or are teachers involved in meaningful learning through the plan’s components? Is there a reflective, collaborative element? Are the needs of adult learners met through the plan implementation? There are fabulous professional growth plan systems out there, and there are terrible ones.
I agree 100% that teachers should model their learning, particularly in the classroom, and what a great point about including the rest of the school community in the process. I recall last year at our parent-teacher organization meetings sharing instances of how my teachers’ professional learning has enhanced learning outcomes for students. But doing so in this scenario isn’t enough, you’re right. It has to be more widespread and known as an expectation.
What I appreciate about the standards is that it does recognize the need for collaboration and sharing with others to enhance practice in “learning communities”. So, yes, we all need to be more cognizant about what we’re sharing, how we’re doing it, and to include as many people as we can in the conversations!
Thanks for taking the time to add to the discussion here!
First of all, great post Lyn. I imagine this shift is happening all over the world, if only there was some clearinghouse of ideas that exemplify collaborative learning that we could browse and utilize.
I had a fantastic experience this summer when I offered a 4-day summer institute for faculty interested in developing curriculum that reflected the goals of our community-based learning program, City as Our Campus (which I oversee).
Although it was a tad uncomfortable, I left the institute as open as possible, asking the teacher participants to come with an idea or just an inkling of idea, a spark, whatever …and, in the end, if it didn’t make sense to “categorize” under City as Our Campus we would explore it anyway. No big deal.
Although I considered the framework, I did NOT create a schedule; instead I asked the teachers to help me craft a general outline on Day 1 which could be revised as needed(I stole quite a bit from the unconference phenomenon).
Several details aside, the faculty declared it a great success. I clearly learned the rewards of abandoning the AGENDA, which got me thinking…what would it look like if schools did NOT “plan” professional “development,” instead created mixed-level, mixed faculty/admin learning groups that could explore whatever their group wanted to explore (based on individual and collective passions) throughout the school year. Each group would generate their own discovery and discussion, which could be shared, some how, community-wide.
Is this type of structure used anywhere? Thanks again for the great post.
Thanks for reading and your comments! It sounds like the opportunities you created for your teachers engage in meaningful learning were well-received! I would wager that a huge part of that reason is because they were given autonomy and were a huge part of the decision-making process on those days.
The “mixed-level, mixed faculty/admin learning groups that could explore whatever their group wanted to explore (based on individual and collective passions)” structure you mentioned reminds me of schools that operate as *true* professional learning communities. Some commonly utilize the PLC structure to facilitate grade level team meetings or specialty team collaboration, while other PLCs allow teachers the freedom to build their own collaborative teams to develop plans for professional growth in a variety of areas.
I can understand why district administrators feel the need to meticulously plan PD for all staff, year after year: they are held accountable for doing so. Many states are auditing those plans and trying to determine if they’re effective. However, as we all know, just because on paper it might look as though the plan meets the needs of all teachers, the reality of the situation is that many plans fall desperately short in truly helping our teachers continue to learn.
As part of our strategic plan, we administered a professional development survey to our teachers last year. The results showed that there were a few initiatives implemented where they needed more support. This told us that the “Now we’re doing this, here’s your 6-hr training day” approach does… not… work. The most positive feedback we received on the survey were in regards to the days where many choices were offered; when teachers led learning sessions for peers; and where teachers felt they were most supported in their efforts.
Please share what you find as you continue to search for that perfect “design” for PD. It sounds like through your efforts, you now have teacher buy-in to support this type of PD. You could possibly select a team of teachers to help you design what the perfect learning communities might look like in your organization.
Thank you Lyn for reminding me. For professional development one year we were given a camera, a team, and charged to have a film edited and presented at an evening gathering, 12 hours later. When professional development asks educators to create, collaborate, fight, work hard, and share, then the school benefits for the year with a sense of camaraderie. Life should be fun. Learning should be exhilarating!
What a very cool project! I might be asking my teachers to do something similar this fall, on a smaller scale! I am excited to see their creations. Thanks for reading and contributing to the discussion!
As one of Lynmarie’s teachers I would like to compliment her on her ability to have meaningful professional development days. In my first 31 years of teaching, professional development was boring and had no meaning. Over the last three years, I have looked forward to these days because they were well planned and in small and easy steps we have had the opportunity to learn new things that are necessary for us in our present day jobs. We are encouraged to just try it and no judgements are made on our abililities to try new ideas. I look forward to next week’s days of learning.
Thank you so much for reading this post and for your kind words. I have enjoyed planning our days together and look forward to them as much as I do. Over the past three years I think our team has come a long way! So many teachers are now willing to share their expertise, ideas, concerns, and collaborate together in order to best serve kids. It has been a joy to watch! Thanks for being a part of it. 🙂
This new shift in focus is hugely welcome for teacher CPD. I really like your phrase: “Teachers are not to be treated as vehicles through which schools deliver programs and policies”, which sums up the vital point that if their professional development is to be effective teachers must be active participants. Equally encouraging is the notion of building communities of learning where ideas, innovations and best practice can be shared and developed. All of this has been proven through research into adult learning. At IRIS Connect we wholly believe in the bottom up approach to professional development, empowering teachers to take control of their CPD. Through mobile classroom observation and software to enable teachers to reflect, analyse and share, IRIS Connect allows teachers to build communities of practice within and between schools.
The high value of teacher learning communities is clear – not only can they improve a teacher’s teaching practices, but they can also give the teacher an increased confidence in their abilities and so an increased enjoyment of their profession. Teaching can be stressful at the best of times, but for new teachers just starting out, it can be an incredibly daunting time. Teacher learning communities can enable new teachers to collaborate with other teachers new to the profession and share their worries and concerns. On the other hand, new teachers can also converse with their more experienced counterparts, taking advantage of their experience and developing support structures so as to feel more knowledgeable and confident whilst standing in front of a classroom full of students. It’s fantastic to read blogs like this and see that teachers and leaders in education are embracing these developments!
The approach to professional development you describe does indeed sound empowering for teachers. What is the administrator’s role in the process?
Interesting article. I think establishing a professional learning community is a fabulous idea if you have the buy in of everyone that is involved. Just as professional development has its pros and cons, so does trying to get everyone in the learning community on board, be it on a the school level or at the district level.
Thank you for commenting. I’m curious as to what your approach would be to get reluctant teachers on board with participating in collaborative learning experiences. Do you propose a more independent approach to development for those teachers? I also wonder why it is acceptable for some teachers to push back against collaborative learning experiences. While it may be appropriate for teachers to conduct independent research and work to self-improve, I think they may be doing themselves and their students a disservice by refusing to engage in learning dialogue with their colleagues. Thoughts?
Thanks for your comments on our new standards. I contend that if professional learning occurred in schools as we describe it in these standards, all educators would want to participate. They would have a voice in their own learning, be able to connect it to their daily work, and see the benefits immediately. It is important for all educators to become advocates for the kind of professional learning they deserve as professional–the kind of highly effective professional learning described by these new standards.
Joellen Killion, deputy executive director, Learning Forward
Joellen, thank you for taking the time to read this post and comment. I appreciate the work Learning Forward has done in establishing these standards for professional learning. I anticipate that they will be a great resource for us as we move ahead in designing learning opportunities for our teachers and administrators. I agree that with support, through the conditions outlined in the standards, teachers would be motivated to continue to grow professionally.
Right on, Lyn. This has been one of the bigger paradigm shifts not only in Professional Development but in the profession of teaching itself where for too long the emphasis was more on teaching than it was on learning. However, outcome or performance-based learning will take you right back to teaching to see whether or not that teaching is student-centered or teacher-centered. There was too much of the latter and not enough of the former.
Our work with teachers and administrators is focused on learning with lots of interaction, feedback and real time application.
Gary, excellent point. Helping my teachers become more aware of the shift in emphasis from teaching to an emphasis on learning has been meaningful as they recognize and appreciate that their own professional growth directly impacts their students’ outcomes. Over the past three years in my administrative role I have really appreciated the way my teachers have learned to interact openly, collaborate for learning, and rely on each other for feedback. This has resulted in improved educational opportunities for our students!