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How Do We Evaluate the Impact of Our Professional Learning Systems?

Professional Learning



A few weeks ago, my colleagues and I met with professional learning leaders from six innovative school districts from across the U.S, including Boston Public Schools, MA; Greece Central School District, NY; Jenks School District, OK; Metro Nashville Public Schools, TN; Prior Lake Savage Schools, MN and Shaker Heights City School District, OH.

The districts are large and small, urban, suburban and rural. Each district is at a different place along their own continuum to enhance professional learning and related outcomes. But everyone had in common a commitment to making sure the learning and support opportunities they provide to teachers are of high quality, are connected to teacher needs and ultimately have a positive influence on student outcomes.

  The Challenge: Connecting Professional Learning to Student Outcomes

Strong research connecting professional learning with student outcomes is limited —perhaps because the professional learning teachers engage in is only valuable when teachers are able to translate that learning into:

  • changes in their pedagogy,

  • new approaches to helping students through challenging content and skills development,

  • or even new strategies for organizing learning.

All of those changes are then only valuable if they succeed in engaging and pushing students to learn. These many translations and potential refractions have made measuring the impact of student learning on teacher and student outcomes a practice that providers and practitioners find challenging at best and impossible at worst.

 The Conversation: Clarifying Our Objectives and Roles

Our conversation sought to dismantle the sense of impossibility that often comes with evaluating and improving major systems like professional learning. Together, school district leaders and leaders from the Frontline Research and Learning Institute and Learning Forward spent two days discussing tools, frameworks and strategies for progress.

School district leaders arrived with a multitude of impressive practices already, and Learning Forward’s improvement guru, Joellen Killion, unpacked the KASAB model (knowledge, attitudes, skills, aspirations, and behaviors) as it relates to leaders of learning. The framework provided clarity about essential behaviors and orientations — as well as responsibilities — for leaders of professional learning program improvements. To begin any improvement process, clarity about objectives and roles is an essential first step.

Elizabeth Combs, Managing Director of the Frontline Research and Learning Institute and co-author of our recent report, Bridging the Gap, also shared the report and a new tool we’re developing to help leaders examine the current state of their professional learning systems and set goals for improvement. The report helps define indicators of quality established in the Every Student Succeeds Act:

  • Sustained

  • Intensive

  • Data-driven

  • Classroom-focused

  • Job-embedded, and

  • Collaborative.

Based upon these explicit definitions, we’ve endeavored to help identify metrics and establish benchmarks so that leaders can evaluate current levels of quality, set goals for improvement and establish pathways to achieve those goals.

   Charting the Course Toward Continuous Improvement

Over the next few months, we’ll continue working together to establish meaningful protocols for articulating clear expectations for professional learning systems, clarifying roles, setting benchmarks and charting the course toward continuous improvement. We’ll examine the professional learning systems we have today and test strategies for change. Look for a future report that details the process and outcomes of this unique study.

In keeping with the mission of the Frontline Research & Learning Institute, the report will not only include study findings, but will focus on the individual journeys each of the unique districts embark on as they look to reorient their professional learning programs. The goal is to provide actionable insights that school systems of all types can learn from as they think about transforming their own programs. 

In the meantime, I invite our readers to share experiences. How has your district approached professional learning improvements to date? Where have you succeeded? What challenges are you facing? Join the conversation on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

About Sarah Silverman

Whiteboard Advisors

Dr. Sarah Silverman, Ph.D. is Vice President at Whiteboard Advisors where she advises on education, workforce and wellness policy. Her prior work includes managing the Pre-K-12 education portfolio at National Governors Association Education and consulting with states and districts on performance management and teacher evaluation policy reform at TNTP.