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5 Essential Questions to Ask Today to Shape Professional Learning for Next Year

Professional Growth

With summer break here or right around the corner for many of us, our minds drift to thoughts of R&R and quality down time with family and friends. Before we fully shift into the summer mindset, it’s important to put some emphasis on R&G, as well.


Reflection & Generation plays a vital role in ensuring sticky adult learning. You infuse your professional learning experiences with opportunities to think-pair-share, surface assumptions, SWOT and so on. You generate insights, plans and actions as individuals, pairs and teams and across our campuses.

Now is a good time to apply these same principles to reflect as central office professional learning leaders and in teams with your coaches, specialists, principals and teacher leaders. Building on the collective wisdom to engage in some informed planning will give you a leg up in the fall.

What does that look like? Well, it’s more than just perceptions of what worked well and what didn’t. It’s about the questions that you ask about the data we have and how you can move professional learning outcomes into classroom practice.

So, with that context, here are 5 essential questions to get the R&G rolling:

1. What data can we analyze to evaluate how effective our professional learning efforts have been over this past year?

How do we know that professional learning impacted instructional practice and student learning? Which professional learning formats were most effective in advancing educator growth? For example, do we know if the expense for the kick-off guest speaker in September had greater impact than the weekly coaching activities?

The ability to answer these questions is becoming increasingly vital with reduced resources and increased expectations around accountability.

The Professional Learning Standard on Data suggests using a variety of data sources to plan, monitor and evaluate the impact of professional learning. Consider the evidence that you’ll want to have at this time next year and formulate your questions now.

2. To what degree were our professional
learning efforts aligned and coherent?

In what ways did our professional learning initiatives and job-embedded structures align with district, building and personal goals this past year? To what extent was professional learning a meaningful and integrated component of the performance evaluation process, supporting focused ongoing learning and growth?

Thinking about next year, consider which aspects of your professional learning system don’t align with your goals or are inconsistent with your aspirations for the culture of professional learning in your organization. Laser focus on those. 

3. Did our job-embedded learning structures have the support needed to function effectively last year?

Were our pairs and teams empowered and informed enough to take collective responsibility for their learning? How do we know? Did the tracking methods used by learning teams, coaches and mentors give them the information they needed to implement cycles of continuous improvement?

Reflecting on the progress within job-embedded settings, examine the degree to which new learning was applied in practice. For next year, consider ways to tightly link job-embedded learning to student learning needs by employing backwards planning as teams start the year.

4. Did we effectively use technology tools to extend, enhance and document evidence of effectiveness of professional learning?

To what extent was online or blended learning a part of professional learning in our system over the past year? How did technology support planning and progress monitoring? 

Think about any additional data points that you’ll want to capture over the coming year to evaluate effectiveness. Consider how you can refine your technology systems to track for compliance, implementation and impact.

5. What did innovation in professional learning look like for us during the last year?

Are we dropping what is not effective to embrace promising new ideas? What risks did we take in our thinking and implementation of professional learning, and what did we learn? 

Seek out the pioneers among your faculty. Set up a shared document for people to capture their reflections on innovation over the summer. Which paraprofessional attended an EdCamp? Which principal is using Twitter as a professional learning tool? Which teacher integrated gaming successfully into the classroom? Collect their stories as a jumping off point for innovation for next year.

The Every Student Succeeds Act provides a clear definition of high-quality professional learning and will create new opportunities for districts to improve resources and programs. 

Be ready to leverage these fully. Engage your staff. Ponder what’s working and think about replication, while recognizing that generation is also about strategically letting go to make room for something new.

Reflect on the past to generate confidence and insights for next year.

Then, move on to a little R&R.

Juliet Correll WrightJuliet Correll

Juliet serves Frontline Education as Director of Organizational Learning. She is passionate about helping individuals, teams and organizations enhance teaching, learning and leadership to achieve personal and organizational goals, and over her career she has led large-scale professional learning initiatives, collaborating with school districts and state departments of education. Juliet is a Learning Forward Academy graduate, holds a Master’s from Teachers College, Columbia University and is an ardent community leader in health, education and environmental causes.