Rock Star PD
We'll just say it: providing effective professional learning isn't easy.
There's a reason so many educators hold graduate-level degrees. Teaching and learning is as complex as it is rewarding. And the stakes are never higher than when it comes to supporting and promoting teachers as they continually stretch toward excellence.
The good news is we can all learn from each other. Here are three districts that display impressive innovation in professional learning.
"Almost all of our sites have site leadership groups that really bring in different voices of their staff to help make site decisions. It's a lot of community-building, it's a lot of communication, really helping teachers build agency and build capacity for trying new things out, maybe taking some risks in their instruction…providing them the support to give [new ideas] a try, and then inviting them to share that out. Letting them have opportunity for that voice. These are a lot of the ways we try to build leadership."
Evaluating potential new professional learning opportunities:
"If we're going to consider something new, we really want to understand the purpose of it. Is this something that will expand our practices, that might open up new opportunities for our students? Is it something that will layer onto our existing practices? We always want to be faithful to the work that our teachers are doing and the work that exists."
Advice she would give her younger self:
"I would say, 'Go into as many classrooms as you can and look for ways you can partner with teachers, with administrators.' I really tried to just listen as best I could, take in what they were saying and what they needed before I injected, 'Okay, we're going to go in this direction.'"
Aligning learning to strategic goals:
"Our rule is to look at the data in terms of professional learning, and how we might use that to inform our work.... Whenever a proposal is submitted, [employees] have to tag it to specific elements of our strategic plan. Anyone can count, 'I had five people take this class for ten hours.' That's not very meaningful data. I wanted the whole picture. I wanted to look at the evaluation of the courses. I wanted to look at how that ties into teacher growth and professional learning."
Professional learning for all staff:
"Teachers are obviously our big chunk of our time, our major focus, and they really have that direct link with students. But if you think about when a student wakes up in the morning, and they get on the school bus, that's the first person who interacts with them….Everyone is supported in the process no matter what their position is."
Applying new learning:
"I'm not evaluating you and your knowledge after having taken this course. I want to know, 'Did this course have a change on your practice? Did it have any impact on student learning? What's the evidence you have on the student learning piece?' … That sort of changed our thinking in terms of evaluating professional learning, so that's really been a positive."
"Teaching is really hard and complex - and I think the most powerful learning experiences that we can provide teachers are ones where they take an active leadership role in their own learning. That's really the most exciting part of my day: working to build the capacity of teachers to be leaders."
Fostering positive risk-taking:
"I think our approach to learning that we took with [a collaborative professional learning initiative], where we supported them as risk-takers in their classrooms and gave them opportunities to collaborate and get feedback, really boils down to the idea of collaborative inquiry, where teachers are excited about investigating authentic questions that mean something to them. Their classroom is where they learn."
Shaping professional learning using design thinking:
"The [design fellows] really, truly felt empowered and excited. Most of them said that this was probably the most profound learning experience they ever had. When we think about teachers, every day they design instruction in the classroom, and the process that we took them through of really thinking about personalized learning as a design challenge - 'How will you do it? How will you make the shift to having students have more ownership and let them figure out their starting place?' - really was the model that we were hoping it would be."