Nearly four years ago, Learning Forward launched Transforming Professional Learning, an initiative to support educator learning for implementation of Common Core standards. Funding from the Sandler, Bill & Melinda Gates, and MetLife Foundations supported the initiative. Several professional associations partnered with Learning Forward to achieve the initiative’s goals and generate more than 15 products that continue to inform efforts in numerous states and districts across the nation.

Focusing its efforts in Kentucky as the demonstration site and with the support of six other states that served as critical friends, the initiative emphasized transforming how educators learn and the systems that support professional learning. In at least three critical friend states, leaders have built on the Kentucky initiative and achieved policy changes or launched similar initiatives.

Washington state’s version of Transforming Professional Learning, designed on the structure of the Kentucky initiative, focuses on engaging district leadership teams in laboratory districts across the state with teams from critical friend districts to develop comprehensive professional learning systems to support educator professional learning.

After state regulation changes in which Kentucky adopted a new definition of and standards for professional learning and new guidance on the role of professional learning in content curriculum standards implementation, Kentucky continues to take steps to ensure that educators across the state are engaged in highly effective professional learning. Kentucky’s new definition and standards for professional learning continue to influence statewide efforts.

Recent statewide higher education grants included the standards for professional learning, as well as a comprehensive professional learning planning protocol, as criteria for application. State department staff are using the standards to design professional learning they facilitate across the state.

The Kentucky Department of Education’s Career and Technical Education division is integrating the standards into professional learning its staff members facilitate for educators across the state. The department’s field staff — who support school system and school leaders in the implementation of the state’s professional growth and effectiveness system and academic standards — are integrating the standards for professional learning into their routine work.

And now the Department of Education is exploring how to reshape professional learning for its internal staff. Department of Education staff recognize that they, too, must engage in continuous improvement through professional learning to understand the implications of the new standards firsthand and to lead, serve, and support Kentucky educators and students.

Sustaining initiatives supported by grant funding is a perennial challenge for grantees. Far too often, as we are seeing now with the ending of Race to the Top funding, states are cutting back and eliminating programs associated with temporary funding. Kentucky continues to demonstrate that investments made in improving its education system are paying off.

With strong leadership within the Department of Education and a focus on building a coherent and comprehensive system for professional learning across the state, policy and decision makers in Kentucky continue to advocate for effective professional learning as a vehicle for increasing student achievement, decreasing achievement gaps, and increasing graduation rates. The biggest beneficiaries of Kentucky’s sustained efforts are its students, who achieve at higher levels each year.

This post originally appeared in Learning Forward’s PD Watch.

Joellen killion
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Joellen Killion is a senior advisor to Learning Forward and a sought-after speaker and facilitator who is an expert in linking professional learning and student learning. She has extensive experience in planning, design, implementation, and evaluation of high-quality, standards-based professional learning at the school, system, and state/provincial levels. She is the author of the workbook, Establishing Time for Professional Learning, and the author or co-author of numerous books, including Coaching Matters, Taking the Lead, Assessing Impact, and The Feedback Process.


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