Take advantage of the wealth of options for professional learning

We are fortunate to have a wealth of options to choose from when we plan for and participate in professional learning. Unfortunately, this means the path for learning is not easy to navigate. There seem to be two distinct strategies, each with its own champion: those who advocate for just-in-time, adult self-select learning, such as edcamps and Twitter chats, and those in organizations with comprehensive, systemic, required professional learning plans.

Recently, I was the lone district professional development director in a group of diverse educators. Some were campus instructional coaches, others were from the edtech world, and another was a higher ed online instructor and manager. It was an eye-opening conversation. As I joined the group, one person said, “I never learned anything from district professional development.” The conversation moved to a discussion of guided reading, and another person asked, “Can’t a teacher learn that organically?” I took a deep breath, thinking about the students in that classroom, and we had a lively discussion.

Districts and organizations have a responsibility for a guaranteed and viable curriculum for students and equity in opportunity for learning. Comprehensive plans for professional development ensure these things. Helter-skelter, random events of professional learning do not ensure student success.

We can all develop our personal learning network, and EdCamp and Twitter are great ways to learn. Take advantage of learning opportunities both in your area and online.

District professional development is taking a beating right now, and maybe rightly so. Here are some ways districts and organizations can ensure instructional capacity and better meet the needs of educators.

  • Clearly communicate purpose and expectations for teaching and learning in organizations. The research is there, and we know what works for student success. Be very clear about the why and the how of teaching, learning, assessment, and professional learning.
  • Ensure that all educators know and work collaboratively with supervisors and colleagues to support their own growth — in both their strengths and areas of growth. In our busy calendars, finding time to conference and reflect isn’t easy but so necessary.
  • Use professional learning to develop capacity on campuses and with teams of educators. Those who are closest to the problem can solve the problem. Teacher leaders are the experts who lead this learning — not an outside consultant who doesn’t know the district, organization, teachers, and students. Teacher leaders can also provide follow-up that leads to implementation.
  • Engage adult learners. That means no more presentations of hundreds of slides and theory only. Be sure that all district professional development moves to application and allows time for many opportunities for conversation and collaboration.
  • Use the continuous improvement cycle to gain feedback from teachers and administrators to improve professional learning. We are asking individual educators to do that, so why wouldn’t the organization?
  • Plan, implement, and evaluate a variety of ongoing professional learning opportunities, including training, instructional professional learning community (PLC) meetings, Twitter chats, and edcamps. Let learning happen organically. Haven’t we always learned by running to the teacher next door, in a planning meeting, or from reading and hearing thought leaders? There is room for all types of high-quality professional learning. Let’s take advantage of that.

Perhaps you have more to add to these. Share ways that you have melded the power of self-selected learning within systemic plans.

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