Welcome to the 2017-18 school year — which I hope is not referred to in future years as the year professional development died. I know you have so much on your plate as you look toward this new school year: the students whose futures are in your hands, the family members who entrust you with the most important people in their lives each day, and your community wanting its schools to meet all the needs of an ever-changing society.
I wish my annual back-to-school letter could address just those three priorities, offering you suggestions about addressing the challenges and commitments you face. Unfortunately, this year I need to add a fourth priority to the list: Join your professional learning colleagues around the country in standing up for your right to learn every day at work.
For years, Learning Forward’s mantra has been, “at school, everyone’s job is to learn.” Educators need continuous learning as much as their students. New students, new standards, new curriculum, new instructional materials — all require that you experience meaningful professional learning when and where you need it. And yet, across America, there is a new dismissal of the importance of your learning for the sake of your students.
Not only did President Trump wipe out of his budget the core funding stream for all school systems to have federal support for teacher and principal development and support — that is, Title IIA funding — the appropriations committee members in the House of Representatives did the same. We have one last opportunity to save funding for professional development in the federal budget. And we need your help.
As you think about your professional priorities for this school year, please consider the following three actions.
- Talk proudly about your school and team investment in your continuous growth and development. Let your students’ parents and community leaders know the contribution this learning is making to your school improvement and student achievement efforts.
- Avoid adding to the constant negative narrative about professional development. I am not asking that you don’t express your concerns and provide the persons responsible with alternatives to what you have experienced. Rather, this year we need the national narrative to be a positive one. We can’t afford to give our critics more ammunition in this battle. They already have plenty of examples of professional development gone wrong. This time, please share examples of professional learning done well.
- Take responsibility for ensuring that professional development decisions in your sphere of responsibility align with the new federal definition as well as the new evidence-based requirements in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Finally, if you are so inclined, we invite you to join us for the next Title II Day of Action tomorrow, August 29. Our collective voices let Congress know why funding for professional development is essential if we are to achieve the equity and excellence goals of ESSA. In addition, check out opportunities for even deeper engagement by enlisting in our A-Team.
Everyone at Learning Forward wishes you an amazing school year. We are working hard to ensure that you continue to have the maximum available resources essential to your success and the success of your students. Let us know whatever else we can do to help you.
Stephanie Hirsh retired in June 2019 after 31 years with Learning Forward, an international association of more than 13,000 educators committed to increasing student achievement through effective professional learning. Hirsh led the organization as its executive director for the last 13 years where she presented, published, and consulted on Learning Forward’s behalf across North America.