By Kim Tucker and Rosemary Seitel
When Hurricane Mitch hit and decimated the Caribbean Islands in 1998, landforms were dramatically changed. Where rivers once flowed, land emerged. The hurricane had created a new channel, and the bridge, once above the Choluteca River, was now suspended over land. Mitch had ravaged the pride of Honduras, but the Choluteca Bridge, built to last, still stood, gleaming and strong, sustaining only minor damage. Yet with the roads on both sides washed away, it was no longer relevant.
In 2010, Learning Forward New Jersey experienced its own course alteration. The National Staff Development Council decided to change its name to Learning Forward to reflect the need to move away from stand-and-deliver professional development and more to more forward-thinking practices, such as quality job-embedded professional learning. This name change meant that the New Jersey affiliate no longer had brand alignment or recognition.
In addition, board members wondered, are we modeling the kind of professional learning we are advocating? How do we adapt while remaining true to our mission and vision?
As the New Jersey affiliate grappled with these issues, the board stayed dedicated to the mission and purpose of Learning Forward, to build the capacity of leaders to establish and sustain highly effective professional learning. At the same time, the board also decided to explore new forms of action in order to promote the Standards for Professional Learning. The executive board decided that it was time to take our vision, our brand, and our voice on the road and explore opportunities in addition to the annual conference.
An idea was formed when several board members attended the affiliate meeting in 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Learning Forward shared with affiliates the report from the National Center On Education and the Economy (NCEE) titled Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High Performing Systems. Affiliate leaders unpacked the executive summary to understand the successes of British Columbia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai, and examined how these high-performing systems aligned teacher and principal priorities with professional learning goals. As a result, Learning Forward New Jersey considered how to create a statewide conversation around how time is used in high-performing systems.
The conversation began by hosting three regional professional learning opportunities around the report. During these regional professional learning sessions, members of Learning Forward New Jersey helped participants conduct a time audit for their current context. Next, participants created a model for their ideal time allocations to compare to the time audit. Finally, participants created an action plan to help move to the ideal time allocations. Sessions were repeated in the southern, central, and northern regions of the state, and educators began to unpack this report and think of applications to their own settings.
At the regional sessions, the affiliate advertised their annual conference in August. The annual conference combined traditional sessions with more modern activities, such as world café, unconference, and IGNITE sessions. During the annual conference, the affiliate shared that the Beyond PD conversation would continue at a session during the New Jersey Education Association’s annual conference in November. The resulting year-long learning cycle included:
- New learning at the Affiliate meeting used to create the theme of learning for the year
- Sharing the new learning and theme first at regional professional learning sessions across the state, and also using this to advertise the annual conference
- Continuing the theme at the annual conference in August
- Begin to develop the next theme based on new learning at Affiliate meeting
- Concluding with a session at the New Jersey Education Association Conference in November; using the session at the New Jersey Education Conference to begin to advertise the next theme/new learning
In 2017, the affiliate meeting in Denver, Colorado introduced affiliate members to Becoming a Learning Team, the latest book in a series by Stephanie Hirsh and Tracy Crow. Once again, Learning Forward New Jersey hosted three regional professional learning events that introduced the book’s content and provided participants the opportunity to purchase the book. This conversation will continue at the affiliate’s annual conference in August where participants will have the opportunity to go into more depth regarding how to become a learning team. The learning will then continue at the New Jersey Education Association’s annual conference, where the New Jersey affiliate will host a session on this theme. This cycle of extended learning conversations across multiple local conferences has given the affiliate a strategy for staying relevant and connected to the mission and vision of Learning Forward, while connecting in different settings and contexts with the New Jersey membership. It has become the New Jersey affiliate’s learning system.
This system has helped the New Jersey affiliate make new connections with educators across the state. Through these learning opportunities, combined with the new website hosted on Learning Forward’s platform and social media outreach, the affiliate was able to recruit new board members from its membership.
New Jersey continues to look for new ways to connect with educators in the state. The challenge has led the affiliate to look for and find new opportunities for connections. As a result, the board is more committed than ever to Learning Forward’s vision of excellent teaching and learning every day.
About the authors
Kim Tucker currently serves as the Supervisor of Curriculum & Instruction for the Somers Point School District. In addition, she is the Principal of the New York Avenue School. In this role, she is responsible for overseeing all academic subjects at all levels (Pre-K-8), planning and executing professional development opportunities for professional and support staff, and overseeing federal programs and the district assessment schedule.
Rosemary Seitel is currently a supervisor in the Englewood, NJ Public Schools working in the areas of professional learning, educational technology and curriculum and instruction. Most recently, as Past President of Learning Forward New Jersey, she coaches collaborative learning teams and leaders. She is a member of the Partnership for Collaborative Professional Learning, a consultant in the NJPSA/FEA Leadership Academy and serves on the Learning Forward Foundation Board.