Dennis Sparks, the first Executive Director of the National Staff Development Council, (now Learning Forward), shares how the organization has been a critical contributor to the growing field of educator professional learning and why it will continue to do so as we look ahead to the next 50 years. This blog is the first in a series celebrating our 50th anniversary.

Please share a favorite memory of Learning Forward/NSDC and why it is special to you.  

I have hundreds of favorite memories that are all of the same type – people approaching me with unsolicited praise for Learning Forward (NSDC before that) publications, annual conferences, academies, and so on. They were eager to tell me of their experiences and deeply appreciative of their learning.

Some told me that those experiences not only altered their careers but changed their lives through new friendships and the broadened perspectives they acquired.

The same has been true for me. Both as a member and employee, I was privileged to meet and learn from people I would not otherwise have known and to form friendships that enriched my life.


Why has the organization been important to the field?

Learning Forward is the source of leading-edge ideas and practices and the voice of professional learning. It is the focal point for advocacy of high standards and best practices at the local, state/provincial, and national levels.

If Learning Forward didn’t exist today, someone would feel a need to invent it.


Why do you think Learning Forward will continue to be important to professional learning in the future?

The importance of professional learning will only intensify as expectations for high levels of learning by all students continue to grow, particularly the learning of students who have too often been underserved by their schools.

Those expectations will require sophisticated systems of professional learning and teamwork to ensure high-quality teaching in every classroom, which, in turn, will require skillful leadership by administrators and teachers.


Looking Back, Forging Ahead: A Conversation With Dennis Sparks

Join Dennis Sparks at our Annual Conference in St. Louis as he leads a conversation about key moments in the field’s history and the role NSDC-Learning Forward played. Share ideas about what may come next and hear Sparks’s insights from a career’s worth of experiences in educational leadership and professional learning. Read more about this event and Learning Forward’s 50th anniversary celebration here.


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