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Six months in – reflections from Learning Forward’s President | CEO

It is such an honor to be leading Learning Forward as we reach our 50th year serving educators. I’d like to share a couple of reflections on what I’ve learned from Learning Forward members in the last few months and then share key priorities as we move into the next 50 years.

First, I quickly came to understand that Learning Forward’s members are the world’s leading champions for professional learning.

You understand that achieving equity and excellence for all students means that educators work in learning systems structured intentionally to accelerate change in teacher practice and success for students.

As champions, you speak up for professional learning and you demand results from professional learning. You educate yourselves and you provide resources for others. You build systems and teams that collaborate for results.

I’d like to single out a particular group of learning champions I’ve come to know in my first months on the job. At our recent conference in St. Louis,  we had the pleasure of watching the Learning Forward Academy Class of 2019 graduate. These 45 educators invested two and half years of intense study on challenging problems of practice; they are poised to become their district’s leading experts for professional learning.

I know many Learning Forward members, whether they are future graduates, past graduates, coaches, or Academy leaders, advocate each and every day for the high-quality professional learning we know leads to transformational learning for students. It gives me such confidence when I see how invested our members are in pursuing knowledge for impact.

Another insight from our members is that learning leaders sit in many seats in a system, with particular needs specific to your jobs. You might work as a principal, or a coach, or a chief academic officer, or a technical assistance provider, or a district instructional supervisor.

Learning Forward has long served educators in many roles, and that’s why, for example, our conference has so many types of sessions to attend.

Yet despite these many job titles, you’re all united in your commitment to collective growth and I’m standing right beside you. We’re together because we all share the same vision – excellent teaching and learning every day.

Our ability to achieve our vision is strong because we bring so many diverse perspectives and experiences.

Our affiliate leaders exemplify these perspectives – they work in state departments, in districts, in institutions of higher education, as consultants. They represent 34 states, provinces, and nations. We are so grateful that affiliates carry the professional learning torch by our side.

I am also eager to briefly share a couple of our priorities moving forward.

First, I’m compelled to continue and deepen Learning Forward’s quest for impact.

We’re hearing student results seemingly by the month – first NAEP and then just last week from PISA – and they indicate that we are not reaching and teaching students in the U.S. in particular at the level to which we all aspire.

Such results underscore the importance of ongoing, sustained investment in high-quality professional learning.

But – that professional learning has to have impact. We have a responsibility to demand evidence, plan for results, and document our progress.

For Learning Forward, that means not only providing the resources and support to create learning for impact. Strengthening our impact agenda is also tightly connected to our own Standards for Professional Learning. Last updated in 2011, we’re launching a standards revision process as we enter the new year.

The Standards for Professional Learning are in use in policy and practice in more than 25 states and so many districts across the continent. When we ask our members if the standards are in use and valuable, we hear consistently that you know and embrace them.We know the Standards are built on a foundation of research, so it will be a critical step in our process to consult and analyze the latest research.

We also know that there are elements of teaching and learning that educators need the Standards to address more explicitly, whether it is research, equity, curriculum, social-emotional learning, or technology use.

As this process launches early in 2020, you’ll hear much more about our timeline and how we’ll involve you throughout the process.

The second priority I want to highlight today is the importance of engaging leaders systemwide in professional learning.

As our communications partnership with The Wallace Foundation has made abundantly clear, our field has a responsibility to build principal pipelines and look at the leadership pathways for school leaders.

In addition to school leaders, let’s consider how we build our system leader capacity for continuous improvement. We believe that professional learning will have its greatest potential to sustain and spread improvement when the leaders controlling the purse strings and the system’s visions make it a priority.

We’ll work to ensure that superintendents and chief academic officers and assistant superintendents for teaching and learning have the will and skill to become the loudest possible champions for professional learning. Once they are on board, I believe every teacher, every coach, every assistant principal, and every department head will have access to the rich job-embedded learning and support they require and deserve.

An education system that achieves success and equity for all students puts learning first at every level. Our colleagues internationally take these lessons to heart. A 2019 OECD report on teacher policies found that professional learning is a “fundamental element for the success of any major educational reform” and that professional learning strategies are a “key attribute of high-achieving systems” across the globe.

I look forward to sharing much more about our developing priorities in the coming months. In the meantime, thank you for the warm welcome into this community.

Adapted from remarks at the 2019 Annual Conference in St. Louis, MO, on Dec. 7-11, 2019.