Learning Forward’s revised Standards for Professional Learning are resonating with educators and leaders eager to learn more about them. Learning sessions conducted during standards launch week in April 2022 and beyond have inspired hundreds of educators, leaders, and policymakers to reach out to Learning Forward, articulating their desire to dive in deeper.
“We received a lot of inquiries even before the standards were released,” said Machel Mills-Miles, vice president, standards implementation and outreach for Learning Forward. Mills-Miles facilitates standards’ learning sessions and created a virtual online course in August 2022.
Among the reasons the revised standards are attracting a strong following, Mills-Miles said, is how they have continued to evolve to attune to modern challenges. The 2022 standards enhance the 2011 version, build on decades of rigorous research about how professional learning leads to improved teaching and learning, and connect with today’s problems of practice to meet the diverse needs of students.
The continuous improvement approach to the standards’ revision is by design, according to Paul Fleming, Learning Forward’s chief learning officer. “That through four iterations, the professional learning standards continue to be highly relevant to today’s field is a credit to Learning Forward and our partners’ long-standing vision to drive continuous improvement, adherence to evidence, and new knowledge about best practices.”
As part of standards’ 2022 launch week programming, Fleming facilitated a discussion with education industry leaders invited to help interpret the implications of three focus areas – equity, curriculum, and leadership – that are either new or have been more-explicitly enhanced in the 2022 standards’ iteration.
A new equity ‘landscape’
In the 2011 version of Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning, equity was acknowledged throughout as an important outcome of effective high-quality professional learning. The 2022 standards acknowledge that educators today need more guidance on the most important actions to take and how best to move forward.
In the 2022 standards revision, equity is placed at the center. The three equity standards push professional learning facilitators to re-examine the content (Equity Practices), the learning processes (Equity Drivers), and the conditions for learning (Equity Foundations) of effective adult learning, Amy Colton recently wrote in The Learning Professional.
Colton, executive director of Learning Forward Michigan and chair-elect of the Learning Forward Foundation, said equity must be considered an integral part of professional learning, not a separate aspect.
“Only when equity is both called out explicitly and woven throughout all the standards is it possible to attain transformational systems change.”
Colton said for the equity standards to realize their full potential to be engines of transformation, it will require educators to fully develop the capacities revealed in the equity standards to examine their social identities and dismantle system inequities and create policies, procedures, and practices that establish a collaborative, inclusive culture that supports quality learning opportunities for all teachers and all students.
“This is a call to action, my friends, to take a critical look at our current system and engage in transformation that leads to equal opportunities for high-quality learning,” Colton said. “Everyone in education must recommit to transforming policies, structures, and cultures that hinder collaboration and inclusivity.”
Instructional materials emerge as a critical priority
New to Learning Forward’s professional learning standards is the 2022 addition of a standard devoted to Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction. This standard connects to the other standards to support a high-functioning learning system and is tightly linked to Equity Practices, as “educators build capacity to create learning and implement materials in ways that are culturally relevant and accessible to every learner.” (2022 Standards for Professional Learning).
Implementing high-quality instructional materials in an environment with supportive leadership is an equity issue, according to Eric Hirsch, founding executive director of EdReports, which reported in 2022 that nearly a quarter of teachers surveyed say they have experienced no curriculum-related professional learning at all.
Hirsch has served as a member of Learning Forward’s Standards Advisory Council for both the 2011 and 2022 revisions.
He said the evolution of state standards, research, and the instructional materials marketplaces all have influenced the 2022 standards revision.
“When we created these standards (in 2011), the emphasis was on the how and the resources necessary. And even on the content standards, they were much more focused on equity as a category of content, quality teaching, and family involvement. They weren’t as focused on the content and the what of what teachers are teaching, which is largely found in the instructional core. And it is so fantastic as we look at this revision of the Learning Forward standards, and as we look at the Rigorous Content for Each Learner (category), how the instructional core is now front and center.”
Hirsch said teachers must learn how to advocate for themselves to obtain high-quality materials and seek out tools from EdReports and Learning Forward to build their own curriculum literacy.It is so fantastic as we look at this revision of the Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning how the instructional core is now front and center. Click To Tweet
School and district leaders must lay out the vision
The importance of leadership to implement high-quality professional learning was a clear priority in the 2011 and has been enhanced in the 2022 version. Included in the standard’s Conditions for Success frame, leadership establishes a compelling and inclusive vision for professional learning, sustains coherent support to build educator capacity, and advocates for professional learning by sharing the importance and evidence of impact of professional learning.
Marlon Williams, a seven-year principal currently working at Dr. Daniel Hale Williams School of the Arts Middle School, described the work of gaining consensus for standards and implementing them. He called the newly revised standards “a powerful tool for leaders” because they contain a wealth of actionable information that is suitable for seasoned educators as well as first-year teachers.
“With the standards, you’re not just given an encyclopedia of professional development stuff,” Williams said. “School is not a monolithic place. All of the moving pieces are the parts that I’m trying to make that systematic professional learning system that Paul (Fleming) was talking about.”
“We have to remember that we’re asking principals to actively engage in discomfort to do what’s necessary to create an equitable classroom where every child has a rich, deep, learning experience,” Williams said. “It’s courageous work.”
Throughout 2022, Learning Forward will publish articles and share standards implementation plans that we are hearing about from Learning Forward members, district and state leaders, clients, policymakers, and others to enrich the journey for all who are on the professional learning path. We invite you to share your stories about how the standards are making a difference in your work and join Learning Forward at its 2022 Annual Conference, where Standards for Professional Learning will be explored in depth. The conference takes place Dec. 4-7, 2022, in Nashville, Tennessee.