How are you celebrating Public Schools Week? This week, I will spend time both in reflection and action, grateful for the excellent professional learning I’ve engaged in and eager to spread that kind of meaningful learning to all educators.

Public Schools Week inspires me to reflect on my experiences as a student, teacher, and principal in the public education system, which fostered my belief in our individual and collective responsibility to teach all students with excellence and equity. With about 53 million students currently attending U.S. K-12 public schools, this responsibility is an enormous one.

Excellence in education is the ticket for every student to excel and gain access to the opportunity to learn, thrive, and reach success. As the late Kofi Annan, a secretary-general of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said, “education is the premise of progress in every society, in every family.” It should, therefore, not be an accident of geography, family status, or income that determines students’ access to high-quality teaching and learning.

With the serious challenges our public schools face, we need a united vision for and collective commitment to our investments in public schools and their students. I believe that educator professional learning is one of the smartest investments we can make, because it addresses many of our challenges. Teachers and principals are the most important in-school influences on student learning, so when we support them, we strengthen key levers for improvement.

Too often, we see education systems that have pockets of excellence, which arise when initiatives within a system aren’t aligned and meaningful collaboration among educators isn’t happening. Well, pockets are for pants, not for our students. Schools are places where excellence must live every day. When you only have pockets of excellence, you don’t have equity. Access to high-quality learning opportunities is a key issue for ensuring excellence and reducing inequity because of its proven link to increased educator effectiveness and improved student outcomes. Every student deserves a great teacher and also a great principal, not by chance, but by design.

High-quality professional learning is relevant to educators’ needs, creates a thriving culture of learning and shared responsibility, and focuses on educator and student impact. Creating quality is the focus of Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning. Educator professional learning aligned to standards results in the kind of ongoing, job-embedded, systemic professional learning that improves schools.

Learning Forward updated the standards last year and developed a suite of role-specific action guides to foster implementation. We are getting ready to make some exciting new tools available in 2023, including an equity tool, a policy tool, and a revised Standards Assessment Inventory to help schools and districts measure how well their professional learning is aligned to the standards and track progress over time.

We are also working with partners to design a standards simulation game for educators to learn how to apply the standards in order to increase the quality of their professional learning systems. We previewed the game at our 2022 Annual Conference, where we listened deeply to hundreds of educators about what they are experiencing, and what they want to see change.

Educators want meaningful professional learning connected to student needs that they can apply to their classrooms. They want built-in time to learn with their fellow educators, continuously, collaboratively, and most important, effectively. I can think of no better way to celebrate Public Schools Week than to honor teachers and leaders by ensuring they have what they need to feel seen, valued, understood, and supported in their efforts to meet students’ needs: effective professional learning by design. After all, their amazing and life-changing work is for the kids.

Note: Learning Forward is a member of Learning First Alliance, which has developed Public Schools Week 2023 resources and events, including a March 2 live webinar that includes panelist Betty Wilson-McSwain, president, Learning Forward Mississippi affiliate and assistant superintendent for Federal Programs and Testing for McComb School District. Reserve your spot to watch “The Language of Connection to Build Community Relationships.”