When education leader Denise Stevens joined a Learning Forward forum recently to talk about the impact high-quality professional learning is making in her district, she didn’t rein in her effusive assessment of where they are, and cited a couple of proof points. “Individuals are feeling empowered and supported. What our induction principals are learning, they are transferring back to their teachers and leadership staffs. It’s a fire — every learning, every opportunity ignites the next level of success for our students.”

Stevens’ K-12 district outside of Atlanta is measuring and reporting results from its implementation of high-quality educator professional learning initiatives. Stevens is Director of Leadership Development, Clayton County Public Schools, Jonesboro, Georgia. Machel Mills-Miles, vice president of standards implementation & outreach for Learning Forward, facilitated the discussion that focused on Clayton County’s multifaceted, comprehensive approach to developing adults responsible for leading learning for others.

The event came together as part of Standards for Professional Learning Week 2024, April 22-26, commemorating the two-year anniversary of Learning Forward’s latest revision to professional learning standards that inform schools and systems globally on how to build and sustain high-performing professional learning systems.

Denise stevens


Denise Stevens, Clayton County Public Schools




Their April 22 session, Shifting from hoping for the best to measuring impact through standards-aligned professional learning, is one of a weeklong series designed to highlight the most recent happenings around Standards for Professional Learning through the experiences of practitioners in the field.

The session recording is here.

Stevens described how Clayton County Public Schools has shifted to a more systemic approach to professional learning for all educators and leaders in the district by establishing 10 different academies, two of which are in-house. Any adult who leads learning for others participates in at least one academy. Learning Forward partnered with Clayton County Public Schools and is facilitating two of its professional learning academies — one that imbues learners with information about Standards for Professional Learning, including standards implementation strategies; and a leadership coaching and mentoring academy.

Participants in the district’s Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning academy learn how standards outline the foundational characteristics of effective professional learning systems that leads to effective teaching practices, supportive leadership, and improved student results. Stevens said standards academy participants include deputy superintendents, school chiefs, assistant superintendents, four principals who facilitate the district’s in-house academies, and content coordinators, who are taking their learnings back and using it in their work. Stevens said having many leaders from a variety of roles participate in standards-related professional learning is making a tangible difference.

“Our deputy has indicated she can hear the difference in conversations. Our conversations are now more targeted toward student achievement than they ever have been before. This is a collaboration. This is systemic.”

Our conversations are now more targeted toward student achievement than ever before. This is a collaboration. This is systemic. Click To Tweet

Learning Forward’s 2022 standards were designed to “put forward to the field evidence-based strategies and competencies that equip all educators with skillsets to navigate the challenges that our districts, schools, educators, and students are facing at this time,” said Paul Fleming, Learning Forward Chief Learning Officer.

Clayton County demonstrates its commitment to empowering its leaders to meet students’ needs through systemwide support that is standards-aligned, said Fleming. “Standards recognize that only with effective professional learning can we reach our big goals for education systems in Georgia and worldwide, as well as for all individual educators and students,” according to Fleming, a former assistant commissioner with Tennessee’s state education department.