Understanding the Impact of Professional Learning: Q&A with Learning Forward Academy Scholarship Winners
In December 2012, I graduated from the Learning Forward Academy (LFA), a compelling two and a half year blended learning experience where participants collaboratively solve significant “problems of practice” related to educator and student learning. Nearly three years later, here’s a glimpse into what other graduates learned and how it is impacting their spheres of influence.
I was about to facilitate professional learning with school leaders in a large, urban school district a few months ago. The topics had been planned, the content and process had been reviewed, and I was ready to go. Right before my time started, I had the opportunity to meet the central office educator who was in the room and, according to the organizational chart, in charge of school improvement, instruction, and student performance.
How do you use the power of words to spark positive change? How are words being used in your setting to create a culture of caring? Words matter. They can offer perspective, insight, and understanding. Words can bring encouragement and hope.
As many of you know, TNTP released a new study earlier this week, The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About the Quest for Teacher Development, which recommends that we re-envision professional learning by asking fundamentally different questions about what better teaching means and how to achieve it. This will demand more closely measuring the impact of professional development and require coordinated action from education stakeholders at all levels, including teachers, administrators, and technical assistance providers.
Learning Forward’s advocacy efforts on behalf of the reauthorization of ESEA have concentrated solely on professional development. If you’ve had a chance to comb through the bill, which just passed with an 81-17 vote in the Senate late last week, you may have noticed that the words “professional development” appear several times in relation to a wide range of federal and school improvement initiatives.
Teachers earn credentials at the beginning of their careers and may go on to earn a master’s degree or National Board Certification, but these degrees don’t capture or articulate the full range of skills that teachers learn every day, week, and year. Digital Promise, a nonprofit organization that works to accelerate innovation in education through technology and research, is building a coalition of educators and partners to develop a microcredential system through which teachers can gain recognition for the skills they master throughout their careers.
The Learning Forward team had a very successful weekend in Toronto with our Academy cohorts, affiliates, institutes, and board meetings. Our Academy 2017 cohort got off to a great start, and many of the Academy 2016 members shared with us how much their learning is starting to gel. The affiliate leaders appreciated the choices of learning opportunities they had throughout the weekend, and several institute participants shared with me that the learning they experienced was both timely and impactful.
Learning Forward has been working diligently to strengthen support for effective professional learning through ESEA authorization. To date, thanks to our work with Penn Hill Group and through our membership in the Knowledge Alliance, we have had some influence on changes to Title II. Some of our key language has been added to the definition of professional learning, which should enhance the alignment between the legislation and what educators want and need most to become their very best.
A few years ago, I attended a State Consortium on Educator Effectiveness meeting in Baltimore co-hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers and Learning Forward. At the meeting, principals from across the country were asked, “Is your job doable?” Their answers were both passionate and poignant.
We are lucky to work in a field with beginnings and endings, and it’s always a joy to watch our kindergartner or senior students graduate and move to the next level. While summer may mean slower days and vacation for some, it is also a valuable time for professional learning. Recently as I was planning a mini four-day vacation for my husband and me, I realized that planning for that trip and for professional learning are much the same.