Professional Development Opinion

2 Resolutions To Demand Better Professional Learning For All

By Learning Forward — January 05, 2017 3 min read
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Stephanie Hirsh

The way I think about the concept of smart demand is informed by my years as a high school economics teacher. Smart demand is simply about supply and demand. Markets respond to high demand by increasing supply.

So, after reading yet another report that begins with the phrase, “Sadly, it is true that the vast majority of educators do not experience the quality of professional learning they deserve,” I have to ask: What is it about the education market that has signaled that we will tolerate ineffective professional learning?

As a result, my New Year’s resolutions this year are focused on smart demand -- helping all educators ask for what they deserve and helping districts and states increase the supply of high-quality professional learning.

Learning Forward has a Redesign PD Partnership study team focused on increasing smart demand. This team will test ideas for how to support teachers in increasing their own expectations for learning as well as how to support systems in responding to educator needs. I am excited to see what the team learns. And I’m determined to advance these two resolutions to see what progress we can make in 2017.

1. Amplify the Standards for Professional Learning.

The Standards for Professional Learning, adopted by more than 35 states, describe job-embedded, just-in-time, personalized professional learning that is aligned with a smart demand culture for professional learning. As a field, we need to elevate these standards and support states in implementing the standards with fidelity.

While educators at the state, district, and school levels have heard about the standards, they don’t necessarily understand them or have the skills to transfer that learning into practice. As we inform more educators about the standards and what they mean for them individually and collectively, we will also give them the tools and support to demand the quality professional learning the standards describe.

We will provide practical information for teachers, principals, superintendents, state education associations, professional associations, and policymaking bodies and help them explore their responsibilities for creating systems of professional learning that support all educators at every turn in their careers. This deeper and broader grasp of the standards will help increase smart demand so that supply follows.

2. Leverage ESSA’s definition of professional development to improve professional learning systems for all.

For more than seven years, we have worked diligently to see a stronger definition of professional development in federal legislation. The term “professional development” is embedded dozens of times in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). We view this as an indication that Congress recognizes its importance in achieving the law’s goals of equity and excellence.

The new definition calls for professional learning that is “sustained, intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, date-driven, [and] classroom-focused.” More than $2.5 billion will soon be allocated to states and districts for professional development. States have a myriad of priorities that need attention and most view professional development as part of the solution in addressing them.

We must insist that states and districts invest in professional learning that is consistent with the standards and new definition and, in so doing, transform their systems of professional learning to achieve results for students. We will then see communities of practice, network improvement communities, and high-functioning professional learning communities that tap internal and external experts to create context-specific solutions to data- and needs-driven problems.

During 2017, we will elevate more of the success stories that such professional learning makes possible and, at the same time, give educators the resources they tell us they need to push for the kind of support Learning Forward and Congress envision for them.

I have long held the view that it only takes one savvy consumer to change the course of professional learning for many. I know that countless individuals already do this every day. Please share your story.

And for others who are waiting for the right moment -- let us help you find it. By the end of this year, we’ll be able to celebrate the many moments when smart demand propelled the professional learning educators deserve. I hope you will join me and add these resolutions to your list.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

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