Professional Development Opinion

Knowledge and Skills Aren’t Enough for Deep Change

By Learning Forward — April 23, 2014 3 min read
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Joellen Killion

Change challenges even the strongest among us. Nothing about it is easy. It means deeply re-examining what we know, say, and do in order to adapt new ways of thinking and acting. Some of the biggest changes currently facing educators include shifting to more rigorous academic standards for student learning and fair, valid methods for evaluating teacher and principal performance.

Investing in continuous improvement in education requires an investment in professional learning. In education, change comes as a result of professional learning that integrates acquiring new knowledge; adding skills and competencies; examining beliefs, values, and assumptions; having desire to change; and transferring learning to routine practice.

Too often, traditional professional development doesn’t go far enough to produce deep change in practice. When educators, for example, are expanding their instructional or leadership practices, developing knowledge and skills alone will not ensure change in practice. The integration of new knowledge and skills occurs when people try out their new understanding, apply it in their work on a regular basis, have opportunities to reflect on and analyze their own practice, receive feedback and support from a trusted coach, and refine their practice over time. It also includes using clear criteria and data about results to assess the effectiveness over time.

Macro-level learning

The process of learning to accomplish change does not happen overnight. Certainly some small changes and the effects of them are visible in short periods of time. Deeper change as measured using more rigorous methodologies and multiple forms of evidence requires resources, persistence, and commitment to sustain a focus on the change effort over time. Principals cannot perfect the implementation of new teacher evaluation systems within a single day’s workshop. Nor can teachers revamp their instructional practices to place greater responsibility on students to co-construct knowledge and apply learning in authentic ways as a result of a two-day institute. While one- or two-day institutes may serve as a springboard for gaining baseline knowledge and skills, it is in the application of the learning that deeper understanding, meaning, and value emerge. The institute is an opportunity for macro-level learning, learning about new practices and developing the foundational knowledge and skills that will support the use of the practices.

Micro-level learning

Micro-level learning occurs during the application of knowledge and skills in practice. It is through the micro-level learning that the deepest levels of learning occur. Micro-level learning includes working collaboratively to translate macro-level learning to specific situations. This may mean adapting instructional strategies to develop students’ capacity to engage in argumentative writing to a particular content area, grade level, or unit. Once the adaptations are clear, micro-level learning also includes applying knowledge and skills in authentic practice; reflecting on, analyzing, receiving peer and expert feedback; using data to refine practice over time; measuring the appropriateness of the practice to accomplish defined goals; and deepening understanding of the new practice.

Change equals learning. To achieve results, change managers must be ready to re-examine their current practice in professional learning to ensure that it combines both macro- and micro-levels of learning coupled with sufficient resources to realize the results desired.

Joellen Killion
Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.