Professional Development Opinion

Let’s Make 2015 the Year of Impact

By Learning Forward — January 06, 2015 3 min read
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Stephanie Hirsh

Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet? I make both personal and professional resolutions. Personally, I am focused on living a healthier lifestyle. Not only have I set goals, I also have new strategies to achieve them. I have tools to help monitor my progress, and I’ve joined a support group that shares the same goals. We will hold each other accountable for reaching them.

I am searching for the same level of support for my professional goals. This is the year we need to demonstrate substantive improvement in the practice and impact of professional learning. As the U.S. Department of Education and Congress debate the future of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, many stakeholders lack confidence in professional learning’s impact, and their commitment to invest in it wavers. As a result, we need to offer compelling evidence of professional learning’s importance -- and, at the same time, expect more from it. I intend to use this year to elevate effective practice and report its impact.

Let’s do this important work together. Please join me in working toward three goals in 2015.

Highlight professional learning successes. We need many more stories about how effective professional learning has improved educator practice and results for students. We need to share them with local, state, and federal decision makers, educators, and parents. When we share these successes, we need specifics about the professional learning, including the goals, processes, and measures of success.

This year, I resolve to find and highlight at least 50 examples of effective professional learning in action. I invite you to help me achieve this goal by posting your stories at www.learningforward.org/get-involved/tell-your-story. We will collect and share your stories to inspire, motivate, and inform others.

Challenge ineffective professional development practices. It’s time to recognize there are too many examples of professional development executed poorly. It is our responsibility to put an end to the professional development that we know wastes resources -- human, time, and financial.

We must be open to asking tough questions. Is professional development an acceptable use of resources if only one teacher is touched when so many need help? Just because the way we’ve always done it leads to some growth, is that all we should expect? Is scheduling schoolwide professional development the day before a holiday the best timing? What are the best uses of professional learning dollars -- large auditoriums filled with educators or small groups working on writing common formative assessments?

Join me in challenging inappropriate use of professional learning resources, and let’s look for alternatives to the way things have always been done.

I want to highlight these examples as well, but I know this might best be done anonymously. I’ll share the bad examples I see (with names omitted) as well as the actions I took to help leaders in such schools or systems consider an alternative. I invite you to do the same, either on this form or through email to me.

Study the field. In order to be respected spokespersons for the field, we need to stay up to date. We need to be connected to the latest information and research on adult learning and development. Being well-versed in the Standards for Professional Learning provides a foundation for organizing our study, discussing our understandings, raising our questions, and supporting our future study. Each standard is supported by several fundamental studies and stories.

But our learning must extend beyond the standards because the field continues to evolve. I will follow the new learning from our chief advocates as well as those with different perspectives. I will focus on the learning process that enables successful spread of practice in other sectors. Our expertise in our subject provides the foundation and credibility required to recognize and share success and eliminate waste. Please join me in sharing your observations, questions, and new learning related to the standards.

Thank you for joining me to achieve these resolutions. If we are successful, we’ll help our communities, colleagues, and decision makers understand the value of effective professional learning and provide the resources to support it.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, 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.