School & District Management Opinion

New Workbook Offers Step-by-Step Guidance for Planning Transformational Professional Learning

By Learning Forward — October 29, 2013 4 min read
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Joellen Killion

Plans drive actions. In this era of major reforms in education, educators devote considerable time to planning for successful implementation of new content standards and their concomitant instructional shifts, educator evaluation systems, assessments, and leadership practices to support student success. Essential to each plan is professional learning designed to build the expertise of educators so they are fully prepared and supported in implementing these reforms. Too often, however, professional learning falls short in transforming educator practice and results for students. This shortfall is often the result of insufficient planning for professional learning.

A significant misconception about professional learning leads to insufficient planning. This misconception is that building awareness or foundational knowledge alone is sufficient for more expert practice. This translates into professional learning plans that emphasize actions rather than results for educators or students. Plans of this nature typically describe a series of activities over time, which when combined together, are expected to transform educators’ daily practices and student learning.

The misconception that awareness transforms practice leads planners to focus too narrowly on a set of short-term activities that fall short in developing knowledge and skills, examining dispositions, and refining practices to achieve results for students. Professional learning plans that reverse the short-term, spray-and-pray approach to professional learning incorporate multi-year strategies; focus on implementation and refinement; monitor and assess implementation and results for students; and differentiate support, feedback, and learning experiences for educators.

To support state education agencies, school systems, and schools in planning transformational professional learning, Learning Forward provides a workbook that guides users through a thorough planning process designed to link learning for educators to learning for students. Professional Learning Plans: A Workbook for States, Districts, and Schools provides over 150 pages of guidance and tools to develop results-focused, rather than activity-focused, professional learning plans. The workbook is a companion to Comprehensive Professional Learning System: A Workbook for States and Districts, which guides leaders in developing the conceptual and operational components of an effective professional learning system.

A professional learning plan is the navigation system for the comprehensive professional learning system. As discussed in Comprehensive Professional Learning Systems: A Workbook for Districts and States, a comprehensive professional learning system is the engine that powers educator learning. The professional learning system creates the conditions and structures in which effective professional learning works and links professional learning to other systems that function in a state, school system, or school. It requires, however, a guidance system that sets the destinations, gives directions, and provides progress indicators and other information to support the journey. The professional learning plan is that guidance system.

When the guidance provided by the plan aligns high-priority needs with actions, capacities, and resources to address those needs, individual and collective effort is focused on the destination — college- and career-ready students. A comprehensive professional learning system without a plan is an engine without steering, and a plan without a system is a steering mechanism without any power. The two must be inextricably connected.

Effective professional learning plans focus on a program of educator learning. A program of professional learning incorporates purposeful, planned actions and the supports over time necessary to achieve the results. They incorporate ongoing, coherent strategies that occur over a sustained period of time focused on changing educator practice and student performance. Short-term episodic learning events are simply not enough to do more than raise awareness or transmit information. Deeper learning for educators incorporates opportunities to construct understanding; engage in practice; analyze and reflect on practice using data and constructive feedback; differentiate support; and assess and evaluate the impact of refined practice.

Professional learning plans driven by a goal of results for educators and students rather than attendance at events include strategies that occur over multiple years and focus integration of new learning into routine practice and continuous improvement.

A small part of this text is excerpted from Professional Learning Plans: A Workbook for States, Districts, and Schools.

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.