If school districts relied on Craigslist to build effective learning systems, the search would be simple: “Passionate learner seeks same.” While the reality of building learning systems and teams is more complex, the principle is the same--committed learners at every level of a system are the key to improving teaching and learning for students every day.
Passionate learners in today’s schools aren’t optional. And yet, of the five beliefs that undergird Learning Forward’s work, here’s the one most likely to make educators do a double-take: All educators have an obligation to improve their practice.
The word obligation gives pause here. Are we willing to say that every educator MUST improve his or her practice? Do we think that school and system leaders are willing to say this about every one they work with? Are they willing to say it about themselves?
Ultimately, yes, Learning Forward stands behind that belief, even knowing that people resist being told what they are obligated to do. Educators who are unwilling to commit themselves to continuous improvement can only be successful with students in the long term through good luck. And relying on luck to ensure that all students succeed is incredibly risky, though it has certainly been a strategy at work at various times in many schools.
There are many factors that influence how those leading classrooms, schools, and systems can invite, support, and retain passionate learners and leverage their work at scale. Effective leadership, well-allocated resources, comprehensive and aligned planning, and a trusting, collaborative culture are all essential. However, the presence or absence of those factors doesn’t lessen the obligation of the individual educator to commit to her own learning. While the learner may not succeed without effective leadership and sufficient resources, he will certainly not succeed if he isn’t committed to improving.
So how does the learning system attract passionate learners? How do passionate learners find one another and build a learning team, learning school, learning organization?
First, at whatever your level in a school or system, stand proud as a learner. Articulate your belief that only through intentional, data-informed learning do individuals, teams, and cultures change and improve. Learners know that change is difficult, mistakes are inevitable, and information is power.
Next, identify the other passionate learners near you. Maybe he teaches next door. Maybe she is your superintendent. Perhaps you met a whole network of passionate learners online. When learners share their questions and expertise, knowledge multiplies and each individual emerges stronger and smarter.
If you have influence over hiring, consider how your criteria screen for learning passion. If you have influence over resources, examine how you are spending money and organizing personnel and time to support learning.
Finally, stay up to date on what learning really means. Know what effective professional learning looks like and what it requires--start with the Standards for Professional Learning. Keep up with the research on adult learning. Require that all learning you are a part of be of the highest possible quality and examine its impact however you can. Share what you know with those you work with so they are better informed about what it takes to create learning systems. Offer relevant support so your learners can put learning into practice for the benefit of students and other educators.
Finding, supporting, and demanding passionate learners for our schools is our best route to creating learning environments that reduce achievement gaps and engage students at every level. How will you fulfill your obligation to learn today, tomorrow, and into the future? How will you support others to do the same?
Tracy Crow Director of Communications, 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.