Professional Development Opinion

Spring into Learning Designs

By Learning Forward — March 17, 2014 3 min read
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Joellen Killion

This has been a long winter for most people. Whether they have experienced severe drought, bitter cold, heavy rains and winds, or endless snows, most are ready for a change of season. It is also a time for changing seasons in professional learning.

The winter period is typically a time for taking stock, looking back and looking ahead to regroup, revive, and reflect. Spring is for planning and taking action. During this time of the school year, teachers and school and district administrators are typically beginning their school improvement planning and anticipating what summer professional learning is needed to launch those plans in the fall. While effective professional learning occurs continuously without interruption in educators’ careers during the school year and in the summer, summer is a time for the intensive learning that usually takes extended periods of time for both learning and application of learning through revising curriculum, schedules, routines, and instruction.

Those responsible for the effectiveness of professional learning, including both participants and facilitators, must work collaboratively. Together they will assess needs, construct outcomes related to educator practice and student learning, design the learning and continuous support, and construct the evaluation framework. As teachers, supervisors, district and school staff, technical assistance providers, and others plan the more intensive learning for summer, they consider thoughtfully the design of professional learning. They first work together to take stock of educators’ learning needs. They also consider the ongoing support that will occur when educators begin to apply their learning in the new school year.

One key aspect of professional learning design is whether the learning educators’ experience engages them in the same type of learning they are striving to implement in their schools and classrooms. Educators’ learning experiences should model the instructional shifts required by new college- and career-ready standards and prepare every educator to meet and exceed performance expectations. Effective designs for professional learning assist educators in moving beyond comprehension of the surface features of a new idea or practice to developing a more complete understanding of its purposes, critical attributes, meaning, and integration with the curriculum and instructional framework in use in their schools or districts. To increase student learning, educator learning provides many opportunities for educators to practice new learning with ongoing assessment, feedback, and coaching so the learning becomes fully integrated into routine behaviors.

When designing professional learning, it is essential to ensure that educators engage in critical and creative thinking, interact with complex text, construct and defend positions, engage in argumentation, examine multiple points of view, delve into critical inquiry, generate multiple forms of communication, construct knowledge, apply their learning in authentic situations, and receive constructive feedback from peers and experts. Professional learning intentionally designed to immerse educators in the experiences similar to what they are creating for their own students and teachers allows educators to examine knowledge and practices from the perspective of students, teachers, and administrators.

Spring is for planting, planning, and readying the land for a bountiful crop. This time of planning intensive professional learning that will occur during the summer and continue routinely throughout the next school year requires thoughtful planning, cultivating, and readiness to ensure that the professional learning will yield results for both educators and students.

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.