Standards Opinion

8 Steps Lead to 1 Goal: Professional Learning Transformation

By Learning Forward — June 25, 2015 4 min read
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Stephanie Hirsh

I recently spoke with 175 educators from the state of Washington who, along with their teams and districts, have made a commitment to transforming professional learning and taken steps over the past year to do just that.

Like many educators across the country, they want professional learning to assist them in meeting the demands of their state standards and teacher evaluation systems. At the same time, they believe that professional learning of the future must look different than professional learning has in the past if it is to effectively address educators’ needs and achieve their goals. For those educators in Washington, this led to the Transforming Professional Learning Washington initiative.

I’m excited that so many leaders embrace change so deeply and fully for the benefit of their students. Transformational change, as we hear and say time and again, is neither easy nor fast. But we know more than ever about what it takes in professional learning, thanks in large part to our long-term work in transforming professional learning in Kentucky. Through that engagement, we’ve outlined eight steps to establishing effective learning systems, and our colleagues in Washington are working their way through these steps to attain their ambitious goals.

As you consider the strength of your professional learning system, which of these steps is your team ready to take? Where does your district need to focus to be ready to support the goals you have set for the next school year?

1. Launch the work.

Convene a team that includes representatives of all the stakeholders invested in the success of the professional learning system. Ensure goals are clear, roles and responsibilities clarified, and timelines are set.

2. Examine the data.

Build a deep knowledge base in the current state of professional learning. Immerse the team in research on professional learning, professional learning standards, and all available data on the practice and impact of professional learning in the system. This team will drive action on behalf of the system and must be well-informed on this subject. Combined ignorance does not create a powerful plan.

3. Establish vision, assumptions, purpose, definition, and goals.

These statements form the framework that guides the transformation of the system. When the team is able to clearly explain its assumptions, describe a compelling vision, and articulate its purpose and goals, it has established the groundwork to create and sustain an effective professional learning system.

4. Design operations of the system.

At this step, the team moves from big ideas to big plans, considering the actual transformations that need to take place. Where will changes be required -- data systems, technology systems, roles, responsibilities, schedules? How will resources be identified and shifted to support the design? Successful teams conduct this work in a transparent, creative, and accountable manner. This step is both exhilarating and intimidating.

5. Revise or develop policies.

Through the course of study and implementation, the team may discover district or organizational policies that inhibit or contradict the transformation path. The team may find it useful to conduct a policy audit to ensure alignment of policies with the system’s new direction.

6. Develop long- and short-term professional learning plans.

All of these steps are leading to the learning, but without clear plans that connect data to goals to specific learner needs, how will the team know what the learning is and how the learning should best happen?

7. Provide professional learning for full implementation.

By now, the team is ready to get to the business of professional learning. At this point, the team is demonstrating, in schools every day, what transformed professional learning is all about. Learners are elbows deep in the work. At this step, it is critical that all stakeholders see that the learning system is resulting in real and meaningful support for all learners. When members of the team model what they have been advocating, they establish credibility and trust in the new system.

8. Conduct ongoing assessments.

While this is the last step in highlighted in this process, informal and formal assessments are part of an ongoing cycle and happen throughout planning and learning. Ongoing systems of data collection, analysis, and assessments that identify successes and support midcourse corrections are key to the entire learning cycle.

What steps are you ready to take on your transformation journey? Whom will you need to bring with you? I’m looking forward to hearing what bold actions you propose next and what support you need to reach your destination.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

Find resources, workbooks, and policy briefs created to help systems transform professional learning at //learningforward.org/publications/implementing-common-core. Many are available to Learning Forward members only.

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