Learning Together = Greater Gains
Educators need a well-planned professional learning program that supports them in developing their skills, in order to help their students on their own journey to success.
The move from discussing professional development to implementing professional learning has been going on for a while. To some, it may seem like a shift in language, while for others it is more. Like other professions (medicine, law) where ongoing learning is required to stay current in the field, education requires a well-planned professional learning (PL) program that supports teachers in getting better at what they do – helping learners learn more.
Whether from diagnostic, formative, summative, or any type of assessment, data is a powerful driver for identifying and personalizing professional learning for educators. What’s working? How well and where? Where might extra support be needed? Looking at data in new ways allows you to create learning opportunities across classrooms or a school. When it comes to learning topics, surveys of teachers’ needs and wants also provide data to identify and personalize educator learning. Finding out who your teachers are and what needs they have is critical.
There are seven elements to consider when developing a professional learning plan.
- Align professional learning to instructional goals – use good data to develop the PL program and good results will follow
- Identify the learning outcomes – different teams need different goals and outcomes; this helps inform the personalization of the learning
- Provide time – that leads us into the topic of collaboration
The best professional learning occurs when educators can learn with, from and for one another. Some talk about the gift of time. Research shows an effect size of .62 on student outcomes (or over half of a standard deviation) for professional development. Effect size tells us how effective something was, with half a standard deviation equating to about 1.5 grade levels. The first element of that research is learning opportunities that extend over time. For educators, time is a necessity more than a gift. Meeting regularly works for students so why not for teachers?
4. Carve out time in the schedule for regular ongoing learning – Using full- and half-day learning opportunities can be great. Realistically short segments of learning can have as great or greater impact. Take advantage of staff meetings, planning periods or collaboration time, opportunities that occur on an ongoing basis. A single, focused outcome can make it easy for teachers to remember and apply the learning.
5. Keep staff engaged – Outlining a loose structure for the learning helps with focus and takes the challenge away of preparing and facilitating. Time to learn, share ideas and give and get feedback makes teachers more likely to follow through and share results. For PL to be engaging, teachers need a voice in what they’ll learn and a choice in when and how they’ll learn it.
Synergy happens when more than one mind is thinking and sharing about a topic or question. Educators turn to each other (and social media) to:
- Share their experiences
- Give and get feedback
- Expand on ideas
- Develop possibilities
- Share results
- Get access 24/7
Active learning for teachers translates to active learning for students. Teachers get engaged and then use those same strategies in their design and teaching, providing them the opportunity to design learning for their students that is authentic and interactive.
6. Make the learning relevant – Immediate application of the learning works best. As one of the principles of andragogy, relevance helps teachers identify “What’s in it for me?” The strategies should align with what’s happening in the classroom tomorrow or at least next week. When learning is relevant, behaviors are more likely to change.
7. Measure success – If the learning is immediately applicable, teachers should be able to set and use a metric from their classroom to measure the impact of implementing their new learning. Consider mini-action research and try one new learning within a week. Be transparent with your learners. Tell them what you are trying and why.
It is important to determine how leadership will support the learning as it moves from Wednesday’s PL session back into the classroom and into the next three to five years. Will coaching, learning communities, and other embedded ways to change behavior and mindset be provided? Will tools be purchased? What will it take to keep the learning going?
The great corollary to teachers’ learning is that students learn. Like other professions, teacher professional learning needs to be considered an ongoing process. Helping teachers get better at what they do so students can learn and grow is the goal. What’s the state of professional learning in your school? Have you found new ways to collaborate and learn from other teachers this year?
This article was written by Kathy S Dyer.
Kathy Dyer is an innovative educator who has served as a teacher, principal, district assessment coordinator, and adjunct professor. She has a passion for learner-centered learning—opportunities for learners of all ages to learn with, from, and for one another. Believing that all learners can learn more and grow more, Kathy is passionate about helping schools and educators get better at what they do.
Kathy combines a deep understanding of adult learning with a passion for collaborative problem solving to help school systems improve student outcomes. Her work has been featured on eSchool News, Education Dive, Ed Circuit, Teach. Learn. Grow. blog, and Getting Smart.
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