By Vicki Bechard
The primary goal of education in Kansas today is to prepare our students to be successful adults. There are many skills, traits, and knowledge that will build that capacity. Of course academic knowledge and technical skills will be a big part of this picture, but it will take a broader educational experience to achieve successful adulthood. As identified in the Soft Skills to Pay the Bills curriculum at youth.gov, students will need to possess communication skills, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving and critical thinking skills, and professionalism to be employable and productive citizens. How will we as educators acquire, model, and facilitate these skills so that our students can practice them in authentic learning experiences to apply what they have learned so these critical skills might transfer to life after high school?
To that end, consider what professional learning might look like if we changed how educators learn, and moved toward doing something new that stretches our knowledge and skills and increases our capacity as instructional leaders.
One way we have done this at Learning Forward Kansas is to apply for and receive the Learning Forward Foundation Affiliate Grant. This was a dream that suddenly got legs when we were awarded this grant in spring of 2015. Little did we know about the magnitude of this undertaking until the announcement of the award made it very real and we started to put our dream into action. What we had was enthusiasm for this project. What we didn’t have was the technical expertise to make our dream a reality. However, we did have some soft skills at our disposal that would lead to a greater knowledge base, critical partnerships, the ability to work in small teams, and the professionalism to ask for and accept feedback that was sometimes hard to hear. This new learning was a process, and one that has changed my thoughts on how to present project learning to students and teachers as well.
As traditional learners, we waited for the “how” from our partners at Learning Forward. They weren’t sure either but had a few ideas. We waited and brainstormed and waited some more. Finally we created our own storyboard format instead of waiting for the perfect template to be delivered to us. We spent a lot of time asking for ideas and examples from our colleagues and peers. Each time we had to share our vision and convince them they had something worth sharing. Slowly but surely it started to take shape.
Partnerships, networking, and perseverance were keys to this project. Finding a willing tech partner that would be professional in product creation but do it for a song and a thank you was realized through the educational circles we had been a part of over the years. Soon we connected with a few educational leaders and schools, and eventually received some invitations (and invited ourselves!) to view examples of professional learning that we could film and include in our first video.
This was a lengthy process as we turned a vision with no real parameters into a finished product. We had to evaluate and synthesize our ideas and turn them into something manageable and meaningful. At last, the first video was rolled out – ultimately too long and too rambling. We were excited to have something to share, but immediately headed back to the drawing board to focus our message and reduce the length. So we worked some more. Soon the second video attempt was ready for feedback. We chose another group to look at this next draft. Again, we were given feedback that was hard to hear, but specific enough that we could continue to refine the video into something that would be useful and meaningful. The third time was the charm.
Why Professional Learning Matters: In Our Building It’s Everyone’s Job to Learn is the first video of the LFKS series Inspired to Learn: Kansas Stories. It is online ready for you to view and use with your district, building, staff, or team to create and implement effective professional learning. There is also a resource guide to accompany this video to deepen and enhance the learning experience as one examines why professional learning matters.
And just as with any other goal attainment, we savor the moment, and then move on to the next goal. The second video in this series will focus on What Effective Professional Learning Looks Like and is scheduled to be released before the holidays.
The moral to our story is that in order for us to change how we educate our students, we must change how we educate ourselves.
We used soft skills to navigate the process, with minimal outside directives, and limits that were largely self-imposed. In the end the messiness of our initial work and the refining that occurred throughout the process were part of the reward as we produced a product that reflected our purpose and was one in which we could be proud. We had more questions than answers going in, but we have grown and stretched our capacity as educators and as leaders. We did that by immersion and being actively involved, not by sit and get, or being told what to do at each step along the way. There is no better lesson for educators to learn in ways that can be passed on to students. That is WHY Professional Learning Matters. And as a result, we embrace the idea that it’s everyone’s job to learn!