Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Finding the Strength to Sail Through Rough Seas

This article was originally published on the Learning Forward PD Watch. In what ways have you demonstrated strength to sail through rough seas? What talking points might you make to support professional learning?

Finding the Strength to Sail Through Rough Seas

One of those job-embedded journeys recently arose when our local board of education in Newton, Kansas mandated that all out-of-state travel require board approval. As a result of that decision, I was asked to provide information on how my attendance at the annual Learning Forward conference is connected to student achievement in the district.
When writing, one of the premiere resources I often use is the Learning Forward publication, Why Professional Development Matters. In this booklet, Hayes Mizell shares in a very succinct and focused manner the attributes of professional learning and the relationship to student learning in the classroom.
"School-based professional development helps educators analyze student achievement data during the school year to immediately identify learning problems, develop solutions, and promptly apply those solutions to address students' needs," the publication notes. "Professional learning is the means for teachers to gain knowledge. Their learning supports not only teachers' learning, but students' as well. When leaders know how to engage teachers, support staff, and students in effective learning, the school becomes the center of learning for all adults and students. Becoming learning schools is our ultimate goal. Student increase in knowledge and skills occurs when the teacher is learning."
The night of the board meeting, there were many assumptions made that were founded on prior notions of ineffective professional development. Many of us have participated in professional development that is "done to us" rather than "done by us." As the discussion swelled on, I realized this was the time I had been waiting for, to use my prior learning and experiences to share how the transformation of teaching occurs when our knowledge is expanded and we utilize the effectiveness of team learning and collaboration. It suddenly rested on my shoulders to share the impact.
This turbulence rippled in the pit of my stomach as the board began to ask questions about professional learning in the district, and specifically my conference request. All of a sudden, all attention was focused on me. I realized that this was my time to share the impact of quality learning. As a 2010 Learning Forward Academy graduate, I had spent the better part of three years researching, sharing and studying the results of my academy project. I took a deep breath, silently reminding myself, "I'm ready for this".
One question posed was, "How do you intend to share your conference learning with educators in the district?"
I began to share how I, along with my colleagues, have developed a comprehensive framework for professional learning in the district. We created a teaching and learning cycle to guide our evidenced-based practice and measure the impact of professional learning. I shared that in the fall of 2011, we are piloting a new professional learning day survey using our online district organizational software that tracks, records and manages professional learning events. We are introducing this survey as a way to begin to measure the impact of district professional learning.
I added that as a result of attending conference sessions on collaborative professional learning, peer coaching and action research, I have learned to become a better leader and have helped teachers to become more effective in the classroom. As a result, students are achieving at higher levels.
I further shared the definition of professional learning and the role of external assistance; especially in a system like ours with deep work-embedded professional learning.
I also explained that as a result of my Learning Forward Academy participation and the district use of the Learning Forward Standards, I created the teaching learning cycle, the measuring impact survey and am now piloting a learning walkthrough in classrooms this fall.
As the board called for a vote, I hoped I had done an effective job of sharing not only how I learn, but how my professional learning affects our school system. I know we have used our learning to transform our schools into becoming learning schools. I know we are intently creating the shift from instructional leadership to learning leadership. I just didn't know if I had been able to effectively transport that understanding to our board members.
When the vote was called, members voted unanimously to approve my attendance.
I'm not sure how all of us reflect on our professional learning experiences. What is for certain is that we are being asked to make stronger and more visible connections between educator learning and student learning. I, like many of you, enjoy calm water and smooth travels, but sometimes the flow changes and we have to be prepared for a rough sail. Learning Forward resources, research and publications are great deck hands as we sail to our daily learning destinations.
Jan Neufeld
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instructional Services
Newton Public Schools, Newton, Kansas

Monday, October 17, 2011

Evaluating Technology Tools

The following post originated with Learning Forward's PD Watch.  How might you use the new standards as you plan new initiatives or refine current initiatives?  What ideas and thoughts did this post spark?

Evaluating Technology Tools

An increasing number of educational technology tools are focused specifically on professional learning and increasing teacher effectiveness. Educators face many questions when it comes to evaluating these opportunities. The newly released Standards for Professional Learning offer guidance in determining which tools have the greatest potential to achieve the outcomes they seek.
The standards define the characteristics of professional learning that improves educator practice and student learning outcomes. Educators, as well as technology partners, vendors, and providers, should consider the following questions as a guide when designing and/or selecting the right tools for the right outcomes.

Outcomes: How will the technology help students and teachers achieve the outcomes that have been defined as necessary for their success?

Implementation: What support is provided during the most difficult periods of the change process to ensure the technology becomes truly integrated into the fabric of the school or classroom? What are expectations for the developers as well as the users? How is successful implementation defined?

Design: How does the technology address the unique needs of the educator, including levels of competence, teaching assignments, school settings, and other concerns? How are users made aware of the expectations and outcomes the technology is supposed to assist them in achieving? What evidence is there that the technology can deliver on intended learning outcomes?

Data: How has data helped determine educator learning needs, and how will the technology specifically address those needs? How will the technology be used to monitor the impact of the new learning? How can the technology support documentation of its impact?

Resources: How must resources be allocated to ensure educators have access to the time and dollars necessary for successful implementation of new technology that produce better results for both educators and students?

Leadership: What are expectations for leaders in supporting the integration and use of a new technology? In what other ways will the new technology support leaders? What is the plan for preparing leaders to us the new technology?

Learning Communities: How does the technology advance learning in communities, build mutual accountability, and support the spread of best practices from classroom to classroom and school to school?

Over the next several days I will have the opportunity to interact with many technology developers now focused on the "education space." I intend to raise these questions and challenge them to give these questions thoughtful attention. I assume that if they can successfully answer these questions they will find educators eager to partner and confident in the results they will acquire together. Hopefully many will discover the "game changers" we need to accelerate the process of improvement in schools everywhere. Stay tuned for what I learn.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

The New Language of Professional Learning

This article is taken from Learning Forward’s PD Watch.  Which parts captured your thoughts and perceptions?  What implications does this have for you? 

The New Language of Professional Learning Posted: 20 Sep 2011 05:21 AM PDT
I just finished editing a piece for JSD and was struck by something the author wrote about our standards. In reference to the Learning Designs standard, Ellie Drago-Severson wrote, "...Learning Forward's decision to refer to what used to be called professional development as professional learning is significant and inspiring." She isn't the only educator to notice that shift. In her blog about the standards, principal Lyn Hilt wrote "Learning Forward... has undergone an important shift in focus and message: from one of development to one of learning." For Hilt, the meaning was clear - she asks readers if they were engaged in learning the last time they engaged in professional development.

That's certainly the kind of message we hope educators take from such shifts in language. We know language matters--that's why we made the decision to use professional learning in the name and throughout the Standards for Professional Learning. In fact, it's why we took a big risk about a year ago and put learning into our name.

While we're aware that wrangling about particular words can at times distract from the work itself, we also know that clarity about the work is essential if results are on the line. If we can't agree on the words we use, how do we know we agree on what we hope to achieve? Language is the first step we take in moving from ideas to action.

Our desire for clarity in meaning compelled us to begin each standard statement with these words: "Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students...." Each term is deliberate. "Educator" indicates our intention to support learning leaders at all levels - school, classroom, district, community, state, university, province, or organization. "Effectiveness and results" show our focus on impacting real outcomes. "All students" means we emphasize equity throughout our work.

If our commitment to students achieving better results is strong, let's take the first step and use the words that describe what we really want to see happening in schools - learning for all.

Tracy Crow
Director of Publications, Learning Forward