Monday, April 13, 2015

What Does Effective Professional Learning Look Like?

By Vicki Bechard
LFKS Secretary

I love to see pictures of scrumptious recipes on Facebook or in cookbooks that really make me want to try to make that for my family to eat (or more than likely for me to eat!).  I go to great lengths to capture the recipe and the accompanying picture for future reference, saving them, printing them and putting them in the plastic protective sleeve in my 3 ring notebook.  Yes I have a computer file, but I just like the real thing better.  Then I make it.  Sometimes it looks surprisingly similar to the picture, but many times it does not. Most of the time it tastes great regardless of how it looks, but the effect is not quite the same.  So I think of ways to make the next attempt better and jot that down for future use.  Does this ever happen to you as an educator trying out new strategies and ideas?

Have you ever sat in a professional learning session (regardless of the topic), listened to the presenter, talked with other participants about the topic, jotted down ideas, and yet walked away wondering (just like seeing the scrumptious recipe), "What would this look like in my district (classroom)?"  "Could I really make this happen?"

We want to learn and be great educators.  We purposely seek better strategies and new ideas to improve our own practice and the success of our students, yet until we try it, we just don't know for sure whether it's going to work.  What if we could see it in action in someone's classroom that is similar to ours? Or in our own school?  There are several companies providing educators with videos that will do just that... for a significant price.  A more affordable idea might be to use our own planning time to watch a colleague teach to gain ideas and perspective. We might need some guidance on how to observe effectively, but the cost is much, much less, and the lessons might be even more valuable. Collaborative teams might agree to teach the same strategy and allow each other to observe them in action and offer suggestions to make the lesson more effective. Sometimes we just have to see it in action before it clicks and we truly "get it."

Professional learning is no different.  How do we design effective professional learning that makes a difference?  How has professional learning changed in your building or district since the Standards for Professional Learning were adopted in 2012?  How has professional learning changed in your building or district since Kansas College and Career Ready Standards or the new evaluation system came into play?  If you say professional learning has not changed, then it might be because "they" don't know what effective professional learning looks like.  Where do we go for this kind of modeling  and support?

Dayna Richardson and I have been completing a grant application this past week for LFKS that focuses on creating videos of exemplary professional learning practices in Kansas schools that can be used as real world examples of the kinds of professional learning experiences that are meaningful and lead to transformed teaching and learning.  What do effective collaborative groups do and look like?  What  does effective Leadership look like in action? or Effective use of Data? or Meaningful and purposeful Learning Designs?  Consider:  If I see it, I gain perspective.  If I can do it, I understand.  I believe that if our professional learning becomes the kind and quality of learning experience that we expect from our teachers for our students, then the effectiveness of our educators will improve too.

While there is no guarantee that we will be awarded this grant, it begins the conversation on the next steps that must be taken if we are to help each other improve our practice, not just in the student classroom, but in the educator classroom as well.  The Executive Leadership Program is being studied and piloted this spring as another vehicle that can help educators understand the change process and how professional learning impacts educator and student performance, with the ultimate goal that it will change practice.

I believe we have established the foundation of "WHY" we want every educator to experience excellent and effective professional learning, but now we must move to the "HOW" as we take the next steps.  If we are to accept the challenge given to us by Learning Forward Director, Stephanie Hirsh, during her visit to Kansas last year (April and June 2014), of going from KNOWING to DOING, then we must ensure that educators and schools know what effective professional learning looks like so they can successfully implement the complex changes that face Kansas schools today.  After all, we don't know what we don't know.  So having something to look at might help us produce the desired result, and give us the confidence to say "I/we can do that!"