Reach the Highest Standard in Professional Learning: Resources

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Karen Hawley Miles, Anna Sommers, Patricia Roy & Valerie von Frank

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    Introduction to the Series

    These are the demands on educators and school systems right now, among many others:

    • They must fulfill the moral imperative of educating every child for tomorrow’s world, regardless of background or status.
    • They must be prepared to implement college- and career-ready standards and related assessments.
    • They must implement educator evaluations tied to accountability systems.

    A critical element in creating school systems that can meet these demands is building the capacity of the system’s educators at all levels, from the classroom teacher to the instructional coach to the school principal to the central office administrator, and including those partners who work within and beyond districts. Building educator capacity in this context requires effective professional learning.

    Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning define the essential elements of and conditions for professional learning that leads to changed educator practices and improved student results. They are grounded in the understanding that the ultimate purpose of professional learning is increasing student success. Educator effectiveness—and this includes all educators working in and with school systems, not just teachers—is linked closely to student learning. Therefore increasing the effectiveness of educators is a key lever to school improvement.

    Effective professional learning happens in a culture of continuous improvement, informed by data about student and educator performance and supported by leadership and sufficient resources. Educators learning daily have access to information about relevant instructional strategies and resources and, just as important, time for collaboration with colleagues, coaches, and school leaders. Education leaders and systems that value effective professional learning provide not only sufficient time and money but also create structures that reinforce monitoring and evaluation of that learning so they understand what is effective and have information to adjust and improve.

    Why Standards?

    Given that any system can—and must—develop expertise about professional learning, why are standards important? Among many reasons are these:

    First, adherence to standards ensures equity. When learning leaders across schools and systems agree to follow a common set of guidelines, they are committing to equal opportunities for all the learners in those systems. If all learning is in alignment with the Standards for Professional Learning and tied to student and school improvement goals, then all educators have access to the best expertise available to improve their practice and monitor results.

    Standards also provide a common language that allows for conversation, collaboration, and implementation planning that crosses state, regional, and national borders. This collaboration can leverage expertise from any corner of the world to change practice and results.

    Finally, standards offer guidelines for accountability. While an endorsement of the standards doesn’t in itself guarantee quality, they provide a framework within which systems can establish measures to monitor progress, alignment, and results.

    From Standards to Transformation

    So a commitment to standards is a first critical step. Moving into deep understanding and sustained implementation of standards is another matter. Transforming practices, and indeed, whole systems, will require long-term study, planning, and evaluation.

    Reach the Highest Standard in Professional Learning is created to be an essential set of tools to help school and system leaders take those steps. As with the Standards for Professional Learning themselves, there will be seven volumes, one for each standard.

    While the standards were created to work in synergy, we know that educators approach professional learning from a wide range of experiences, concerns, expertise, and passions. Perhaps a school leader may have started PLCs in his school to address a particular learning challenge, and thus has an abiding interest in how learning communities can foster teacher quality and better results. Maybe a central office administrator started her journey to standards-based professional learning through a study of how data informs changes, and she wants to learn more about the foundations of data use. This series was created to support such educators and to help them continue on their journey of understanding systemwide improvement and the pieces that make such transformation possible.

    In developing this series of books on the Standards for Professional Learning, Corwin and Learning Forward envisioned that practitioners would enter this world of information through one particular book, and that their needs and interests would take them to all seven as the books are developed. The intention is to serve the range of needs practitioners bring and to support a full understanding of the elements critical to effective professional learning.

    All seven volumes in Reach the Highest Standard in Professional Learning share a common structure, with components to support knowledge development, exploration of changes in practice, and a vision of each concept at work in real-world settings.

    In each volume, readers will find

    • A think piece developed by a leading voice in the professional learning field. These thought leaders represent both scholars and practitioners, and their work invites readers to consider the foundations of each standard and to push understanding of those seven standards.
    • An implementation piece that helps readers put the think piece and related ideas into practice, with tools for both individuals and groups to use in reflection and discussionabout the standards. Shirley M. Hord and Patricia Roy, longstanding Learning Forward standards leaders, created the implementation pieces across the entire series.
    • A case study that illuminates what it looks like in schools and districts when education leaders prioritize the standards in their improvement priorities. Valerie von Frank, with many years of writing about education in general and professional learning in particular, reported these pieces, highlighting insights specific to each standard.
    Moving Toward Transformation

    We know this about effective professional learning: Building awareness isn’t enough to change practice. It’s a critical first piece, and these volumes will help in knowledge development. But sustaining knowledge and implementing change require more.

    Our intention is that the content and structure of the volumes can move readers from awareness to changes in practice to transformation of systems. And of course transformation requires much more. Commitment to a vision for change is an exciting place to start. A long-term informed investment of time, energy, and resources is non-negotiable, as is leadership that transcends one visionary leader who will inevitably move on.

    Ultimately, it will be the development of a culture of collective responsibility for all students that sustains improvement. We invite you to begin your journey toward developing that culture through study of the Standards for Professional Learning and through Reach the Highest Standard in Professional Learning. Learning Forward will continue to support the development of knowledge, tools, and evidence that inform practitioners and the field. Next year’s challenges may be new ones, and educators working at their full potential will always be at the core of reaching our goals for students.

    Stephanie HirshExecutive Director, Learning Forward

    The Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning

    • Learning Communities: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment.
    • Leadership: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires skillful leaders who develop capacity, advocate, and create support systems for professional learning.
    • Resources: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires prioritizing, monitoring, and coordinating resources for educator learning.
    • Data: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students uses a variety of sources and types of student, educator, and system data to plan, assess, and evaluate professional learning.
    • Learning Designs: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students integrates theories, research, and models of human learning to achieve its intended outcomes.
    • Implementation: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students applies research on change and sustains support for implementation of professional learning for long-term change.
    • Outcomes: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students aligns its outcomes with educator performance and student curriculum standards.

    Source: Learning Forward. (2011). Standards for professional learning. Oxford, OH: Author.

    The Resources Standard

    Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires prioritizing, monitoring, and coordinating resources for educator learning.

    Effective professional learning requires human, fiscal, material, technology, and time resources to achieve student learning goals. How resources are allocated for professional learning can overcome inequities and achieve results for educators and students. The availability and allocation of resources for professional learning affect its quality and results. Understanding the resources associated with professional learning and actively and accurately tracking them facilitates better decisions about and increased quality and results of professional learning.

    Prioritize Human, Fiscal, Material, Technology, and Time Resources

    Resources for professional learning include staff, materials, technology, and time, all dependent on available funding. How these resources are prioritized to align with identified professional learning needs affects access to, quality of, and effectiveness of educator learning experiences. Decisions about resources for professional learning require a thorough understanding of student and educator learning needs, clear commitment to ensure equity in resource allocation, and thoughtful consideration of priorities to achieve the intended outcomes for students and educators.

    Staff costs are a significant portion of the resource investment in professional learning. Costs in this category include school and school system leaders and other specialized staff who facilitate or support school- or school system-based professional learning, such as instructional coaches, facilitators, and mentors, as well as salary costs for educators when professional learning occurs within their workday. The time leaders commit to professional learning, either their own or for those they supervise, is a cost factor because it is time these leaders are investing in professional learning; managing this time is another area of responsibility for leaders.

    Time allocated for professional learning is another significant investment. Education systems worldwide have schedules that provide time in the school day for teacher collaboration and planning to increase student learning. Learning time for educators may extend into after-school meetings, summer extended learning experiences, and occasional times during the workday when students are not present.

    Professional learning embedded into educators’ workdays increases the opportunity for all educators to receive individual, team, or school-based support within the work setting to promote continuous improvement. Dedicated job-embedded learning time elevates the importance of continuous, career-long learning as a professional responsibility of all educators and aligns the focus of their learning to the identified needs of students they serve. Including substantive time for professional learning, 15% or more, within the workday shifts some costs for external professional learning to support job-embedded professional learning.

    Technology and material resources for professional learning create opportunities to access information that enriches practice. Use of high-speed broadband, web-based and other technologies, professional journals and books, software, and a comprehensive learning management system is essential to support individual and collaborative professional learning. Access to just-in-time learning resources and participation in local or global communities or networks available to individuals or teams of educators during their workday expand opportunities for job-embedded professional learning.

    Investments in professional learning outside the school or workplace supplement and advance job-embedded professional learning. To increase alignment and coherence between job-embedded and external professional learning, both must address the individual, school, and school system goals for educator and student learning.

    When economic challenges emerge, schools and school systems often reduce investments in professional learning. In high-performing countries, professional learning is valued so highly as a key intervention to improve schools that reducing it is not an option. Top-performing businesses frequently increase training and development in challenging times. In lean times, professional learning is especially important to prepare members of the workforce for the changes they will experience, maintain and increase student achievement, develop flexibility to detect and adapt to new economic conditions and opportunities, and sustain employee morale, retention, commitment, and expertise.

    Monitor Resources

    Resources for professional learning come from many sources, including government allocations, public and private agencies, and educators themselves. Tracking and monitoring these resources is challenging, yet essential. Some costs, such as those for staff, registrations, consultants, materials, stipends for mentor teachers, and relief teachers, are relatively easy to track. Others, such as the portion of time educators are engaged in job-embedded professional learning and technology used for professional learning, are more difficult to monitor. Yet without a consistent and comprehensive process to track and monitor resources, it is difficult to evaluate the appropriateness or effectiveness of their allocation and use.

    The level of funding for professional learning in schools varies tremendously. Some studies on professional learning in public schools have suggested that the investments range from less than 1% of total operating expenses to as high as 12%. In the highest-performing countries, investments in professional learning for educators, particularly teachers and principals, are much higher. Decisions about funding must specifically address inequities in learning needs and opportunities to learn and be given highest priority so that that all students and the educators who serve them have the resources to achieve at the highest levels.

    Coordinate Resources

    The coordination of resources for professional learning is essential to their appropriate and effective use. With funding for professional learning, school improvement, and other reform initiatives coming from multiple sources and for multiple purposes, ensuring alignment and effectiveness in resource use is paramount to ensuring success. School and school system leaders are primarily responsible for coordinating resources. However, all educators have a shared responsibility to understand and contribute to decisions about and monitor the effectiveness of resources allocated for professional learning.

    To make certain that resources invested in professional learning achieve their intended results, school system leaders regularly convene representatives of all stakeholders to examine and recommend changes to policies, regulations, and agreements related to professional learning.

    Source: Learning Forward. (2015). Standards for professional learning. Oxford, OH: Author.

    About the Authors

    Karen Hawley Miles is executive director and founder of Education Resource Strategies (ERS), a nonprofit organization in Watertown, Massachusetts, that specializes in strategic planning, organization, and resource allocation in urban public school districts. Her work aims to help states, districts, and schools rethink resource allocation and empower principals to create great schools and redirect resources to promote excellent teaching, individual attention for children, and productive instructional time. Miles has worked intensively with urban districts in Los Angeles, Chicago, Albuquerque, Boston, Baltimore, Providence, Rochester, and Cincinnati to deeply analyze and improve their funding systems, school-level resource use, and investment in professional development. She has taught school leaders at Harvard University, in school districts, with New Leaders for New Schools, and with the Broad Institute for School Boards. Prior to her work at Education Resource Strategies, she worked at Bain & Company as a strategy and management consultant for hospitals and corporations. She has a BA in economics from Yale University and a doctorate in education from Harvard University, specializing in school organization, change, and finance.

    Anna Sommers worked as a consultant and writer at Education Resource Strategies (ERS) before recently returning to the classroom as a high school English teacher. While at ERS, she wrote and disseminated research to school system leaders and reformers on the strategic allocation of people, time, and dollars to improve student outcomes. Prior to her time with ERS, Anna worked in consumer products marketing and was a management consultant at Bain & Company in Boston. She earned her BA from Amherst College and master’s in Education from Harvard University, where she specialized in teaching and curriculum.

    Dr. Patricia Roy is a senior consultant with Learning Forward’s Center for Results. She works with state departments of education, districts, and schools across the United States as well as internationally. Most recently, she developed briefings and a resource guide to help schools use results from the revised Standards Assessment Inventory (SAI2) to improve professional learning. She has authored many articles and chapters on effective professional development, school improvement, innovation configuration maps, and cooperative learning. In her work with Learning Forward, Pat developed professional learning resource toolkits for Georgia, Arkansas, and Rochester, New York. She coauthored, with Joellen Killion, Becoming a Learning School and, with Stephanie Hirsh, Joellen Killion, and Shirley Hord, Standards Into Practice: Innovation Configurations for School-Based Roles (2012). For 5 years, she wrote columns about implementing the standards for professional development for The Learning Principal and The Learning System, two Learning Forward newsletters. She has also served as faculty for Professional Development Leadership Academy through the Arizona Department of Education. This 3-year program developed the knowledge and skills of school and district teams to plan, implement, and evaluate professional learning. She has also served as the founding director of the Delaware Professional Development Center in Dover, Delaware. The Center, developed by the Delaware State Education Association, focused on school improvement for student achievement and effective professional learning. She also served as the director of the Center for School Change in connection with a National Science Foundation SSI grant, a district coordinator of staff development, and an administrator in a regional educational consortium in Minnesota. Creating and improving professional learning so that it impacts student achievement is one of Pat’s passions.

    Valerie von Frank is an author and editor. She has written extensively about education over several decades as an education reporter and for Learning Forward and National Staff Development Council publications including JSD, Tools for Schools, The Learning System, The Learning Principal, and T3. She is coauthor of numerous books on professional learning. She served as editor of JSD, was book editor for Learning Forward, worked as a daily newspaper editor, was communications director in an urban public school district, and was director of communications and marketing for a Michigan nonprofit school reform organization.


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