Reach the Highest Standard in Professional Learning: Outcomes


Delores B. Lindsey, Randall B. Lindsey, Shirley M. Hord & 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 not only provide 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 inform 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 discussion about the standards. Shirley M. Hord and Patricia Roy, series editors and 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 Outcomes Standard

    Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students aligns its outcomes with educator performance and student curriculum standards.

    For all students to learn, educators and professional learning must be held to high standards. Professional learning that increases results for all students addresses the learning outcomes and performance expectations education systems designate for students and educators. When the content of professional learning integrates student curriculum and educator performance standards, the link between educator learning and student learning becomes explicit, increasing the likelihood that professional learning contributes to increased student learning. When systems increase the stakes for students by demanding high, equitable outcomes, the stakes for professional learning increase as well.

    Meet Performance Standards

    Educator performance standards typically delineate the knowledge, skills, practices, and dispositions of highly effective educators. Standards guide preparation, assessment, licensing, induction, practice, and evaluation. Frequently regulated by government agencies, standards establish requirements for educator preparation, define expectations of an effective workforce, guide career-long professional learning of the education workforce, and set fair and reliable indicators of effectiveness for measuring educator performance.

    Teacher standards specify what teachers need to know and do to deliver on the promise of an effective, equitable education for every student. Typical areas included in teacher standards are knowledge, skills, and dispositions related to content knowledge; pedagogy; pedagogical content knowledge; assessment; understanding how students learn; understanding how students' cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development influences their learning; engaging students with diverse cultures, language, gender, socioeconomic conditions, and exceptionalities; engaging families and communities in student learning; and creating learning environments, professional growth and development, and professional collaboration.

    Standards for school and system leaders, like teacher standards, describe what effective leaders know and do so that every student and educator performs at high levels. Whether for teacher leaders or school or school system administrators, these standards delineate specific expectations for preparation, assessment, licensure, professional learning, practice, and evaluation of those engaged in leadership roles within a school or school system. Typical areas covered in leader standards include establishing a vision and strategic plan for effective learning; leading learning of students and staff; developing workplace culture to support learning; engaging in their own professional learning; managing facilities, workforce, operations, and resources; establishing effective relationships and communication systems; managing change; sharing leadership with others; engaging staff and families in decision making; understanding and responding to the diverse needs of students and communities; understanding and responding to cultural, political, social, legal, and financial contexts; and securing individual, team, school, and whole system accountability for student success.

    Standards for other members of the education workforce delineate the unique knowledge, skills, qualities, and dispositions required of those in specialized roles. These roles include school nurses, guidance counselors, librarians, instructional coaches, resource personnel, classroom assistants, and other instructional and non-instructional staff who are vital to schools and school systems. Standards for advanced or specialized certification guide professional learning for those who seek career advancement or differentiated roles.

    Address Learning Outcomes

    Student learning outcomes define equitable expectations for all students to achieve at high levels and hold educators responsible for implementing appropriate strategies to support student learning. Learning for educators that focuses on student learning outcomes has a positive effect on changing educator practice and increasing student achievement. Whether the learning outcomes are developed locally or nationally and are defined in content standards, courses of study, curriculum, or curricular programs, these learning outcomes serve as the core content for educator professional learning to support effective implementation and results. With student learning outcomes as the focus, professional learning deepens educators' content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and understanding of how students learn the specific discipline. Using student learning outcomes as its outcomes, professional learning can model and engage educators in practices they are expected to implement within their classrooms and workplaces.

    Build Coherence

    Coherence requires that professional learning builds on what educators have already learned; focuses on learning outcomes and pedagogy aligned with national or local curriculum and assessments for educator and student learning; aligns with educator performance standards; and supports educators in developing sustained, ongoing professional communication with other educators who are engaged in similar changes in their practice. Any single professional learning activity is more likely to be effective in improving educator performance and student learning if it builds on earlier professional learning and is followed up with later, more advanced work to become a part of a coherent set of opportunities for ongoing professional learning. Coherence also ensures that professional learning is a part of a seamless process that begins in the preparation program, continues throughout an educator's career, and aligns tightly with the expectations for effectiveness defined in performance standards and student learning outcomes.

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

    About the Authors

    Delores B. Lindsey, PhD, a recently retired Associate Professor from California State University, San Marcos, has also served as a middle grades and high school teacher, assistant principal, principal, and county office administrator. Her primary focus is developing and supporting culturally proficient leaders. Using the lens of Cultural Proficiency, Delores helps educational leaders examine their organization's policies and practices as well as their individual beliefs and values about cross-cultural communication. Her message to her audiences focuses on nurturing socially just educational practices, developing culturally proficient leadership practices, and using diversity as an asset and resource. Delores is coauthor of Culturally Proficient Instruction: A Guide for People Who Teach, 3rd ed. (2012), Culturally Proficient Coaching: Supporting Educators to Create Equitable Schools (2007), Culturally Proficient Learning Communities: Confronting Inequities Through Collaborative Inquiry (2009) and A Culturally Proficient Response to the Common Core: Ensuring Equity Through Professional Learning (2015). Delores facilitates educators to develop their own inquiry and action research. She relies on the power of story and storytelling to enhance learning experiences. She asks reflective questions and encourages group members to use questions as prompts for their organizational stories. Her favorite reflective questions are: Who are we? and Are we who we say we are?

    Randall B. Lindsey, PhD, is Emeritus Professor, California State University, Los Angeles, and has a practice centered on educational consulting and issues related to equity and access. Prior to higher education faculty roles, Randy served as a junior and senior high school history teacher, a district office administrator for school desegregation, and executive director of a nonprofit corporation. All of Randy's experiences have been in working with diverse populations, and his area of study is the behavior of white people in multicultural settings. It is his belief and experience that too often members of dominant groups are observers of cross-cultural issues rather than personally involved with them. He works with colleagues to design and implement programs for and with schools and community-based organizations to provide access and achievement.

    With coauthors Kikanza Nuri Robins and Raymond Terrell, he published the initial Cultural Proficiency book, Cultural Proficiency: A Manual for School Leaders, now in its 3rd edition (2009) for Corwin. His most recent books, also with Corwin, include Culturally Proficient Collaboration: The Use and Misuse of School Counselors (with Diana L. Stephens, 2011); an edited volume The Best of Corwin: Equity (2012); Culturally Proficient Practice: Supporting Educators of English Learning Students (with Reyes Quezada and Delores Lindsey, 2012); and A Culturally Proficient Response to the Common Core: Ensuring Equity Through Professional Learning (with Delores B. Lindsey, Karen M. Kearney, Delia Estrada, and Raymond D. Terrell, 2015). Randall will publish a chapter titled “Culturally Proficient Leadership: Doing What's Right for Students—All Students” (with coauthor Raymond Terrell, 2015) in Key Questions for Educational Leaders edited by John P. Portelli and Darrin Griffiths and published by Words and Deeds. Randy and his wife and frequent coauthor, Delores, are enjoying this phase of life as grandparents, as educators, and in support of just causes that extend the promises of democracy throughout society in authentic ways.

    Dr. Shirley M. Hord, PhD, is the Scholar Laureate of Learning Forward (previously National Staff Development Council), following her retirement as Scholar Emerita at the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory in Austin, Texas. There she directed the Strategies for Increasing Student Success Program. She continues to design and coordinate professional development activities related to educational change and improvement, school leadership, and the creation of professional learning communities.

    Her early roles as elementary school classroom teacher and university science education faculty at The University of Texas at Austin were followed by her appointment as co-director of Research on the Improvement Process at the Research and Development Center for Teacher Education at The University of Texas at Austin. There she administered and conducted research on school improvement and the role of school leaders in school change.

    She served as a fellow of the National Center for Effective Schools Research and Development and was U.S. representative to the Foundation for the International School Improvement Project, an international effort that develops research, training, and policy initiatives to support local school improvement practices. In addition to working with educators at all levels across the United States and Canada, Hord makes presentations and consults in Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa, and Mexico.

    Her current interests focus on the creation and functioning of educational organizations as learning communities and the role of leaders who serve such organizations. Dr. Hord is the author of numerous articles and books, of which a selection of the most recent are Implementing Change: Patterns, Principles, and Potholes, 4th ed. (with Gene E. Hall, 2015); Reclaiming Our Teaching Profession: The Power of Educators Learning in Community (with Edward F. Tobia, 2012); and A Playbook for Professional Learning: Putting the Standards Into Action (with Stephanie Hirsh, 2012).

    Valerie von Frank is an author, editor, and communications consultant. A former newspaper editor and education reporter, she has focused much of her writing on education issues, including professional learning. She served as communications director in an urban school district and a nonprofit school reform organization and was the editor for 7 years of JSD, the flagship magazine for the National Staff Development Council, now Learning Forward. She has written extensively for education publications, including JSD, Tools for Schools, The Learning System, The Learning Principal, and T3. She is coauthor with Ann Delehant of Making Meetings Work: How to Get Started, Get Going, and Get It Done (Corwin, 2007); with Linda Munger of Change, Lead, Succeed (National Staff Development Council, 2010); with Robert Garmston of Unlocking Group Potential to Improve Schools (Corwin, 2012); and with Jennifer Abrams of The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicate, Collaborate, and Create Community (Corwin, 2014).

  • Appendix Professional Learning Planning Checklist

    Part A: Professional Development Standards
    CONTEXT:The context refers to “how” the organization is set up and the culture of the school. Creating context is an ongoing process. The first step is to organize staff into professional learning communities whose goals are aligned with those of the school and with district initiatives.

    ___ organizes adults into learning communities that have goals in alignment with the school and District

    ___ requires skillful school and District leaders to guide continuous instructional improvement

    ___ requires resources to support adult learning and collaboration

    PROCESS:The process refers to the “how” of professional development—namely, the type and forms of professional learning activities and the way those activities are planned, organized, implemented, and followed up.

    ___ applies disaggregated student data to determine adult learning priorities, monitor progress, and sustain continuous improvement

    ___ uses multiple sources of evaluation information to guide improvement and demonstrate its impact

    ___ prepares educators to apply research to decision making

    ___ designs learning strategies appropriate to the intended goal

    ___ applies knowledge about human learning and change

    ___ provides educators with knowledge and skills to collaborate

    CONTENT:The content refers to the “what” of professional development. What is it that the entire faculty needs, even if different processes are used? What is it that students must know and be able to do?

    ___ prepares educators to understand and appreciate all students (equity); create safe, orderly, and supportive learning environments; and set high expectations for their academic achievement

    ___ deepens educators’ content knowledge, provides research-based instructional strategies to assist educators in helping students meet rigorous academic standards, and prepares them to use various types of classroom assessments appropriately (quality teaching)

    ___ provides knowledge and skills to help educators involve families and other stakeholders

    Part B: Goals, Objectives, and Desired Outcomes
    • Identify the strategic goal(s) or school improvement plan area(s) to be addressed by this professional development activity.







    • What are the specific desired outcomes for this activity relating to anticipated changes in the participants? Identify outcomes for at least one indicator of change:

      • Knowledge:



      • Attitudes:



      • Skills:



      • Aspirations:



      • Behaviors:



    Part C: Data Analysis
    • What data were reviewed to determine the need for this activity? (Multiple sets of data should be reviewed, including educator and student data.)



    • What data will be gathered in order to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of this activity?



    Part D: Identify Resources
    • Fiscal:



    • Human:



    • Other:



    Part E: Follow-Up
    • What follow-up activities will be used to support ongoing professional learning (e.g., face-to-face, online modules, learning teams)?





    • How will follow-up be scheduled?

    Part F: Evaluation

    What measures will you use to assess whether the activity enabled the school to meet its goal? Evaluate the achievement of objectives at the school, team, and grade levels. What are the indicators demonstrating successful application of the knowledge or skills in the classroom to promote student achievement?





    Part G: Continuous Planning

    What are the next steps with respect to the specific activity—continue, modify, and repeat the activity?





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