Recently I had the privilege of testifying before the Florida Senate and House Education Committees on the vital importance of ensuring that Florida teachers are provided with robust, meaningful learning opportunities to continually refine their teaching practice. I was honored to present alongside a number of Florida superintendents and other experts in the field who agreed that this is an indispensable piece of the puzzle when it comes to delivering impactful and effective instruction in Florida classrooms and successful academic outcomes for students.
But let’s face it: Whether it’s called continuing education, professional development, common planning, or what’s done during early release, it may be perceived as an ineffective strategy. And in turn, frustrates school and district leaders who are trying to cultivate improvement.
As a former teacher and principal myself, and currently, in a position where I can look at professional learning on a larger, statewide scale, I am moved by this need to review structures and best practices that can ensure effective professional learning at scale. Given Impact Florida’s shared focus with this goal, I would like to echo some of the themes I shared recently with lawmakers:
- Professional learning is one of the key levers for improving student success. Professional learning must be differentiated and should not be a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Educators must be given professional learning options that foster changes in their practice to result in increased student outcomes.
- Professional learning should be connected to the school’s and/or district’s goals and needs. Random acts of professional learning with no follow-up is ineffective and may translate to poor outcomes for students, leaving educators disenfranchised about the importance of professional learning.
- Professional learning should be a coordinated effort. Involving teachers and leaders in the design, development, implementation, and evaluation of PD is a strong model that can lead to better outcomes for educators and students.
All those points are easy to say; implementing them (as I know from experience) is a different matter. If you are wondering how well you are doing in designing and providing this type of effective professional learning for your educators, I pose the following questions:
1.) Is your professional learning connected? This can be defined in various ways, but here are a few for you to consider:
- Is it connected to your district’s overall vision for what defines effective instruction?
- Is it based on the instructional materials your teachers are teaching with?
- Is it connected to the grade level, content area, or special needs of the student population?
- Are topics reinforced and monitored, after their introduction at a session, and are professional development topics themselves connected?
2.) Are you ensuring the quality of the professional learning being provided? This is so important because it is SO IMPACTFUL. Professional learning should change you and your students in a positive way.
3.) Are you utilizing effective professional learning that changes both teachers’ and leaders’ PRACTICES and BEHAVIORS?
- Are you, as a leader, engaging alongside your teachers and your instructional leadership team in professional learning? This is crucial to ensure the alignment of instructional expectations.
- If your professional learning isn’t addressing the mindsets and expectations of the educators and leaders in your building, you are missing half of what makes professional learning so powerful – a translation into improved instructional expectations and student outcomes in the classroom.
I know I have only scratched the surface of what is, to me, one of the most important aspects of education. I believe we have yet to fully realize the potential of professional learning and its capacity to transform both teacher efficacy and student success. I look forward to continuing this conversation during the upcoming legislative session with lawmakers but also with practitioners like you. Interested in being part of the solution with me and Impact Florida? Send an email to info@Impactfl.org and let’s keep learning.