In this new article, keynote speaker explains why schools cannot achieve racial equity without explicit processes for leaders & staff to examine their personal, professional, & organizational beliefs about race: Beyond Random Acts of Equity
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by Lauren Childs
Job-embedded Professional Learning (JEPL)
I drove to the second fall gathering of the JEPL network with an eagerness for the day’s conversations and with a sense of impatience to see the next steps for strengthening the efforts of this committed, proactive, and thoughtful group of school leaders. My excitement this crisp morning was heightened by knowing the team facilitating today’s agenda had planned for a rich day of panel reflections, new information, and lots of time for the leaders to think and talk together.
The Job-embedded Professional Learning Network, based in Oakland County, has been meeting for the past decade to support teacher leaders’ learning and leadership development as they strive to create and support meaningful professional learning experiences as part of the everyday engagement of practicing teachers.
As lead for this network and mentor for this year’s new leadership team, I kept thinking about the goals the team identified during a late summer design session. I was struck by the questions they raised, questions well beyond the scope of supporting one another’s understanding of adult learning design or facilitation skill development. They had identified a set of driving questions that reflected a maturing of their collective commitment and their aspirations for JEPL to have longer term impacts. I wanted to be sure they kept these questions in mind as their year unfolded. In August they had wondered:
- How might we advocate/educate for the importance of prioritizing JEPL; make advocacy an activity of the network members?
- How might we learn about ways reflection is being embedded into teachers’ practices, work lives?
- Can we articulate the non-negotiables of JEPL so that we can strongly advocate for the prioritizing of resources; what are the tables the advocates need to have a seat?
- How might we help the network use the Standards for Professional Learning to map to their specific district PL plans?
- How do we help districts become more informed about the JEPL options that might work in different contexts (labs, walks, book study, online, video club, lesson study, etc)?
- How might we build the next volume of JEPL guidebook to help with above goals? What platform should we use?
- What if we dedicate one session to inviting administrators to think together about JEPL?
- How do we keep the practical support as well as systems change provided to members of the network?
- What does a “JEPL Network” look like in other states?
At the end of the day, the leadership team was indeed moving these questions forward. Marcia Hudson, Elementary Literacy Consultant and Teacher Leader for Avondale Schools, also the hosting network member, had invited a panel of Avondale administrators to reflect aloud on the connection between job-embedded professional learning and student achievement. The panel included: Dr. James Schwarz – Superintendent of Schools, Carmen Kennedy – Asst. Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Kimberly Hempton – Principal, Auburn Elementary School, and Dr. Cynthia Carver – Asst. Professor Oakland University (Teacher Leadership) and Scholar in Residence at Auburn Elementary. Marcia asked them to begin by focusing on the theory of change that accompanies the Standards for Professional Learning in the Quick Reference guide (https://learningforward.org/docs/pdf/standardsreferenceguide.pdf). They made numerous points:
- We keep our focus on professional learning and know that it is deeper and richer than “training”. Professional learning is an explicit part of our school and district plans.
- We see professional learning as a kind of continuous feedback loop that helps us keep getting better. This approach to professional learning must be engaged regularly, frequently; it is the most important element in driving good instruction.
- And, teachers are best situated to be the architects of the professional learning needed in this paradigm.
- A decade ago, as a profession, we were working from an assumption that teachers would know what to do with the changing needs of students. We now know we must engage in continuous professional learning to create teaching practices that are responsive to student needs.
- It is a connect-the-dots problem—moving theory to practice. We cannot rely on the former approach of new understandings of teaching and learning being presented at the front of a ballroom and expect it to show up in teaching practices, much less impact student outcomes. The student results needed today demand we attend to the theory of change and the standards for professional learning.
When Marcia opened the floor for network members to press the panel with new questions, two stood out: First, “How have you seen Avondale grow into this model, this theory of change?” Second, “How do you suggest we advocate for time with our colleagues to engage in more meaningful professional learning?” Kennedy described an exemplar of how the JEPL model has emerged at their high school through one teacher leader focusing on design thinking. By engaging the administrators in this focus, this teacher helped create and now leads professional learning with and for six other teachers. He leads their pursuit of field trips to explore design thinking in varied contexts.
“When advocating for more time,” advised Schwarz, “you need to come with a plan. Come to the table with a plan—advocate for that plan.” And, chimed in Carver, “use the data to support the plan.”
Carver also commented that she observed and has often puzzled about the districts’ stance of a voluntary approach to participating in some of the PL opportunities, in Teacher Lab Learning specifically. Wouldn’t we want it to be required for all? And, yet, we have all witnessed the voluntary growth of the teacher lab in this one district led to, not a mandate or requirement of all, but a cultural shift that includes all. The take-away for me was this:
After all the conversations we have had about the voluntary versus required participation dilemma inside job-embedded professional learning, it really is culture shifting! We must shape and sustain a culture where educators’ professional learning—at all levels—is valued and pursued with intention.
As I drove away from the school, I smiled, knowing it had been a very good networking day for the group. I later texted my personal reflection back to the leadership team. I felt grounded in the work because of the space for thinking and dialogue they had created for all of us. The day renewed my sense of eagerness—urgency, even—to pursue our Learning Forward Michigan’s aim to pursue a statewide professional learning network that asks big questions—and goes after them. Perhaps you will join us!
Author: Judy Walton, Chief Innovation Officer, Forest Hills Public Schools
Background: During a two week trip to Australia, Judy visited several schools as a part of her interest and study on the topic of student voice. This particular post is of interest because of how student voice influences the professional learning for the teachers.
STUDENTS LEADING THE WAY
In the midst of a two-week trip to Melbourne, I had the great fortune to visit two state schools, both Years 9-12. My first visit was to Mt. Waverley Secondary College, a large co-ed school in a middle class suburb. The following day, I spent time at Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School, somewhat smaller, and just a short tram ride from the Central Business District. Unlike Mt. Waverley, Mac.Rob is a magnet school with an application process.
I went to the schools through the generous invitation of Roger Holdsworth, a man of many talents and an educator who truly believes in the democratic agency of all students.I met Roger online in a group dedicated to student voice while researching my dissertation. Sight unseen, he set up the school visits and made the rounds with me. My conversations with him were thought-provoking and have helped me grow my thinking.
Both of the schools I visited participate with the Victorian Student Representative Council – “VicSRC” – a state-funded body representing students. Through support from that agency, both schools engage in their own versions of Teach the Teacher, where students lead professional learning for educators in an atmosphere of open, honest, and nonjudgmental communication. I had the privilege to meet with students from both schools who are working with teachers to improve the learning in their schools.
Like many in education, the students are anxious for change. They recognize that their time at the school is limited, and they desire systems for sustainable change. They recognize the external and internal pressures on teachers stemming from economics and accountability, and they are willing to work shoulder-to-shoulder with them to make positive change. They recognize that not every educator is welcoming student voice with open ears, and they continue to believe in what they are doing. They recognize that in some ways their input is still at the tokenism level, and they persist in advocating for equality.
At Mt. Waverley, the Teach the Teacher program is currently centered around a shared belief among teachers and students that strong relationships are important to creating a healthy learning environment.Students led learning for staff and students around the perception data gathered in the school and worked together to draft a survey for teachers to use to gain feedback from students in individual classrooms.The teachers used the feedback to improve relationships, and thereby improve learning. To read more in-depth on this project, click here and forward to page 8. Another project the students are interested in is re-purposing the first 15-20 minutes of school so that teachers and students become more of a community of learners.
At Mac.Rob, the students and staff are engaged in a four-year strategic plan that includes their version of Teach the Teacher, known as Creating Conversations. Students take part in four different areas of the school: curriculum, building and logistics, e-learning, and wellbeing. On the day I was there, the students were holding an open forum on the Year 10 English curriculum, which had been reconfigured within the last few years. The students are seeking to understand the impact the curriculum change has had on students as they move up into Years 11 and 12, and on the teachers who are implementing the new curriculum. Like many schools in the U.S., the Mac.Rob students sometimes have a day off while their teachers engage in professional learning. The students also have an interest in measuring the impact that professional learning has on classroom learning.
What might we achieve in our schools if we not only engage student voice, but welcome students as leaders of learning? We talk to students all the time; what might happen if we talk with them? More importantly, what is possible if we listen as well? Why not learn from those most impacted by policies and decisions? Why not let them lead the way?
Judy regularly blogs on a variety of topics related to teaching and learning. To read more of Judy’s posts, click here.
As teachers and professionals, we know that continuous growth matters.
Last week, several of us who live and breathe learning had the chance to spend two days in Chicago to present our ideas on how to provide teachers with the best professional development possible.
The Agents for Learning competition—sponsored by Learning Forward and NCTAF—was the perfect opportunity to showcase our ideas. After weeks of researching the Every Student Succeeds Act and how it allows funding for teachers’ professional learning, 12 teams submitted winning proposals. Finalist teams were invited to Chicago, assigned a coach from a supporting educational organization, and given time to fine tune a four minute presentation summarizing our proposals. At the competition, our judges were also distinguished leaders in the field, including 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes and the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, Chris Minnich.
Of the 12 teams, three were led by TeachStrong Ambassadors who have committed to modernizing and elevating the teaching profession. The TeachStrong coalition, which includes over 60 diverse education organizations and nearly 100 teacher Ambassadors, has laid out nine principles—including the need to design professional learning to better address student and teacher needs.
Below are some of the TeachStrong Ambassadors’ key take-aways from the experience:
- Hoping to represent our state (New Mexico) well, we named our team “Breaking Bad PD.” Seth Gerson, the director of government relations at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, gently coached our team as we whittled our proposal into a short, compelling presentation. Who said summarizing was easy?
In New Mexico, we want to ensure that every teacher has the chance to engage in high-functioning, inquiry-driven collaborative teams. Our plan outlined how we can do this by building the capacity of teacher leaders to lead those teams. This training would focus on teaching educators key facilitation skills and continuous improvement processes. We also advocated for increasing administrator training support in developing shared leadership structures and cultures that encourage collaboration and inquiry.
Our presentation went off without a hitch—no falling off of the stage or anything! We especially enjoyed the opportunity to hear from our forward-thinking peers and colleagues.
- Our team of Michigan Educator Voice Fellows understands that the incredible talent of Michigan educators needs to be shared across the state to increase student success. We recommend using teacher-leaders in hybrid roles, allowing them to keep one foot in the classroom while they share their expertise with colleagues. We also recognize the value of including teacher voice in the education policy space.
The Agents for Learning Competition was an ideal professional learning experience. None of the ideas presented will “sit on the shelf”—instead, the proposals will be used to impact educational systems across the country. Michelle King from Learning Forward (our coach) gave us essential guidance to reflect upon and improve our plan. What’s more, we were able to connect with another Michigan finalist team and are looking forward to blending our ideas to improve the quality of public education in Michigan.
- Our Michigan team focused on creating collaborative networks. We recommended that four regions of the state unite and create a plan for teachers to collaborate, exchange ideas, and share resources to meet the needs of students. My key reflection from the experience is that when educators have the time and opportunity to collaborate, magic happens. Throughout the competition, our coach asked critical questions, provided feedback, and encouraged action as we streamlined our idea. We received considerations and questions from educators across the country, allowing us to substantially improve our idea. When educators have time to engage and reflect deeply on their ideas, students naturally become the focus of professional learning. This is how change really happens.
- Over the course of a day and a half, we honed our state-wide, ESSA-based professional learning plan into a four-minute presentation. We also spent time planning next steps and stakeholder engagement, as our professional learning plan is closely aligned with work that our team is doing to advance accomplished teaching in our state. Several of our team members comprise the leadership team of the Michigan National Board Certified Teacher’s Network and we will continue incorporating our state-wide professional learning plan into that work. We are also excited about the opportunity to collaborate with the other Agents for Learning team from Michigan, as both teams’ plans promote access for all teachers to quality, job-embedded professional learning that will result in increased achievement for our students.
The Agents for Learning competition was a truly meaningful professional learning experience. Rather than sitting in a conference room for two days and listening to panels, we had the chance to translate our ideas into action. It is our hope that these recommendations—culled by our years of experience as teachers and teacher leaders—be incorporated into district, state, and federal education policy. We must continue to be afforded a seat at the policy table, especially as these professional development plans are implemented nationwide.