1. Learning about: This is the adult version of “covering the content.” It is often expressed by the phrase “I had…” [During the 1980s I so often heard "I had Madeline Hunter" that I almost (but not quite) felt honor bound to tell Mr. Hunter about the rumors regarding his wife.]
2. Shallow understanding: The best example I can think of was a participant in a cooperative learning workshop who wrote on an evaluation: “I think this is a good idea, but you made us work in groups too much.”
3. Deep understanding: Learners can explain the idea or practice in some detail. They can also explain its benefits and limitations.
4. Experimenting with new behaviors/practices: The learner tries it out in the classroom or other setting to determine its effectiveness, sometimes with the guidance of an instructional coach or more experienced peer.
5. Developing new habits: Repetition over many weeks and perhaps months make the new practice routine and under teachers executive control, enabling them to determine when and how to use it.
I am sad to say…
…that based on my observations the vast majority of professional learning for teachers and administrators remains at levels 1 and 2. There are exceptions, of course, but they remain exceptions rather than the rule. (Please see my previous post to better understand the distinction between professional development and professional learning.)
The reason is fairly simple: Those who plan and finance professional learning continue to vastly underestimate the amount of time, energy, and resources that are required for a substantial number of educators to acquire the new habits of mind and behavior necessary to meaningfully improve teaching and learning for all students.
The solution requires planners of professional learning to take their responsibilities seriously:
- They study professional literature, particularly Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning.
- They vow to do it right.
- They have hard conversations about current reality.
- They have hard conversations about what will be required to get to deep understanding and the development of new professional habits of mind and practice.
- They assess their progress in changing instructional practice and improving student learning.
Our students—particularly those in our most challenged communities and schools—deserve no less.
Do you agree with my observation and with the solution I propose to the perennial problem of low-quality professional learning?