When professional learning is a barrier to continuous improvement…


Dennis SparksIn my experience most of us already know enough to make a much larger difference. 

While additional knowledge and skills may be helpful, a significant barrier to continuous improvement is the “default setting” of many educators to learn more before acting.

I value learning. I have always enjoyed learning how to do my work more effectively and efficiently. I enjoy learning about a diverse range of subjects that interest me. And I appreciate learning about things that I didn’t know interested me, like when my eye travels from shelf to shelf in a library or bookstore or when I follow a series of hyperlinks wherever they may take me.

But the endless pursuit of new professional learning can also be a barrier, and even a form of procrastination or avoidance, to diligently applying what we already know to improve leadership and teaching for the students who are in our classrooms today.

Sometimes the search for “perfect” knowledge prevents us from acting on the “good enough” knowledge that will benefit students now.

How do you distinguish between “I already know enough” and “New learning is essential?”


8 Responses to “When professional learning is a barrier to continuous improvement…”

  1. 1 dfgately April 30, 2014 at 5:10 am

    This is a great piece Dennis and really has me thinking. I have to confess to the ready – aim – aim – aim… syndrome. Will use these thoughts as motivation.

  2. 3 Lmacdonald April 30, 2014 at 10:02 am

    When a student walks in my office with some “new” incident that I’ve never dealt with before, my initial thought is, ” what do I do with this?” However I find if I just go with it, listen and gather enough evidence, I already know enough to make decisions. This is important to me because with children it is often important to act in a timely manner. Once the situation is played out, it is then that I chose to reflect on my choices and if needed, educate myself further for next time.
    When I see a trend that needs to be addressed school wide, I take what I know, see what new information is currently avaiable and provide time at meetings to address the issues. A lot has to do with time sensitivity.

  3. 4 Dennis Sparks April 30, 2014 at 10:08 am

    Thank you, Laura, for adding another valuable application for this idea. Sometimes it is important to act based on what we know. Sometimes it is important to slow things down to reflect and deliberate…. Knowing when to do each is part of the artistry of successful leadership.

  4. 5 Justin Baeder (@eduleadership) April 30, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Fabulous point, Dennis—this brings to mind the “analysis by paralysis” that so often keeps us from moving forward.

    I think having a bias toward action and experimentation is always going to get us farther, faster, than continuing to learn.

    Great post—thanks for sharing this reflection.

    • 6 Dennis Sparks April 30, 2014 at 5:59 pm

      Clear, ambitious goals for the learning of all students + bias toward action + action + reflection/learning + [REPEAT] = continuous improvement. Thanks for your comment, Justin, and the “formula” it inspired.

  5. 7 Mike Phillips May 4, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    How about this for a rule or habit?

    I will focus on learning one thing deeply and implementing it into my practice to improve student learning/school culture. I will do this knowing that my current knowledge and skills are sufficient with dealing with most situations. If I need help, I ask for support or guidance from a mentor/coach/colleague/role model.


  6. 8 Dennis Sparks May 5, 2014 at 10:15 am

    You have condensed a lot of meaning into a brief comment: A high-impact goal focused on student learning and/or school culture achieved through a carefully chosen and fully implemented habit (or two). I really appreciate your comment, Mike

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