Leading Learning: Where Do I Begin?

Dear Dr. Dialogue:

I am new to the role of supporting colleagues in their professional learning. I am curious about what I might need to be aware of in order to encourage and develop effective professional learning opportunities. Any suggestions you have to help me in my leadership role would be greatly appreciated.

‘Wondering’ Wayne

Dear Wayne:

There is a great deal of research and models of practice to guide you in your work. An historical lens for staff development is founded in the idea that quality professional learning is results driven [begins with the ‘end in mind’], job-imbedded [during the workday in the workplace], and standards-based [using the Standards for Professional Learning; Learning Forward 2011]. The Standards outline the characteristics of effective professional learning. They serve as indicators that guide the learning, facilitation, implementation and evaluation of professional learning.

In The Learning Educator: A new era for professional learning [NSDC 2007], Hirsh and Killion present eight principles that describe professional learning in action. The principles are intended to “create a culture of collective responsibility that will get results for students via effective professional learning.” Hirsh and Killion contend that “if professional development decision makers accept the principles, then their decisions and actions will contribute positively to ensure that professional learning will improve leading, teaching and learning.”

The principles form a foundational lens through which we might view the thoughts, words, and actions of our roles as supporters of professional learning. I invite you to reflect on a summary statement of each principle as it is outlined in the book:

  • Principles: Principles shape our thoughts, words and actions.
  • Diversity: Diversity strengthens an organization and improves its decisions
  • Leadership: Leaders are responsible for building the capacity in individuals, teams, and organizations to be leaders and learners.
  • Planning: Ambitious goals lead to powerful actions and remarkable results,
  • Focus: Maintaining the focus of professional learning on teaching and student learning produces academic success.
  • Impact: Evaluation strengthens performance and results.
  • Expertise: Communities can solve even the most complex problems by tapping internal expertise.
  • Collaboration: Collaboration among educators builds shared responsibility and improves student learning.

In their commentary in Every Educator a Learning Educator [Education Week, April 2008], Hirsh and Killion ask us to think about how we enhance teaching practice so that school-based learning helps improve student learning. I encourage you to apply some of these principles in your work and monitor the results.

In the Spring 2012 Tools for Learning Schools, Lois Brown Easton discusses aspects of a TED conference talk by Simon Sinek; “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” He comments that professional learning often focuses on the what educators want to do to improve education, and perhaps how something works, but seldom clarify why something is needed. Sinek proposes “that leaders begin with why first, then address how and finally what.” In discussing this ‘inside out approach,’ Sinek comments that “the desire to change [why] needs to precede how and what we do to make change.” I encourage you to read this to help frame your approach to supporting your colleagues.

With the Standards to guide you in setting policy and shaping practice in professional learning, along with insight into 8 principles of professional learning, and being thoughtful about why you are doing what you are doing and why it works, you have a foundation to anchor your work in supporting professional learning.

Remember that a Learning Forward B.C. Board member would be happy to support you. You might consider attending a Learning Forward networking dinner where you can learn from others in similar roles.

Dr. Dialogue.

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