Research suggests when policies and practices related to professional learning are grounded in what quality teacher professional learning looks like, they can support and ultimately incentivize teachers to change their practices to support all students’ development of the knowledge, skills, and competencies they need to thrive.
Additional research challenges assumptions of a clear-cut path to fostering the widespread improvement of teaching (and leading). The research asserts that while we know what good professional development looks like, we’re largely unable to scale it so that all teachers can experience high-quality professional learning events.
The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) took on the challenge of scaling the impact of high-quality professional learning experiences for its educators and leaders in Spring 2020. Supported by the Region 5 Comprehensive Center, TDOE has begun developing a professional learning framework to ensure all professional learning experiences implemented in school districts statewide are high-quality, conducted and assessed consistently, and aligned with adult learning theories.
TDOE has taken following five steps toward the development of its adult learning framework:
- Embed adult learning in a continuous quality improvement process: Professional development of educators is a key lever to improve outcomes for students, but it isn’t always the case that professional learning is scrutinized for its ability to deliver on its promises. Monitoring its efficacy using basic continuous improvement principles and being willing and able to make mid-course corrections are essential to move toward high-impact professional learning.
- Develop a professional learning framework that prioritizes alignment to student outcomes and design approaches focused on adult learners: Such a framework sets in motion expectations for what high-quality professional learning experiences should include and lays out a step-by-step approach to attending to the different aspects of the design work. Most important, the process starts with the end in mind.
- Develop monitoring instruments to track and analyze quality, relevance, and usefulness: There are important reasons for gathering evidence on participants’ learning as a result of a professional learning experience, not least of which is determining if it leads to improvements in student outcomes over time. Designing high-quality evaluation tools and a data dashboard are important tools that can help capture key data to inform the continuous quality improvement process.
- Align procurement and hiring documents with language from the framework: Many standard documents – Requests for proposals for contractors and interview questions and rubrics, as examples, can be revised to reflect aspects of the framework and can utilize scoring mechanisms to award contractors or prospective employees whose work or experience is most in line with the framework’s priorities.
- Walk the talk: State education agencies can lead the way by designing professional learning activities and events that build internal and external understandings of the framework and identify or develop high-quality resources that assist in building the capacity of professional learning designers to do high-quality design work aligned with the framework’s priorities.
The Tennessee framework prioritizes a consistent approach to designing professional learning initiatives and experiences. When implemented, designers across all contexts (state, region, district, building, classroom) will have access to a systematic approach that can be monitored and evaluated.
Results will help school districts identify professional learning models that are most effective in improving education-related processes and practices, and subsequent student achievement outcomes. For more information and assistance with developing a statewide professional learning framework, contact the Region 5 Comprehensive Center.