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January 23, 2023

Expecting the Unexpected from Professional Learning

Ilya Zeldin, 2gnoMe CEO (reprinted from LinkedIN)

No one really questions the DMV experience. We’ve settled on a certain threshold, following the mechanisms set in place. We don’t expect it to operate any other way.

That’s the DMV, but we have an entirely different - and higher-level - expectation from a visit to a doctor’s office or from our cell phone, for example.

Dr. Maslow famously put together his Hierarchy of Needs, acknowledging that, in general, certain needs must be met before anyone begins to question the way things are and expect more from life. Self- actualization awaits those who can climb the hierarchy to its peak./big>

That got me thinking about adult learning. Most adults, and especially teachers, have a fairly low expectation of professional development. And most teachers don’t expect it to operate any other way.

Shouldn’t teachers expect to be more delighted by their professional learning than by a trip to the DMV?

Leveling Up

If we question the quality of support for teachers - from the teacher’s point of view - we discover the grand opportunity it is meant to be. As the adage goes, students thrive when teachers thrive. That’s the connection - when teachers get the support they need when they need it, student outcomes improve.

So imagine a Hierarchy of Needs around professional learning. What would it take to reach self-actualization?

1. Content | Resources. At the foundation level, districts “tick off the boxes” of providing content to fulfill professional development requirements. This is still the reality at most school districts, brought to life through lecture-style delivery of material and a culture focused on compliance.

2. PD organized around a set of Standards or Framework. The relevance and usefulness of the information increases if content is aligned with a framework or set of standards designed to improve teachers’ practice. This helps relevancy and organization of content, but teachers are still on their own in front of a lot of material from various sources. 

This is about as much as most teachers have come to expect from their professional learning. Far too often, PD comes in fits and starts. It’s an impersonal offering to all teachers. Often untimely, often unactionable.

Perhaps it’s time for teachers to expect more, to level up.

3. Reflection and Personalized Learning. In PD, the opportunity to reflect on one’s practice is rare and is often a missing piece in order to become clear about strengths and areas of growth, aligned with a clear framework of effective teaching. Self-reflection and observations clarify who needs what kind of professional learning in the first place. This insight can be applied to provide learning resources tailored to what each teacher needs.

But learning should be about more than content and self-reflection. Learning is most effective when people support each other through learning communities, coaching, and other peer-to-peer connections. 

4. Peer-to-Peer Connections. Knowledge and awareness should be supported by meaningful connections rooted in the local learning communities. This helps teachers support each other and translate professional learning to improved practices in their classroom.

The final step is self-actualization. I don’t know if anyone has actually reached the top of the hierarchy, because it’s a journey about individual agency.

5. Self-Actualization. Teachers who reach this point on their journey are empowered to support first-year teachers and others who need support. These are the leaders public education needs to meet its mission of helping every student succeed.

Regardless of its definition, self-actualization is a journey, and each teacher on that journey needs a pathway to expecting more out of their professional development.

Maybe you’ll remember this process the next time you’re at the DMV and notice places they can improve to benefit all. Until then, expect more from professional learning aligned to the leading frameworks like the Framework for Teaching by the Danielson Group or the NSQ Online Teaching standards by the National Standards for Quality.

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