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How to deliver PL that really works

5 best practices to take your district’s professional learning to the next level

I recently chatted with Kathy Dyer, NWEA’s manager of innovation and learning, professional learning design, about how to connect professional learning (PL) to student outcomes and how to best support teachers.

According to Dyer, quality PL that sticks with learners is when people learn with, from, and for each other. “The good teaching strategies we use with kids are good strategies for teachers to use to learn as well,” she says.

Dyer encourages administrators to give teachers the opportunity to learn something new or expand and deepen something they already know. “When you give learners the chance to practice or apply what they’ve learned right away, there’s an expectation that they will continue to apply it,” she says. Be sure to include time for reflection in any PL session. By figuring out why something works, what can be adjusted, or what they can quit to put this new practice in place, teachers are able to make those adjustments.

If you can’t provide time for professional learning communities (PLCs), try to set aside time for teachers to collaborate during grade-level, content-level, vertical-team, or staff meetings. “Learning that happens in 10 or 15 minutes can be powerful,” says Dyer. Of course, there’s always social media. “Twitter lets teachers have instantaneous PL opportunities between classes, before school, or any time. Twitter chats are fast-paced conversations where you can walk away with a ton of new ideas.”

Here are five tips for administrators who want to improve their district’s PL.

1. PL must come from the data
Student learning needs should inform your PL. Adult learners too: Survey them to determine the three most pressing things they need to improve.

2. Give teachers voice and choice
For PL to be engaging, teachers need a voice in what they’ll learn and a choice in when they’ll learn it. “At NWEA, all of our on-site PL includes learning centers. For 30 minutes in a half- or full-day workshop, teachers choose one of three topics to explore in depth. They do one session in-person and go home with materials for the other two.”

3. Determine short- and long-term goals
Set goals and be sure to communicate them with your teachers. Dyer says it’s really important to let everyone know your goals and how they relate to change.

4. Make sure everyone knows the success metrics
Teachers (and other participants) need to know what the success criteria are.

5. Have a plan in place for ongoing support
Determine how leadership will support the learning as it moves from Wednesday’s PL session back into the classroom and into the next three to five years: Provide coaching, PLCs, and other embedded long-term ways to change behavior and mindset that are a result of the PL.

“I ask administrators, ‘What challenges you as a learner? What was your best-ever learning experience?’” says Dyer. “As they brainstorm and share, I add one more question: ‘What made it the best?’”

When administrators think about what makes the learning stick, they are able to translate that to their staff.

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