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November 1, 2018
Vol. 76
No. 3

Reader's Guide / Redefining Teacher Learning for a New Era

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Credit: ©Susie Fitzhugh
In our Turn and Talk interview this month, we asked Mandy Manning, the current National Teacher of the Year, what was the best professional development experience of her career. She responded without hesitation: The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' certification process.
"That's a truly self-directed approach," Manning said of the National Board's portfolio-based program. "They provide you with the structure through which you're going to grow as an educator, but the whole pathway you take is completely self-directed."
Leaving aside the question of the National Board's supremacy, I think Manning's point about the importance of both self-direction and structure to effective teacher PD is a critical one. In fact, it's an idea that runs throughout this issue of Educational Leadership on teacher-led professional learning.
It's not hard to see that the field of teacher professional development is in a period of transition—perhaps even confusion. There's long been a growing consensus that conventional, go-to PD methods such as workshops and in-service presentations are of questionable value (even as they remain widely in use). Even some of the newer, more collaborative PD vehicles like professional learning communities have seen waning enthusiasm, due primarily to disjointed implementation and lack of clarity.
Meanwhile, the digital revolution has vastly expanded the ways teachers can get and share ideas and resources on their own, with video and social media, in particular, playing a growing role in their information gathering. Technology has, in effect, decentralized teacher learning—but it's not clear that schools have effectively adjusted to this change.
In different ways, all the articles in this issue grapple with this basic context for current-state teacher PD. And the solutions they offer are all compelling variants of Manning's insight on what she liked about the National Board program: The way forward in teacher professional learning is for schools to provide supporting, goal-directed structures, while leveraging new avenues of learning and teachers' own expertise and leadership capacities to allow for greater self-direction.
This imperative is most directly set out in the opening article by Allison Rodman. Rodman encourages school leaders to break free of "one-time workshops and top-down mandates" by empowering "teachers to take a significant role in their own learning experiences." This can be done, she says, by adapting school PD plans to the central components of personalized learning—learner voice, codesign, social construction, and self-discovery. "Teachers don't want to be passive receivers of 'best practices,'" Rodman writes, "but codesigners on a journey of professional self-discovery."
In another key piece, instructional coach Brian K. Jones offers a game plan for using PD to undergird school instructional priorities while also giving teachers greater autonomy in their learning. He recommends more flexibility in delivery formats, a focus on task-driven learning, and greater choice in content. Such elements, he says, can keep school PD programs "fresh and focused"—and alleviate the sense that they amount to a "shadowy threat" to teachers' independence and discretion.

Empowering Teachers

Other articles provide guidance to both teachers and school leaders on specific aspects of the shift to a more teacher-led PD paradigm. Jim Knight, for example, offers ideas to help educators take risks in their learning, given the availability of new opportunities. Principals Steven Lamkin and Todd Nesloney discuss ways to cultivate independent video reflection in schools to help teachers take greater ownership of their practice and development. And Meghan Lockwood examines how schools can better support teacher teams without micromanaging their work or direction.
These matters are nothing if not timely. This issue is being published in a period not just of transition for professional development but also, as Manning notes, of rising teacher activism and empowerment. We hope that it inspires schools to leverage these related trends and navigate a way forward in teacher learning that genuinely values and harnesses educator voice and professionalism.
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Guiding Questions for Select Articles in this Issue

› Rodman states that while differentiation and personalization are now common in K–12 classrooms, teacher PD still tends to be one-size-fits-all. Why do you think this discrepancy persists?
› What aspects of personalized learning could you introduce to PD offerings in your district? What challenges stand in the way and how could they be addressed?
› Have you ever found yourself in the Zero-Learning Zone? What do you think was the cause of your stalled learning?
› What is one topic or subject that you'd like to learn more about? What steps can you take today to find out more about it?
› What opportunities can you and your colleagues take advantage of to see yourself and your teaching from a different perspective?
› Stewart cites survey data showing that U.S. teachers rate their "work environment" comparatively low. In what ways could opportunities for collaboration and meaningful professional learning change that?
› Review the structures for teacher collaboration, formal peer mentoring, and even funding that countries use to help teachers develop and share innovations (pp. 31–33). Which of these structures would it be helpful for your school or district to set up? Could they realistically do so?
› In your experience, what barriers stand in the way of job-embedded, teacher-led learning programs in schools? How could they be addressed?
"Spreading the Practice of Video Reflection" by Steven Lamkin and Todd Nesloney
› Do teachers in your school commonly use video for self-reflection and professional learning? If not, what obstacles stand in the way and how could they be addressed?
› As a school leader, how could you help initiate or enhance this practice (while ensuring that it's teacher-led)?
› What advantages might video-based reflection have as a form of professional learning? How could it improve instructional practices in your school district?
"Making Teacher Teams Work" by Meghan Lockwood
› Do teachers teams in your school have enough support to make meaningful instructional changes? Based on your reading of this article, what additional resources might they need?
› Think about your own experiences working on teacher teams. What conditions contributed to their success or shortcomings?
› How can school leaders balance the need to support teacher teams with the need to give them enough autonomy to "make meaning for themselves"? Is this a challenge in your school or district? Why or why not?

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