In 2016, Lauri Calvert partnering with Learning Forward and NCTAF, published a report focusing on what teachers need to make professional learning work for them. The report can be downloaded in its entirety for free at https://learningforward.org/publications/teacher-agency . The report contains many examples from schools and recommendations to make professional learning beneficial for teachers. Below is an excerpt from the article highlighting the work of Westside Community Schools.
Greg Betts, the director of professional learning at Westside Community Schools (about 6,000 students in Omaha, Nebraska), decided in the summer of 2014 that the district had to figure out a new way to help teachers improve their instructional practices. Betts, a former teacher and principal, could tell that their current system of professional learning needed to evolve to meet the needs of educators just as classroom instruction had been evolving to meet the individual needs of students. “The ‘sit and get’ just wasn’t working,” he said, “We knew this.” To mix things up, district leaders asked teachers to propose sessions on instructional best practices that they could present to colleagues during a PD day that was akin to speed dating.
“In the morning, teachers presented for a minute about their work, and peers chose what and who they wanted to learn from,” Betts said. Survey data about the new format showed it was beneficial to teacher learning, but district leaders knew from Standards for Professional Learning that for the professional learning to affect teaching and learn-ing on a large scale, it needed not only to offer teachers agency, but also to be ongoing and aligned to district goals. The Learning Communities standard, for example, deals with the need for professional learning to occur “within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment.” The District Teaching and Learning Team developed an innovative strategy to balance teachers’ individual learning needs with those of the system and ensure that the learning is continuous and embedded throughout the year. So, for the 2015–16 school year in the
Westside District, teachers participate in four full-day professional learning sessions offered quarterly by the district, with four follow-up sessions on early-dismissal days. During the full-day sessions, teachers attend three different professional learning sessions: two of their choice and one common session on a focus topic for the district.
• One common session. After analyzing district and school data, the Teaching and Learning Team selected one instructional focus for the school year: eliciting student response. The quarterly professional learning days include one required session on eliciting student response, thus expanding and following up on the topic from session to session. • Two independent choices. Teachers select two sessions to attend, from approximately 51 learning topics, based on their interests and needs. The independent sessions are designed and led by teachers who have submitted proposals that fit under the district’s instructional objectives. This year, all topics fit into one or more of three categories: personalized learning, technology, and literacy.
Feedback was positive from teachers who participated in the first full-day session and follow up in October; they appreciated the “personalized approach to professional development,” the “practical” strategies presented, and that there was “enough time to learn new things, but also to really explore what I’d learned and have some good discussions about it.” Many comments dealt specifically with the importance of teachers being allowed agency for their learning. “I appreciate the efforts to make these professional development days beneficial for us, and not a waste of time,” one teacher wrote. Another wrote, “I appreciate being able to choose sessions that I am interested in or that apply to me!”
Citation for this work: Calvert, L. (2016). Moving from compliance to agency: What teachers need to make professional learning work. Oxford, OH: Learning Forward and NCTAF.