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Intentional and Deliberate Adult Learning

We all know that the school is the site for student learning. We may engage in substantial discourse about what students are to learn, how they are to learn it, and when, but student learning remains the ultimate goal.

We also know that the most significant factor in whether student learning is taking place at school is teaching quality. Not just teacher quality, but teaching quality.

If teaching quality is the most important influence on student learning, how do we maintain, increase, enhance, or improve teaching quality? The answer is continuous professional learning. And the most powerful setting or environment for continuous professional learning is the community of professional learners.

Where this community focuses its attention is key to improving student learning. Effective communities of professional learners begin their work by studying the wide array or of student outcome data available to them. As they study the data, they determine where students have performed well, and where student performance shows disappointing outcomes.

While we take time to celebrate our successes for our students' results, we also recognize our responsibility for the areas where they were less successful. Since students did not learn well from the content and instructional strategies that we used, we look to another way of understanding and/or teaching what they didn't get. If we simply repeat the same efforts, we should expect the same results.

As a result, the staff turns it attention to exploring multiple solutions (new practices, programs, processes) that will better serve students' learning needs. After extensive study, a new and different way is decided; these steps occur in any typical school improvement process.

At this point in the professional learning community, the journey takes a hard right turn as the community recognizes that these practices are new to them, and acknowledges that they do not know precisely what the new practices will look like in their own theatre of the classroom.This is the moment of truth! The staff realizes that while they have identified new strategies that according to their research should produce better results, they must learn how to implement the strategies appropriately., The staff will undertake its own intentional learning of the new practice so as to be able to use the new way well with students.

For decades of school improvement activity, we have glossed over the needs of staff members to learn deeply and thoroughly what new practices will look like when they are implemented in a high-quality way. Both staff development and change process research have informed us that continuous staff learning and support is necessary for successful classroom implementation.

This is the intentional or deliberate learning that is the purpose of and focus of attention in the community of professional learners. This is why the "L" is in the middle word in PLCs for adult learning must define the community's work for it to truly impact students' learning.

Shirley Hord
Scholar Laureate, Learning Forward

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