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The Birth of the Learning School Alliance

Learning Forward will welcome its third cohort of schools into the Learning School Alliance at next week's 2011 Summer Conference. In the three years since its launch, 55 schools have been part of the LSA, an international professional learning community designed to form and/or strengthen professional learning at participating schools. As we continue to refine and define LSA, is interesting for me to remember back to its inception, which itself was a bit of a surprise.

Shortly after I joined Learning Forward in 2008, Stephanie Hirsh told me about her dream to have "learning schools" all over the country that were committed to job-embedded, collaborative adult learning. When I asked her to describe what she had in mind and what that would look like, all she could say was she wanted to see banners hanging at schools that singled them out as schools that were "all about learning"---not just students learning, but adults deeply committed to their own learning and its impact on student achievement.

It was clear to me that Stephanie wanted to put Learning Forward's money where its mouth was and prove that our definition of professional learning was not an abstraction, but a way that educators can and do actualize professional learning at their campuses.

Being a concrete thinker who prefers clearly drawn pictures and bulleted lists, I left the meeting a bit distraught and pondering what my next steps ought to be. I had far more questions than answers. What does a learning school look like? What do educators who work there do? What are students doing at learning schools that is different from non-learning schools? And if a place is called "school," isn't it a given that learning is going on?

Back in my office after that initial meeting, I noticed a preview copy of what was then the latest Learning Forward publication, Becoming a Learning School, on my desk. Several flips into the book, I found a diagram of the backmapping process. I was intrigued and started to read the chapter. Though quite familiar with the process, it suddenly clicked for me in a new way---this is what learning schools do regularly, and Learning Forward should be helping schools that don't do it learn how.

The Learning School Alliance was born. It took a black and white diagram to trigger new thinking in me. Looking back on that serendipitous moment, I realize that I had experienced a bit of adult learning myself when I came to look at something familiar in a new light.

What happened next is fodder for future blogs, as I will continue to write about the lessons from the field that LSA affords. As we launch the latest cohort this summer, though, I can't help wondering if there would be any cohorts had I not taken a moment to read, respond, and ultimately react to something learned long ago in a new and intriguing way.

Carol Francois
Director of Learning, Learning Forward

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