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The Power of the Checklist

For school leaders faced with higher expectations for student success, time constraints, and diminishing resources, effective professional learning is critical. We need to identify what we need to know and learn it effectively for our students to be successful. This is not new; we've known it for a long time. So what's the issue?

The issue, of course, is finding time to prioritize professional learning when other issues pour down like rain on a daily basis. Like many of you, I wish someone would give me a checklist, a silver bullet for building an effective learning community. Impossible, you say. No, it isn't. Let me share my checklist for creating an effective model of learning.
These actions can change your school or district culture into a caring, high-performing learning community.


  • Reorganize the schedule to encourage adult learning.

  • Use a curriculum that addresses your state's assessment.

  • Expand the curriculum so it addresses much more than the state's assessment.

  • Assess frequently.

  • Gather, study, and act on what the data scream at us.

  • Engage all in the process of school improvement.

  • Learn what it means to teach effectively -- and then do it.

  • Learning what it means to learn effectively -- and make it happen.

  • Create and maintain an atmosphere of trust.

  • Care for one another.

  • Address whether and how students are engaged in your system.

  • Hire, develop, and nurture the best people.

  • Encourage those who aren't the best to seek another profession.

  • Use protocols.

  • Be courageous.

  • Laugh, smile, and celebrate often.

  • Advocate for effective professional learning.


I'm am sure you can add to this checklist. Please do. And don't dismiss the power of the checklist. Atul Gawande, writer and surgeon, recently published The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. One key element of the success of the checklist, Gawande discovered, is the communication and teamwork that become a part of disciplined use of such a list. When everyone in the operating room commits to documenting their responsibilities against a checklist, the surgeon isn't the Lone Ranger anymore -- she is a member of a team. The members take collective responsibility for what happens as a result of their work together. Doesn't that sound like what we need to make happen in our schools?

Clearly, my list is full of complex concepts that require a lot of work. I am asking you to detail the important steps you need to take, agree with your teams on your list, and commit together to the results you want to see. When you do that, you're well on your way to making Learning Forward's purpose a reality in your school: Every educator engages in effective learning every day so every student achieves.

Mark Diaz
President, Learning Forward

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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