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Be a Visionary and a Realist

I started to wear glasses at a very young age and was always fascinated by whether my fellow bespectacled friends and family were nearsighted or farsighted. My investigation as a 5-year-old typically began with a series of questions and usually ended with me trading glasses with someone and laughing at how blurry everything looked.

I was reminded of this childhood inquiry on vision when I thought about the tension we sometimes have in professional learning between planning for the long-term and preparing for what's coming tomorrow.

Susan Loucks-Horsley and her colleagues said it best: Professional developers "are, simultaneously, visionaries and realists." Nowhere is this more apparent than when we think about the importance of resources in professional learning. We often struggle to have the resources we need to achieve the grand vision we hold for effective professional learning. The Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning are clear about the importance of resources and the need to prioritize, monitor, and coordinate all types of resources, including staff, materials, technology, and time.

While it may sometimes feel difficult to think about meeting these lofty goals when we are scrambling for resources, it is critical for us to be visionaries and realists simultaneously. Being a visionary and a realist means being creative about how to secure additional resources. At the school level, it might mean tapping into expertise that you didn't know existed in your building. For a district professional development office, it could be recruiting college interns to support the logistical or technical needs of conducting a learning session to free up substantive planning time. Or for any practitioner, it might mean engaging and raising funds from a community or business partner to support an area of mutual interest.

Being a visionary and a realist means having a plan for using resources just in case they suddenly become available. Whether it is an unanticipated change in a state or federal grant or a spending deadline that has been moved up several weeks, it is not uncommon to have an unexpected request to spend money. The more difficult part is being prepared to efficiently and effectively allocate these resources in a way that supports high-quality professional learning.

Being a visionary and a realist means being a fierce advocate for high-quality professional learning at multiple levels. Many policies at federal, state, and local levels govern how funds can be used to support effective professional learning. To garner support and much-needed resources, it is critical to share empirical research and personal stories of how professional learning increases educator effectiveness and student results.

Finally, being a visionary and a realist means asking: Asking your colleagues or your principal for additional time or substitute coverage, your superintendent or your university partner for materials or a part-time coach, your department chair or your staff for technology or extra support. You might just get a "yes."

Kenneth Salim
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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