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How Successful Nations Do Professional Learning

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference sponsored by New York's WNET. Thousands of educators from around the world participated in this two-day event. Plenary speakers and panels included a range of individuals including Linda Darling-Hammond, Randi Weingarten, Charlotte Danielson, Sal Khan, and Henry Winkler.

Learning Forward was also well represented by two sessions we delivered focused on the revised Standards for Professional Learning and our critically acclaimed text, Becoming a Learning School. While the conference exposed participants to a wide range of ideas and philosophies, more than anything it was truly a celebration of the profession.

During my time at the Celebration and the events leading up to it, I paid special attention to how teachers are celebrated and supported in other countries. In Hong Kong, for example, I was pleased to hear the education minister report that teachers receive a minimum of 115 hours of professional learning every three years. In Singapore, the union president proudly reported teachers receive even more professional learning; at least 100 hours each year, completely funded by the government.

Given what we know about the links between high quality professional learning and improved educator practice, it's no surprise that both Hong Kong and Singapore routinely rank among the highest performing education systems in the world.

The Shanghai education minister described how the province seeks to provide a high-quality education to all students regardless of the city or village in which they live. Additionally, resources to support schools are diverted from the more prosperous regions of the country to the villages where needs are greater. This results in more resources for teachers in all regions of the country to support the learning needs of students.

In Singapore, it was reported that 17-20% of the federal budget is devoted to education. Even more startling for those of us in the US watching state and district education resources dwindle during tough economic times was the news that this city-state increases its education budget when the market is down. "When times are tough, education is even more important!" was the message coming from Singapore.

While I fully recognize the multitude of contextual differences between these nations and the United States, I couldn't help but imagine what we might experience in our schools if they were well resourced and effectively paid attention to the professional learning of those within them. Schools that made sound decisions regarding these resources would finally have the people, time, money, and technology to prepare our students to compete against the best and brightest from around the world.

With extensive professional learning, our teachers would be equipped to engage their students in research-based and proven instructional strategies in our ever-changing landscape. I can think of no better way to honor and celebrate the teaching profession than to give those within it the resources they need to do their very best.

Frederick Brown
Director of Strategy and Development, Learning Forward

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