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It's Not Just Practice That Makes Perfect

You know the joke - "Hey, can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?" The answer, of course, is "practice."

Recent research indicates that the answer in this joke is right: deliberate practice of any new skill or habit will take us far in the direction of our goals.

But that's not the whole answer to the question. The musician in the joke may toil for years to become quite gifted on the violin, but she doesn't do it alone, outside of a context, and without other people who recognize where she wants to go and what she'll encounter along the way. She needs support for the long term, not just opportunities to learn about music. She needs teachers who offer feedback in ways that motivate her to push harder. She needs leaders who understand what people go through when they attempt to grow and change.

The same is true of educators working to sustain their learning efforts and changes in practice over the long term to achieve improved results for students. As my understanding of the Standards for Professional Learning grows, I see the human needs aspect of improvement efforts most clearly in the Implementation and Learning Designs standards.

The Learning Designs standard requires understanding how adults learn and what strategies support learners in different contexts for different purposes. The Implementation standard asks us to look at how people undertake any improvement effort and to consider the supports and structures they need as they try to understand the rationale for reaching a stretch goal as well as ways to change their habits and skills for the long term. And the chance to practice - with feedback - is certainly one of them.

Just as the young musician working toward her goal needs more than a stack of great music to try and a recording of virtuosos to emulate, educators needs more than a lineup of relevant learning opportunities. The Standards for Professional Learning can make this difficult part of the improvement process more transparent.

Tracy Crow
Director of Publications, 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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