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Make Professional Learning a Legislative Priority

I recently had the opportunity to speak to over 100 legislators at a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators. My goal was to move education, and in particular professional learning, to the top of attendees' legislative goals.

I began by asking who in the audience had children or grandchildren in public schools. More than 75 percent of the attendees raised their hands. I then asked how many were concerned about who their teachers would be for the upcoming year, and of course the same hands were raised.

Next, I asked how they would like to be able to take action this year to alleviate that concern for their families and their constituents. I suggested they introduce legislation this year that will strengthen professional learning in their states. By adopting a new definition, standards, and evaluation requirements they could do their part to ensure that every student experiences great teaching every day.

Professional learning is the main strategy that schools have to ensure that all teachers are constantly improving their craft. And the definition that we advance calls for teachers to do this as members of learning teams rather than isolated from each other. This definition calls for all teachers assigned to collaborative learning communities charged with the responsibility for the success of a group of students not just the students assigned to their particular classroom.

When this definition is adopted, it means that what is working in one classroom is systematically spread across all classrooms, so that every student benefits from the expertise of all teachers in the grade level rather than just one teacher.

Another action legislators can take is to adopt Standards for Professional Learning. In addition to team-based learning, educators require professional learning that addresses individual growth needs as well as district wide priorities such as implementing common core. In this case, educators and their students will benefit when school systems are required to align their professional learning to the standards. The standards detail the conditions, processes, and outcomes essential if professional learning is to meet its intended goal. When legislators adopt standards, they send a message that professional learning is important to the success of educators and their students. They take a step toward ensuring that all educators experience effective professional learning rather than hit or miss, educators have better confidence in the quality of professional learning.

Finally, to ensure their promise is kept, legislators need to add a requirement that all professional learning is evaluated for quality and impact. First legislators need to know that their quality assurance to educators was met. Second, they need to know that the state investment in time, personnel, and dollars is producing results for both educators and students.

Legislators at all levels make many decisions that impact schools. This year I hope they take an action that is on every parent's mind - ensuring every student experiences great teaching every day. They have the power to do that.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

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