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My Fellow Commuters Need Intensive Professional Learning!

Frederick Brown
Today as I was driving into the office, it occurred to me that not everyone is as good a driver as he or she might think (myself included). While I've had that thought on many occasions, what made me think about this particular issue today was the individual who cut me off as she was texting and eating her breakfast sandwich. I'm sure in her mind, that text was extremely important and the only possible place to finish it was on a four-lane highway going about 70 mph. The whole incident made me ask the question: If the act of driving was a job, how could we make sure everyone was highly effective?

In the case of my breakfast-eating texter, it's my assumption at an early age she completed her "pre-service" experience to become a driver. She most likely attended an accredited driving school and was mentored by her parents or another adult during her early months on the road. Throughout her first years, she was probably very careful and made sure she applied all she had learned. As she became more and more comfortable in her practice, she most likely found herself on automatic pilot most mornings driving to work. After all, in her mind she had mastered her practice.

Over time, however, the world began to change around her. New technologies were integrated into her vehicle, and smart phones and other distractions entered into the picture. Roads became much more congested, and that daily commute perhaps didn't look quite like it did during her early years. Occasionally, she may have been "evaluated" by her friendly local police officer, but never again was she expected to engage in any type of professional learning to improve her practice.

If I could use the language of the Standards for Professional Learning to describe the kind of learning I'd like my fellow commuters to receive, it might go something like this:

1. Learning community I would like to see my fellow commuters consider themselves a learning community as depicted by the standards. In such an environment, we would all engage in continuous improvement and strive for excellence in our driving practice. We would also take collective responsibility for the safety of our fellow commuters and pedestrians.

2. Data As a community of learners, my fellow commuters and I would continue to monitor all kinds of data. What are the peak times for accidents? What driver behaviors contribute most to these accidents? Are there stretches of road that are proving more hazardous than others? Did the drivers who received "an evaluation" use the experience to improve their practice? All of these data would be used to help our learning community improve.

3. Learning design As I considered the resources I would need to create a learning design for my professional learning system, I would consider how much time and money was being expended in my region to deal with ineffective driving. I'm sure plenty is spent on responding to accidents, hospital care, distributing tickets, prosecuting those who cause accidents, etc. There's also the significant amount of gasoline consumed by cars forced to sit at a standstill on the highway. If I could reallocate just a fraction of those resources spent on remediating ineffective drivers and responding to the trouble they cause, would I have enough to partially (or fully) pay for the professional learning I would provide for my fellow commuters? Possibly.

4. Leadership In order to create a professional learning experience for my fellow commuters that actually resulted in scaled and sustained implementation of "effective driving practice" (the outcome we all want), I would need the support of my region's leaders. If they don't share my vision for how standards-based professional learning can improve the practice of my fellow drivers, the conditions simply won't exist to implement any of what's described above.

As far as I know, ongoing support and continuous growth for the community of drivers is not a high priority, despite the high stakes of ineffective driving practices. But then, as far as the average citizen knows, creating such conditions for learning among educators may seem equally out of the realm of possibility or even necessity. We hope that as more school systems change school day schedules for learning teams to meet, more community members are exposed to information about the learning practices that effectively build educator capacity. However, advocates for standards-based professional learning must take on the responsibility of educating parents and community members about the conditions and practices central to improving educator effectiveness and student results. When we can tie our intentions to the high stakes that matter to the general public, creating and sustaining ongoing support for professional learning becomes a possibility. And I'll hope that in the world of driver safety, other passionate advocates are doing their part to make the world a safer place to drive.

Frederick Brown
Director of Strategy and Development
Learning Forward

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