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New Education Initiatives Demand a New Engine to Drive them Forward

Joellen Killion image
Joellen Killion

Professional learning succeeds best within a comprehensive professional learning system designed to support effective educator learning. A comprehensive professional learning system is the infrastructure for developing individual, school, team, and school system capacities needed to ensure success for all educators and their students. This system is like the engine in an automobile that occasionally needs adjustment, repairs, or replacement so that it works smoothly and reliably. Just as an engine propels a vehicle, a professional learning system drives change within an education system. Initiatives launched by local schools, school systems, or state and federal education agencies, such as Common Core State Standards, new student assessments, and measuring educator effectiveness, have created a new imperative for a different type of professional learning — a new engine to drive teaching for deeper learning.

A comprehensive professional learning system, best described as "the way professional learning works," consists of component parts of the engine that drives educator learning designed to increase student learning. Comprehensive systems are comprehensive because they include all the essential components needed for professional learning to meet the demands of educators and their students. They have at least six essential components:

  • Vision of professional learning system as a part of the education system;
  • Definition of professional learning;
  • Standards for Professional Learning to guide quality;
  • Stakeholder roles and responsibilities defined and articulated;
  • Ongoing assessment and evaluation; and
  • Resources, including staff, time, funds, and facilities.

  • Changes as significant as those facing educators require a deep examination and tuning or rebuilding the learning engine. Most districts and states have professional learning systems in place, but few are designed to be comprehensive. They were created by opportunity and happenstance, courses and programs added here and there in response to new initiatives. Rather than add on yet again, district and state leaders need to remodel their existing professional learning systems so that each is purposeful, finely tuned, and provides every educator with continuous professional learning. Then, they should conduct periodic maintenance and replacement so their professional learning systems, the engines of education systems, can increase efficiency, effectiveness, and reliability.

    Comprehensive Professional Learning System: A Workbook for States and Districts guides a team of thoughtfully selected representatives from education agencies, local school systems, and other governing agencies, organizations, or advocacy groups to conduct regular maintenance, make needed repairs, and schedule periodic replacement of the whole professional learning system, or parts of it, to meet the dynamic learning needs of educators and students. The workbook delineates the components that make up a comprehensive system. If a system is missing some components or they are ill-fitting, the efficiency and reliability of the system will fail sooner or later. The workbook outlines processes and provides tools a team uses in all aspects of its work. The work usually occurs over several months, with continuous progress monitoring and input from research, experts, and constituents. The workbook does not contain the right answer, the perfect system, or absolute guarantees, but rather delineates the process and resources necessary for developing the components of a comprehensive professional learning system that fits the unique context of each state and district.

    This post also appears in Comprehensive Professional Learning System: A Workbook for States and Districts.

    Joellen Killion
    Senior Advisor, Learning Forward
    @jpkillion

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