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Cultivating Professional Learning Growth Through the Learning School Alliance

Carol François mage
Carol François

This year I got the idea my husband and I should plant a vegetable garden.  We polled friends who are avid gardeners for advice on where and what to plant. After researching online and many trips to the local gardening center, we settled on planting tomatoes and okra.

The two of us got to work building a raised bed, tilling and amending soil, sowing seeds, and setting out tomato plants. We installed an automatic watering system and chose appropriate fertilizers, taking care not to overuse either resource. The garden sits just outside our kitchen window making it an ideal spot for me to keep an eye on its progress. Since patience isn't my strong suit, being able to watch for the tiniest sign of growth was very important, so I was delighted that within a few months, we began harvesting a handful of okra and tomatoes almost every day.

Watching schools develop and grow through the Learning School Alliance (LSA) has been much like my garden planting experience. Two years ago, East Point Elementary School and Del Norte Heights Elementary School (El Paso, Texas) started building their garden by joining LSA ready to expand their knowledge and expertise in using the professional learning community concept as their school improvement model. Much like the work in selecting tools and seeds, the schools worked with LSA facilitators to identify the best approach for addressing adult learning needs, chose appropriate tools to address those needs, and designed year-long professional learning plans with specific and achievable adult learning goals tailored to student learning outcomes.

In 2012 and 2013, both schools sent teams of between six to eight members to the intensive LSA sessions conducted during Learning Forward's summer conferences. Afterwards, East Point and Del Norte Heights solidified their campus professional learning communities, implemented their learning plans, and participated in technical assistance calls with their LSA facilitator to nurture and grow the professional learning community approach at their campuses.

The outcome of their work came to fruition during the 2013 Learning Forward Annual Conference when both schools presented concurrent sessions at the conference. Their LSA teams shared data and resources about creating vertical and horizontal teams, promoting collaboration, using peer observations, and incorporating videotaping into their professional learning repertoire. Through their concurrent sessions, these schools moved from learning about professional learning to being able to teach others about it from a practical, on-the-ground perspective.

It took a full two years for the schools to grow to this point. Just as I expectantly watched our garden from the kitchen window, I've watched LSA teams grow incrementally from learners, to doers, to teachers. We're proud to say this harvest was well worth the wait. 

Carol François
Director of Learning,
Learning Forward

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