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Taking a Lesson from the Fashion Industry

The fashion industry has no patent protection. This means it's completely legal for competitors to create knock-offs or imitation designs.

What's surprising about this is that designers themselves wouldn't have it any other way. They understand that this openness to copy provides the fuel for rapid innovation and improvement. The fact that they are free to copy allows them to take a great base product and embellish it in a way that meets the needs and demands of a consumer. Johanna Blakley of the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California argues that this feature of the fashion industry is the secret to its success.

In this way, the teaching profession can learn a lesson from the fashion industry. For the most part, teaching remains a private practice. The culture of teaching constrains many teachers to develop and refine their personal teaching styles in isolation. Innovation and improvement often happens in pockets, rather than at scale. As a result, students experience a wide variation in teaching effectiveness within the same school. This phenomenon is unacceptable.

The good news is that the culture of teaching is beginning to evolve. Educators are now more open to allowing their colleagues to observe them teaching, collaboratively designing lessons, and receiving coaching from their peers and experts.

At Learning Forward, we are trying to accelerate and support this change in culture through our definition of professional development, which promotes improved teaching through study, sharing, and structured collaboration among teams of educators. We want schools to be safe environments where designers of teaching and learning can improve their collective practice so that students are guaranteed the best teaching every day regardless of the classroom in which they sit.

M. René Islas
Policy Advisor, Learning Forward

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