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The New Language of Professional Learning

I just finished editing a piece for JSD and was struck by something the author wrote about our standards. In reference to the Learning Designs standard, Ellie Drago-Severson wrote, "...Learning Forward's decision to refer to what used to be called professional development as professional learning is significant and inspiring." She isn't the only educator to notice that shift. In her blog about the standards, principal Lyn Hilt wrote "Learning Forward... has undergone an important shift in focus and message: from one of development to one of learning." For Hilt, the meaning was clear - she asks readers if they were engaged in learning the last time they engaged in professional development.

That's certainly the kind of message we hope educators take from such shifts in language. We know language matters--that's why we made the decision to use professional learning in the name and throughout the Standards for Professional Learning. In fact, it's why we took a big risk about a year ago and put learning into our name.

While we're aware that wrangling about particular words can at times distract from the work itself, we also know that clarity about the work is essential if results are on the line. If we can't agree on the words we use, how do we know we agree on what we hope to achieve? Language is the first step we take in moving from ideas to action.

Our desire for clarity in meaning compelled us to begin each standard statement with these words: "Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students...." Each term is deliberate. "Educator" indicates our intention to support learning leaders at all levels - school, classroom, district, community, state, university, province, or organization. "Effectiveness and results" show our focus on impacting real outcomes. "All students" means we emphasize equity throughout our work.

If our commitment to students achieving better results is strong, let's take the first step and use the words that describe what we really want to see happening in schools - learning for all.

Tracy Crow
Director of Publications, Learning Forward

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