Time to Face the Challenges at Hand
Research consistently affirms the importance of two factors in producing the best results for students: quality of teaching and leadership.
Two foundations have stepped up to provide educators with a deeper understanding of findings from research and their application in schools. The 10-year investment in school leadership by The Wallace Foundation has led to the revision of leadership standards, development of leadership frameworks, validation of leader evaluation tools, and guidance for the development of future leaders. District staff members concerned about poor leadership or inadequate support can turn to the foundation's research for guidance.
Equally important is the emergence of research on what constitutes effective teaching. While many independent efforts have been under way for years, the intensive focus of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on what constitutes effective teaching has shone a spotlight on the issue. The foundation's website includes research, tools, and resources for building systems that lead to more effective teaching.
Translating these important findings into successful outcomes for students and educators, however, hinges on the success of state, provincial, and school district systems of professional learning. Professional learning is the only process educators have for systematically moving research findings into practice. School systems need commitment, leadership, resources, designs, and data -- in other words, attention to the Standards for Professional Learning.
Everyone has an important role to play in moving research into practice.
Policymakers must govern and regulate with expectation and support for continuous improvement as key to achieving goals. Policymakers must support the development of systems of professional learning that ensure educators understand the standards by which their performance will be assessed and the means they can access to support continuous growth.
District office staff must build systems of professional learning that are focused on supporting all students and staff members to achieve performance outcomes. District leaders do this by adopting a vision for professional learning that builds collective responsibility, supports school-focused improvement, and provides skilled facilitation for ongoing team-based learning and problem solving, using the Standards for Professional Learning to guide the work.
Principals and teachers must focus on data to determine the desired results for all students and the learning and support needed to ensure their success. Principals and teachers must organize as learning communities and assume responsibilities for the success of all students and educators; commit to ongoing learning and see that best practices spread from classroom to classroom and school to school; and document the impact of professional learning so that others understand why continued support and advocacy is essential.
Technical assistance providers must listen to their education partners to understand the help they seek in meeting student and educator needs. When designing professional learning, put the standards front and center so partners understand the body of research on which the work is based. Providers have the opportunity to be advocates for standards-based professional learning and help educators get it right, and can document results and share findings so that more schools and school systems understand professional learning's importance and support increases for best practices.
Let's get busy with the challenges at hand. We have valuable new tools to address them.
Eecutive Director, Learning Forward