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Language and Learning Designs Key to Learning Innovation

How exciting is it to be in the field of education right now? While I'm still in the first half of my career, never before can I think of a time where the possibilities and potential for amazing work exist like they do now. Some fear the change and turbulence swirling around the profession, but it's this type of atmosphere that allows innovation and creativity to flourish. It's not easy though. There will be false starts, dead-ends, and U-turns, but these are the side effects of innovation and designing a new set of educational experiences by teachers for students.

In order to create the innovative culture that our schools so desperately need, I would like to advocate for a tight-but-loose approach. By tight, I mean a culture that creates a framework for educators throughout the state, but loose in that educators have the flexibility to control and own their own learning.

For example, an approach can be tight in the sense that there are specific supports put in place by stakeholders to allow schools, administrators, and teachers to have a universal language. Without a universal language and a clear understanding of the conceptual shifts that must occur, the profession will resort to doing what it has always done. The expectations and experiences mandated by the rigidity of the universal language will be powerful in establishing this tight framework. Kentucky has achieved a step in this direction by the shift from "professional development" to "professional learning" as part of our statewide work to transform our professional learning system. While on the surface this seems like simple semantics, in reality it entails a cultural shift in the profession that could revolutionize how teachers and administrators work toward the goal of student achievement.

Paramount in creating an effective framework is the establishment of professional learning standards. These standards outline the types of experiences educators need in order to grow and refine their craft. The responsibility for professional learning rests not only with the individual educator to reflect about his or her own practice, but also the school and district administrators to create a culture and vision, and even more importantly, time and space for this type of professional learning.

An exciting avenue for exploring this tight-but-loose shift comes through the adoption of professional processes that work for other fields. My friends at Business Innovation Factory have begun research to create models for how the design concepts we often see in the business world can be used to improve education. This creative process utilizes the skills and talents of all team members and allows a group of teachers to open themselves up to the reflective work that must be done to really investigate improving our instruction. The Business Innovation Factory's approach is an innovation incubator for our schools. It will allow us to solve problems together and in ways that none of us could have done independently of each other. The looseness of this process will not always create immediate benefits, but the power of creating professional learners in collaboration is transformative.

By embracing the maelstrom that surrounds us and seeking the potential of the now, we can reinvigorate and rebuild a system that needs its best and brightest working on the work. Don't stick your head in the sand, waiting for the commotion to dissipate, but run out in front of it. Be the one who seeks out, adopts, implements, guides, and reflects on the path that we must trail blaze. The good news is that you are not alone. There are some of us already out in the rain.

Chris Crouch
Instructional Coach, Boone County (Ky.) Schools

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