District Conditions of Instruction and Professional Development: Craft and Support
Guest blog by Matt Williams, KnowledgeWorks Vice President of Policy and Advocacy @mattawilliams
So what do the District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide to Scaling Personalized Learning have to do with teaching? Two of the conditions deal directly with teaching, instruction, and professional development; but personalized learning will only be effective and scalable with great educators. That is the truth, only educators can bring standards and curriculum alive for students, only educators can fully implement a comprehensive system of assessments and transform a learning environment into a launch pad for a child’s imagination. Educators are the backbone to any educational transformation and they will lead the charge towards personalized learning.
Having effective instructional practices goes hand in glove with having a flexible and learner-centered curriculum. The first aspect of the condition to call out is the fact that the district leaders we spoke with are not wedded to one particular instructional strategy but a bevy of strategies. As expected, district leaders focused on infusing instructional strategies that help to promote more student-centered learning such as project-based learning, problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, blended and online learning, and experiential modalities. These approaches allow for greater differentiation and personalization with a pronounced focus on mastery or proficiency. Moreover, these sorts of instructional strategies allow for students to explore content through the lens of topics and outcomes that are engaging to them. Building on that, the exemplary districts on instruction actively find ways to engage students in both the planning and the implementation of lessons and their aligned instruction.
While instruction is a district condition, it is important to point out that the bulk of autonomy for instruction falls to the school and classroom level. John Quick, superintendent in Bartholomew County, Indiana, said: “Implementation is done at the school level, with the district clearing away barriers to this.” Jurisdiction is important in discussions of instruction. The district should put the conditions in place so that educators can build lessons that are rigorous and relevant with instruction that engages all students. Districts should mandate differentiation for all students; in other words, put a primacy on personalization and provide the supports to educators to make that a reality in the classroom.
It is no secret that the important element of student success is an excellent educator. Unfortunately, most pre-service educator programs fail to prepare educators for today’s personalized learning classrooms. For this reason, professional development (PD) has never been more important. Any PD program should align to the district’s vision for teaching and learning, ensuring that educators are getting the training they need to be successful in meeting their students’ needs.
In addition to aligning with the district’s vision, PD should leverage the power of technology in order to promote anytime, anywhere learning and a culture of collaboration amongst educators. Providing PD offerings online not only allows educators to learn anywhere, it offers training “just-in-time,” meaning educators can access the material when they need it, instead of relying on someone else to provide it. Further, a just-in-time approach to PD allows educators to personalize their experience to their needs which, according to most district leaders interviewed, is important in any learning experience. Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) #1, in Wisconsin, has implemented a system where educators earn badges for skill acquisition, much like scouts do for mastering certain skills, for PD opportunities successfully completed, allowing educators to create professional portfolios of badges that display what credentials they’ve earned as in-service educators. Lastly, providing a technological platform offers educators the opportunity to share lesson plans, assessments, and best practices and to ask questions of each other. This provides an invaluable opportunity for all educators to learn from their most experienced and effective colleagues.
What’s more, educators play a vital role in both expanding and sustaining personalized learning. Specifically, the conditions of instruction and professional development are of paramount importance to educators that are seeking to transform the system. They are the way they demonstrate and refine their art and craft as well as how they are supported, inspired, and rejuvenated.