As district leaders, we continually work toward the design of professional learning that is purposeful, meets the unique needs of our school communities, and, ultimately, has an impact on student learning. This endeavor is a tall order since our priorities and programs continue to shift and our schools continue to become more culturally and academically diverse.
This past year, our district planning committee comprised of broad-based leaders grappled with this complex task. We recognized that there are many key factors that support leaders in their professional learning within our district; however, we wanted to ensure clarity in alignment and a direct connection to the work happening in the classroom. Our committee decided that the development of a structure for professional learning that engaged all learning leaders in a cyclical process with meaningful connection to the classroom and a focus on impact would sustain change and lead to outcomes for students.
Learning Leader Meetings
Within our district, we have four half-days each year when all school and district leaders come together to move our learning forward through what we call Learning Leader meetings. Our committee engaged over one hundred leaders within our district in building a shared vision and gathered their thoughts and feedback to co-construct a new model for collaborating together. We redesigned our meetings to include a year-long book study to deepen our learning, action research, and reflection time for administrative teams on school-specific learning improvement plans.
Learning Through Book Study
Regarding the learning portion, our leaders requested pre-readings for each of the four Learning Leader meetings. This request challenged our committee to find a resource that was broad enough for us all to connect to yet flexible enough to consider the diversity of each school community while taking our learning to the next level. We decided on a book titled Opening Doors to Equity by Tonya Ward Singer to address the increasing diversity in our classrooms, to provide a framework that shifted the way we thought about professional learning, and to focus on impact. This book provided our leadership team with practical ideas for observation-based professional learning within classrooms and aligned the work in which we were engaged during our Learning Leader meetings to classroom practice and student outcomes.
Each of our meetings explored a new set of sequential chapters within the book, deepening our understanding of observation inquiry. During our first meeting together, we engaged as leaders in the development of an elevator speech to share with our colleagues; this strategy provided time for leaders to develop and share their rationale for thinking about professional learning in a new way. The subsequent meetings included open-ended questions that provoked discussion and provided opportunities to share challenges and to extend learning through conversation and reflection.
Deep learning does not occur by sitting and receiving information from an expert but rather by co-constructing knowledge though conversation guided by research. Consequently, each of our meetings included a structure with guiding questions that engaged leaders in purposeful conversations based on their unique school context. We recognize that the world of education is complex and always changing; our goal as a group of learning leaders was to create a cycle or structure of learning together. Knowing that the answers to our challenges were in the room waiting to be uncovered, our role was to create the structure for that to occur. Therefore, during the action research portion of our meetings, learning leaders committed to action based on the learning portion of our meeting and returned to the next meeting ready to share with their colleagues a reflection on the impact their action had on teacher and student learning.
During the third portion of our meeting, leaders were engaged in reflecting on their school-level learning improvement plan. This time provided an opportunity for learning leaders to connect their learning through the action research to their school goals and strategies; leaders were able to reflect on the alignment between the goals they set, the strategies they identified, the support of professional learning communities and observation inquiry, and the measurement of impact. As we strive to provide equity for students within our district, our leaders are refining their goals and strategies based on student needs.
As we move forward next year, we will work together as a team to refine and improve the way we learn together. We are on a journey that calls us to move constantly from good to great. Our common reading of Opening Doors to Equity supported us in our belief that engaging leaders in the design, construction, and refinement of their own learning is just as critical as engaging teachers in the design, construction and refinement of their learning as we work together as a learning community to improve outcomes for all students.