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Friday / February 23

#CorwinTalks: Advice for Building and Maintaining a Professional Learning Practice

Understand the Elements of Curriculum-Based Professional Learning
By James B. Short and Stephanie Hirsh

Teachers ask for basically one thing when it comes to professional learning. Provide me with support to help my students today and tomorrow. The Elements of curriculum-based professional learning answer their request. They describe the professional learning and support that helps teachers each day implement effective instruction anchored in high-quality curriculum materials with their students.

Through unpacking and analyzing curriculum materials, to scaffolding instruction, to rehearsing lessons with colleagues, to reflecting and providing feedback on student work, each Element focuses on what matters most for improving professional practice and outcomes for students. And for leaders, the “essential” Elements offer guidance on how to pull this off and develop a coherent and aligned system of excellent instruction.

The Elements of curriculum-based professional learning provide the field with a research-based framework incorporating approaches and common language for planning and supporting teachers as they learn to use curriculum with their students. Too often professional learning planning stops when models are chosen, and time is allocated. Curriculum-based professional learning puts the emphasis on effective learning designs, surfacing beliefs, and supporting change management efforts. It privileges teachers engaging in the same activities and learning experiences in the curriculum that they will provide their students.

Inspired by the periodic table, elements are the building blocks of what matters most. Teachers using curriculum well matters for students. And professional learning to support curriculum implementation matters for teachers. The Elements framework describes the design features to anchor professional learning in the curriculum and instructional materials teachers use with their students.

Look or take another look at the Elements and consider how they can help improve professional practice and build the learning system envisioned for classrooms in the schools and districts where you work. 

Self-Reflection as a Path to Professional Learning
By Fenesha Hubbard

“Action without reflection leads to burn out. Reflection without action leads to cynicism.”

—Albert Einstein

A lot of us are talking about equity as it relates to compliance, but the real work of operationalizing equity requires that we take a recursive look at ourselves. It is imperative that we engage in equity-focused self-reflection– a practice that will foster the fullest abilities of educators.

Reflection as a professional learning approach requires honesty and humility. Sometimes you aren’t aware of your true feelings about a thing until you experience it and have to react or respond. Attending to the work of equity means examining your actions, exploring your beliefs, and becoming aware of what drives your instruction and decision making.

My book, The Equity Expression: Six Entry Points for Nonnegotiable Academic Success, will help you center equity in teaching and learning, and it will position you to engage in deep reflection and dialogue. What makes the entry points framework so impactful is the focus on the individual teacher and helping them understand all the aspects of themselves that they bring into the classroom. 

Equity work demands our willingness to confront discomfort, mostly because our students have endured it for far too long. Growth begins at the end of our comfort zones, and when we reach the point where we can’t grow any further, then we’ve restricted the intellectual spaces to which our students can go. Let’s do this work on ourselves for our kids. They deserve the best of us.

Successful Professional Learning Teams Need Effective Leadership
By Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey

In their review of effective leadership practices, Grissom, Egalite, and Lindsay (2021) noted that the following were the most impactful:

  • Engaging in instructionally focused interactions with teachers
  • Building a productive school climate
  • Facilitating productive collaboration and professional learning communities
  • Managing personnel and resources strategically

It’s the third point that concerns this posting.  Effective leaders, including teacher leaders and site administrators, ensure that teachers have access to effective collaboration with their peers.  As the Gallup team (2023) noted, the manager or team leader alone accounts for 70% of the variance in team engagement.  To ensure that teachers engage and support their peers, leaders need to act.  But leaders should not micromanage the work of teacher teams to provide support.

Instead, leaders need to identify trends and support teams in accomplishing their work.  When leaders participate in learning community conversations, they can note the ways in which the team interacts, the decisions they make, and the implementation that follows.  This information can be used to provide coaching, feedback, or corrective actions.  Each of these can be used to improve team cohesion and impact.  

  • Coaching is about future performance and is used to support implementation of ideas, strategies, or tools. 
  • Feedback is oriented to past performance and is used to refine the practices that are being implemented. 
  • Corrective action is focused on legal, ethical, or moral issues that need to be addressed quickly.   

When teachers get support that helps them grow, with recognition for the impact they have, their job satisfaction increases and their efficacy grows.  With a strong team and effective leaders, individual efficacy becomes collective efficacy, and a professional learning community is created.

Grissom, J, A., Egalite, A.J., & Lindsay, C.A. (2021). How principals affect students and schools: A systematic synthesis of two decades of research. The Wallace Foundation. Available at http://www.wallacefoundation.org/principalsynthesis.

Written by

James B. Short is the program director for Leadership and Teaching to Advance Learning in the Education Program at Carnegie Corporation of New York. His work at the foundation focuses on building capacity of teachers, principals, and system leaders to implement college and career-ready standards in language arts and reading, mathematics and science. He has been involved in education for over thirty years with an ongoing focus on the role of curriculum and professional learning in teacher development. He is the co-author of Transforming Teaching Through Curriculum-Based Professional Learning: The Elements.

Stephanie Hirsh is the former executive director of Learning Forward, a position she held for over a decade. Before her appointment as executive director, she served the association as deputy executive director for 18 years. Today she consults with foundations, organizations, education start-ups, and universities focused on issues of capacity building, equity, curriculum, and professional learning. She is the co-author of five books, including Transforming Teaching Through Curriculum-Based Professional Learning: The Elements.

Fenesha Hubbard has been leading K–12 professional development for the past twenty-one years. Her field experience includes being a middle school math teacher, instructional coach, workshop facilitator, and designer of professional development for NWEA and the Chicago Public Schools. Fenesha has worked in schools across the nation with a focus on math instruction and assessment practices. She is the author of The Equity Expression: Six Entry Points for Nonnegotiable Academic Success.

Douglas Fisher, Ph.D., is professor and chair of educational leadership at San Diego State University and a leader at Health Sciences High and Middle College. Previously, Doug was an early intervention teacher and elementary school educator. He is the recipient of an International Reading Association William S. Grey citation of merit and an Exemplary Leader award from the Conference on English Leadership of NCTE. He has published numerous articles on teaching and learning as well as books such as The Teacher Clarity Playbook, PLC+, Visible Learning for Literacy, Teaching Reading, Teaching Students to Drive Their Learning, and How Scaffolding Works. Doug loves being an educator and hopes to share that passion with others.

Nancy Frey, Ph.D., is a Professor in Educational Leadership at San Diego State and a teacher leader at Health Sciences High and Middle College. She is a member of the International Literacy Association’s Literacy Research Panel. Her published titles include Visible Learning in Literacy, This Is Balanced Literacy, Removing Labels, PLC+: A Playbook for Instructional Leaders and Onboarding Teachers. Nancy is a credentialed special educator, reading specialist, and administrator in California and learns from teachers and students every day.

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