Learning Forward 2022: 4 Hot Takes from the Future of Professional Learning

Learning Forward’s annual conference is always a highlight of the year — and 2022 was no exception. Learning Forward brings together innovative districts, exceptional teacher-leaders, and a host of sessions exploring the future of professional learning. A few takeaways from four of our favorite sessions:

Building and Sustaining an Impactful Instructional Coaching Program with Fairfax County Public Schools

Michelle Lis and Erika Williams from Fairfax County Public Schools led a session detailing the impact of their coaching program over the last 10+ years. The culture change the district caused by hiring and developing instructional coaches has led to coaches growing into administrator roles and continuing the momentum of coaching impact.

Key Takeaways

• Fairfax defines the role of a coach as aiming to increase student learning by providing job-embedded professional learning and coaching in core content areas.

• The district aligns the role of the coach between principal, coach and coordinator through explicitly written operating procedures and 1-1 meetings. The principal and coach have a written agreement around the expectations for communication, use of time and resources, and confidentiality.

• The district relies on deep, sustained professional learning for coaches, including:

  • Summer learning with principals
  • Monthly PD
  • Coach Mentorship
  • Learning Circles
  • Coach observations
  • Extra PD days for first-year coaches

• About 25% of all coaches are new each year, as coaching has become a pipeline to higher level leadership positions. 

• Fairfax has a rigorous application and selection process for instructional coaches to avoid principals placing their own teachers in the position, and ensure a highly qualified coach is in every building. 

• Capturing coaches’ impact has been a challenge.Fairfax recently redesigned coach evaluations to focus on capturing their impact on student learning goals revisited throughout the year.

Going Beyond Checking the Box: How to Honor Educators and Keep Them in the Profession with Richardson Independent School District

Gaya Jefferson, Morgen Crowder, and Josh Eason from Richardson Independent School District led a session on reimagining professional learning as just-in-time support aligned to the specific needs of each individual. They’re shifting the district culture to focus on growth over compliance, which has led to numerous creative and effective ways to provide just-in-time learning.

Key Takeaways

• Shift the culture of professional learning from “earning” to “learning”.

• Stakeholders outside of the PL department, such as principals and campus leaders, are given the autonomy to create their own job-embedded courses aligned to teacher needs and thus see the value in professional learning.

• Micro-learning: quick and effective “lessons” followed by needed time for processing and application in short, intentional bursts (e.g., each Tuesday for a month) is having the desired impact.

How Collective Responsibility and Continuous Improvement Revitalized a School with Jefferson County School District

Dr. Angela Bush, an innovative middle school principal in Jefferson County School District, alongside her colleagues Blake Frazier and Kathleen Orapollo, led a session on leveraging communication, community, and collaboration to ease the challenges of school improvement.

Key Takeaways

• Shift the school culture to one of proactive, consistent, and individualized support. In response to the varying challenges of the pandemic, Dr. Bush had to acknowledge the varying PD needs of teachers within her building and find ways to target support to the individualized needs of each teacher.

• Celebrate every win. School improvement takes patience, and Dr. Bush was able to keep staff invested by making sure data was visible and tracked the progress to shared goals.

• Strengths based leadership is key. Dr. Bush empowers the people in her building to take ownership of professional learning activities such as PLC’s to develop their own instructional  leadership skills.

• Practice constant communication. Feedback and communication were prioritized across the campus. Administrators connected bi-weekly to track progress, troubleshoot, and strategize around outstanding challenges — which often led to engaging members of the school community. By collaborating with local churches, businesses and families, Dr. Bush was able to bring in resources to improve teacher efficacy and increase student attendance and achievement scores!

Show, Don't Tell: Professional Learning that Shifts Practice with Lexington School District One

Erica Bissell and Hilary Morgan from Lexington School District One in South Carolina shared real-life examples of how they are leveraging model classrooms, lab sites, learning walks, and professional learning clinics to revitalize professional learning and shift instructional practice in classrooms.

Key Takeaways

• Despite your budget or staffing constraints, there are actionable moves you can make to bring professional learning front and center for educators.

• Leveraging your campus leaders and allowing for opportunities for your teachers to be PD experts creates buy-in as well as takes advantage of the talent currently on your campuses.

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