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Choosing Your Next Professional Learning Experience: 8 Essential Questions

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By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

Recently a reporter asked me how teachers are supposed to be able to distinguish among all the professional development opportunities that claim to be aligned with the Common Core standards. While I could refer the reporter to many resources on what constitutes effective professional learning as well as how to evaluate opportunities, this isn't what she was asking. Here's how I responded and what I would tell the many educators who are trying to answer this for themselves. 

While I hope that very few teachers are trying to make these decisions in isolation from supervisors and colleagues, I also understand not everyone works in ideal circumstances. Therefore, I offer the guiding questions below to assist teachers in making the best decisions possible. First, here are three prerequisites to consider before you go searching and evaluating your professional learning options. 

  1. Clarify your needs by examining your student data, the content standards, and where you need help.
  2. Seek guidance, support, and help first from supervisors, coaches, district staff, and learning team colleagues.
  3. Only after confirming internal expertise and support do not exist to sufficiently address your goals and needs, look beyond the school for additional professional learning opportunities.

Use the Standards for Professional Learning as your guide as you evaluate your options. Consider these eight sets of questions; if you feel confident about your answers, then you will have the information you need to decide. 

Outcomes: Are the outcomes clearly stated and do they align with your needs related to student standards or teaching standards? Is there evidence that this provider/opportunity has contributed to the success of previous participants in achieving such outcomes?

Implementation: Will support for implementing new practices be available beyond any initial training or exposure to new ideas? Is it clear that you can get help using new ideas and practices in classrooms?

Learning Designs: Will the learning experience involve demonstration, theory, practice, and reflection?  Will the learners be engaged in exercises that replicate the practices they are learning to use in classrooms? Will new technologies be applied that will assist learning? Will accommodations be made for individuals with different needs?

Data: Does the data on your students' performance or individual practice confirm this offering meets a need for you? Will data be collected during your learning experience that provide assurances that the provider intends to document the impact of the effort?

Resources: Do you have the time and dollars to commit? Do the costs associated seem reasonable given the benefit you'll realize?

Leadership: Has your principal or coach heard of the offering? Do you have their support? Will there be opportunities for you to share what you learn with others? Will they be able to support you with implementing new ideas gained from the experience?

Learning Community: Will someone join you to promote collective learning and deeper implementation? Will the provider structure the learning experience so that all participants are members of learning communities? Will you leave the experience with a wider personal learning network and a greater sense of responsibility for improving practice?

Standards-Based: Is the provider familiar with Learning Forward's Standards for Professional Learning? Can they tell you how they meet the standards and do they provide you a money-back guarantee that if you invest in all they recommend that you will get the answers you need? If so, proceed, and always with caution. 

Let me know what other questions you ask, and I challenge you to put your questions in the categories of the Standards for Professional Learning. 

This post originally appeared on Learning Forward's PD Watch blog. Reposted with permission.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.


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