Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Improving the Quality of Professional Learning

One of the most interesting reports on effectiveness of school systems around the world was the 2007 McKinsey Report on "How the World's Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top." Three main themes emerged from this study:
  1. The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers
  2. The only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction
  3. High performance requires every child to succeed
In short, improvement for student learning is contingent on improvement of staff learning and performance. It is ironic that something so important in the research is often treated casually and erratically by schools. It would seem that something as important as professional learning would be near the top of school agendas and operations. 

At Singapore American School, we had cycles of improvement for almost everything. We noticed, however, that we didn't have a cycle to systematically review our approaches to professional learning. The trick in schools is how to best conduct a comprehensive review, but also do this in a way that is as efficient as possible so as to not distract staff from their main purpose of working with kids. The following is the process we implemented over a semester of time (fall of 2012) that identified commendations and recommendations:
  1. Initial input from the Superintendent on Institutional Commitments and professional learning
  2. Administrator interviews by division regarding current status of professional learning related to seven standards identified by Learning Forward
  3. A cross-divisional teacher research team studied the research on the professional learning standards, and identified opportunities within each of the standards through use of a google doc
  4. Each administrative leadership team member identified areas of inquiry regarding professional learning through use of a google doc
  5. Input and feedback was collected from the various departments related to quality of professional learning (e.g., Office of Learning, Educational Technology, Finance, HR), including review of SMART goals where applicable
  6. Review of schoolwide policies, procedures, artifacts, and practices as it related to professional learning
  7. Inquiry with K-12 coaches on ways to further optimize coaching for professional learning
  8. Review of best practices in professional learning through team participation at the 2012 Learning Forward Conference
  9. Synthesis of all input (for areas above) emerged as themes in a preliminary draft of commendations and recommendations
At the completion of the internal review process, an external review process was then initiated. This external review process involved Joellen Killion from Learning Forward, and included the following approaches:
  1. A Learning Forward survey (i.e., SAI2) was administered with all staff, which checked effectiveness of 50 best practice criteria aligned to seven professional learning standards
  2. Joellen Killion participated in a four-day on-site review of evidence and stakeholder sessions to determine levels of professional learning practice at SAS
  3. A 15-point Learning Forward audit of professional learning was used by Joellen Killion to further synthesize and confirm the validity of the internal review commendations and recommendations, and to make revisions where appropriate
  4. Joellen Killion facilitated feedback sessions on the revised commendations and recommendations with the cross-divisional research team, coaches, departments, division principals, and the Superintendent, and this further refined the statements of commendation and recommendation
  5. An administrative leadership team session was conducted on the final commendations and recommendations, which provided opportunity for dialogue and questions to develop deeper levels of understanding and action
  6. An 18-month action plan timeline was collaboratively developed to operationalize the various components of the recommendations, and a new board policy was developed to provide added support for these directions
A simple and yet significant development from the review process was enhanced organizational clarity around the definition, principles, and standards of professional learning for Singapore American School. 

Definition of Professional Learning:
The term of professional learning means a comprehensive, differentiated, and sustained approach to improving teachers' and administrators' effectiveness in optimizing student learning.

Principles of Professional Learning -- The Principles of Professional Learning are intended to guide the thoughts, words, and actions of leaders, designers, and participants in pursuit of quality professional learning:
  1. Effective professional learning is fundamental to improved student learning
  2. All educators have an obligation to improve their practice
  3. Successful leaders create and sustain a culture of learning and innovation
  4. Improving student learning and professional practice requires ongoing systemic and organizational change
  5. Professional Learning Communities can solve even their most complex problems by tapping into internal expertise
  6. All professional learning meets the research-based criteria of professional learning as recognized by Learning Forward's Standards for Professional Learning
  7. All professional learning aligns with the SAS Institutional Commitments and strategic directions of the school
  8. Professional learning achieves its results for optimizing student learning when it provides adult learners different learning designs and support for implementation
Standards of Professional Learning (adopted from Learning Forward):
  1. Learning Communities -- Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment.
  2. Leadership -- Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires skillful leaders who develop capacity, advocate, and create support systems for professional learning. 
  3. Resources -- Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires prioritizing, monitoring, and coordinating resources for educator learning.
  4. Data -- Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students uses a variety of sources and types of student, educator, and system data to plan, assess, and evaluate professional learning.
  5. Learning Designs -- Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students integrates theories, research, and models of human learning to achieve its intended outcomes.
  6. Implementation -- Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students applies research on change and sustains support for implementation of professional learning for long-term change. 
  7. Outcomes -- Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students aligns its outcomes with educator performance and student curriculum standards. 
At the end of each year, one of the highest ratings from faculty at SAS is professional learning. Hopefully these review findings will lead to further improvements within professional learning and practice, which can then translate into improved learning opportunities for all students. In the end, however, it's one thing to develop review findings and recommendations and it is all together another thing to effectively act on recommendations. This is when the effectiveness of leadership and teams are tested. 

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