Professional Learning
Professional Learning

Educators are the lead learners in schools. If they are to enable powerful, authentic, deep learning among their students, they need to live that kind of learning and professional culture themselves. When everyone is part of that experiential through-line, that’s when next generation learning thrives.

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Practitioner's Guide to Next Gen Learning

Giving teachers personalized professional learning authentically enables next gen personalized learning for students. We look at an example of this with a recent "learning excursion" to San Diego schools.

In this week’s Friday Focus: Practitioner's Guide to Next Gen Learning, we discuss the importance of giving teachers personalized professional learning in order to authentically enable next gen personalized learning for students. We’ll look at an example of personalized professional learning: a recent learning excursion to the San Diego area, with visits to Vista Unified School District, e3 Civic High, High Tech High, and Thrive Public Schools.

Moving Educators from the Conceptual to the Actual with Personalized Professional Learning

Today, there may be wide recognition of the value of personalized, experience-based learning for students, but what about for teachers and school leaders? Developing, offering, and participating in personalized professional learning experiences is important to helping educators authentically create these kinds of experiences for their students. It’s like swimming—the best way to learn is to jump in the water!

That’s the core of NGLC learning excursions—to give educators and partners the opportunity to go beyond observing, and instead focus on jumping in to directly engage in the work of reimagining how education happens.

These learning excursions are opportunities for educators to get into schools to engage with the students and leaders of schools who are driving innovation in their classrooms. Guided by adult learning facilitators, the excursions give teachers the opportunity to learn with and from these game changers.

Watch this video to hear what participants value about learning excursions:

NGLC Learning Excursions

The excursions create opportunities for teachers to take a pause from their daily lives and become learners themselves. Morgan Alconcher, Principal at Ascend in Oakland, CA brings a team of teachers and leaders on learning excursions. Why? She explains it’s so they “have carved out time to really commit to the work and engage in a shared experience and conversations around the most high leveraged ways we can impact our instructional program, and ways we can bring our vision to fruition for our families.” Another participant, Tim Carnahan, Next Gen Manager at LEAP Innovations in Chicago, appreciates how the learning excursion shows teaching and learning approaches in action, therefore taking “intangible and theoretical ideas and makes [them] real and tangible.”

Mastering Personalized Learning through Participation

The value of personalized professional learning is that it puts the educator in the student’s chair. As teacher Jeff Robins at High Tech High School says in his video about project based learning, “You have to do the project yourself in order to teach it.”

That means as school leaders embrace personalized learning, creating and providing opportunities for teachers to be learners is critical to those efforts. Just like students, teachers need experiences that embrace the continuous, collaborative, competency-based, experiential learning characteristics that are the foundations of personalized learning.

teacher collaboration

We often talk about enabling agency in next generation learning, but it’s not only about student agency, it’s about enabling agency in everyone, at every level. Personalized professional learning gives teachers their own voice in how they learn and the opportunity to lead their own professional transformation. That’s what participants of the San Diego learning excursion observed happening at the schools they visited. And that’s what they got to experience themselves on the trip.

Student and Teacher Agency Flourishing in San Diego

San Diego learning excursion participants got a first-hand perspective on several threads of next gen learning practice during the visits to e3 Civic High School, Thrive Public Schools, High Tech High School, and three schools within Vista Unified School District: project-based learning, personalization, enacting a district-wide vision, and student agency. Here we focus on the ways that student agency anchored the schools’ designs:

  • High Tech High School - One thing you notice right away when you walk into High Tech High is the level of respect and the level of responsibility given to the students. “One of our [student] guides said that HTH doesn't teach them how to be students, they help them learn how to be adults. That says it all!” commented Jean Garrity, Director of Professional Development at LEAP Innovations, as she reflected on her visit. Check out this video, a short clip from the film Most Likely to Succeed, for a glimpse into how High Tech High teaches students how to be adults (we call this “apprentice-adults” here at NGLC).

student science project
  • e3 Civic High School - On our visit to the e3 facility in the city’s downtown library, beautifully designed for learning, we saw the effects of the effort the school has put into creating agency for students through rigorous community-connected projects, collaboration opportunities with companies and organizations in the downtown San Diego area, and deeper learning through a variety of types of instruction. The executive director of e3, Helen Griffith, shared with us how students keep a data binder, like this example, to reflect on their learning and what they want to do next. It was powerful to see what students accomplish when their data is in their own hands.
  • Vista Unified School District - Vista Unified School District is in the midst of district-wide efforts to personalize learning. We heard from district leadership that when they gathered feedback from students and parents, they found a significant need for students to feel more personally connected to their learning. They discovered that students want a more active role in deciding what they learn, how they engage in the learning, and when and where they learn. We were impressed with how the district embraces agency in its approach to the transition to a more personal model of learning. Schools and educators opt into the district’s Personal Learning Challenge Schools cohort. And then students exercise choice over which elements of the personal learning pathway they will participate in.

  • Thrive Public Schools - Student agency is vividly observable during Student-Led Conferences. These conferences help students understand and guide their own learning experiences by replacing parent-teacher conferences with conferences led by the student. Students lead these collaborative meetings, reviewing their individualized goals around literacy, numeracy, and social emotional growth; examining their work as indicators of progress toward a goal; and setting next steps.

Teachers and school leaders visiting San Diego also saw many examples of teacher agency. Since this Friday Focus centers on personalized professional learning, here are resources related to the teacher agency–focused professional learning practices at the schools we visited:

  • See how High Tech High School is approaching Adult Learning Opportunities. From experiential tours to educator residencies to online courses, the school is personalizing professional development for educators everywhere. In fact, the High Tech High Graduate School of Education just announced a New School Creation Fellowship to spend a year at High Tech High while earning a master’s degree.

  • Dr. Nicole Assisi, CEO of Thrive Public Schools, blogs about the 10 Principles to Move Your School Toward Distributive Leadership and how giving up control is one of the scariest, but most effective ways, to leading innovation.

  • Teachers at e3 Civic High create a personalized professional growth plan that enables them to design for what they want to learn. Each learning facilitator (teacher) creates plans for her or his professional growth in two common areas while also identifying and developing plans for self-selected areas of growth.

NGLC Learning Excursions

Every NGLC learning excursion is designed to develop a growth mindset in educators by creating room to experiment, embrace and learn from trying out new approaches. As Scott Fuller, Next Generation Learning Coordinator at Colorado Springs School District, shared, the learning excursions create a community that “through conversation [and] common problems just gives you more confidence to get out there.” Participants are able to observe and engage with students, teachers, and school leaders at each school so they can learn from work that has already been done.

NGLC learning excursion

We get excited when we hear that these excursions, as Thrive’s Shelli Kurth put it, “light the fire” under you to be curious, explore, and try something new.

Which is why we are especially thrilled about a new effort we are undertaking called the Next Gen Professional Learning Project, launched in November 2016 with support from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project tackles the question, “How can schools moving toward personalized, next gen learning for students best enable their teachers to work successfully in these richer, deeper learning environments?” You can read more about the project in this blog post from NGLC’s Andy Calkins.

In connection with this project we are launching a survey about next gen professional learning. We are asking innovative schools and districts to tell us what they are doing with professional learning. It is an opportunity to bring educators' voices to the challenge of preparing and supporting teachers to work in next gen classrooms. Results from this study will be shared later this spring.

Kristen Vogt (she/her/hers)

Knowledge Officer, NGLC

Kristen Vogt, knowledge management officer for NGLC, focuses on identifying lessons, strategies and outcomes from the NGLC community and making them available to a wider audience.