Planning for Professional Learning

A district professional learning plan provides the opportunity to establish short- and long-term professional learning goals for instruction, to articulate how professional learning will take place, and delineates desired outcomes. Approaching professional learning planning comprehensively allows districts to achieve efficiencies and alignment and reduce redundancy across the schools. Districts with successful professional learning initiatives typically align goals, activities and outcomes across their departments, schools, and district. With this approach, planning for digital learning becomes one facet of broader professional learning planning efforts. Following are resources that describe the general processes for developing district professional learning plans, which can be applied to professional learning plans related to technology.

Essential Elements

Broadly, four components of professional learning planning are
  • needs assessment,
  • goal setting,
  • definition of key activities,
  • and evaluation of success.
Each component is listed below with questions that districts might ask and resources that could help with professional learning planning.

Needs Assessment

What gaps in educator competencies related to digital learning need to be addressed to fulfill the state and district’s academic goals? As with any good plan, an early needs assessment can help focus professional learning efforts on activities that reflect gaps and priorities for classroom instruction related to digital learning. A clear understanding of learning needs also provides concrete outcomes or targets for professional learning opportunities and typically provides some insight into what the best methods for accomplishing different types of outcomes might be. Needs assessments may be conducted via surveys, observations and focus groups.

Goal Setting

Goal setting is a hallmark of success with any initiative. Key aspects of high-quality goal setting include: exploring research and evidence-based practices; defining goals and objectives; defining desirable outcomes such as educator knowledge, skills, and abilities, and developing a logic model or theory of change about how professional learning will ultimately meet outcomes.

Identifying Key Activities

National groups such as Learning Forward, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)  have put forth guidelines to help assure professional learning success as related to technology in education. These standards emphasize activities that intertwine practice, research and theory. Briefly summarized below, these guidelines for creating activities include:
  • Job-embedded learning activities that directly connect practical challenges with tangible, relevant, and feasible solutions. (ISTE, CCSSO)
  • Rooted in sound pedagogy that is based on relevant research and grounded in learning theory. (Learning Forward; ISTE, CCSSO)
  • Aligned with learning goals and curriculum to provide focus for professional learning activities. (Learning Forward, CCSSO)
  • Informed by data generated systematically from a variety of sources to establish learning priorities and document progression. (Learning Forward, CCSSO)
  • Collaborative with local and distant colleagues to increase sharing of effective practices, reflection on/troubleshoot less successful efforts, and reduce teacher isolation. (Learning Forward, CCSSO)
  • Build capacity to improve and/or expand effective practice. (Learning Forward, ISTE, CCSSO)
  • Utilize blended learning modalities that can increase the accessibility and applicability of professional learning objectives. (Learning Forward, ISTE)
  • Contribute to measurable outcomes among students and teachers. (Learning Forward)
  • Tie to career pathways, including developing leadership pipelines. (CCSSO)

Evaluating Success

Documenting evidence of participants’ learning, progress, and sustainability will help to measure both short-term and long-term success. Feedback loops can be beneficial for monitoring progress toward learning goals and identifying new areas for professional learning when there are authentic measures that are embedded in the learning process. Opportunities for feedback loops may include informal and formal data collection and analysis for with administrators, professional learning providers, instructional coaches, teachers and staff.

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