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Focus on teacher’s professional growth

With the school year in full swing, there is much to discuss about teaching and learning as it pertains to working with our students. It is also a great time to discuss our own professional growth, and take a look at the courses we are charting for our own learning and leading.

In my current role I have the opportunity on a regular basis to consider professional learning needs and wants across a number of districts throughout our region. Here are three professional learning trends I’m seeing in 2018 to 2019.

Supporting the whole learner. Much has changed in the education realm over the last 10 years. The national standards movement, a more restrictive focus on teacher evaluation and ever more complicated accountability structures have put an emphasis on elements of teaching and learning that many did not anticipate. Yet, like in much else, the pendulum of education swings back and forth. With a mix of both lessening restrictions on elements of evaluation and accountability, and national and international events highlighting the need to focus on mental health, many schools and districts are embracing a return to an emphasis on the whole child. With that in mind, professional learning in our area is exploring elements of health and wellness, school safety and restorative practice. And, through strong modeling, educators building their background in these areas are doing so by also focusing on practices that support self-care.

Regional professional learning communities. Gone are the days where learning is expected to happen solely within one’s own school or district. Instead, with opportunities to connect on a global scale, both students and staff have the opportunity to learn from an inexhaustible supply of new and experienced learners and leaders. While this global access is often through technology, it has prompted an even greater desire for educators across an area to get together and learn from each other, face-to-face. We have seen a tremendous increase in the regional PLCs that are offered in our counties. What started as content-based meetings for educators teaching the same subjects to share practice, compare notes and receive state education updates, has morphed into opportunities such as a secondary level assessment study group, a PLC focused on social emotional learning best practices across a portion of New York, and a group of educators focused on looking at learning space design. I anticipate these regional groupings to continue to shift and grow as our region’s needs continue to change. The best part is that these mixed school and district groups work to remove the silos that we can all sometimes find ourselves existing in. And that is precisely what we need to always strive for.

Timeless learning. When I look back at the ways in which professional learning has shifted across our region, one element that stands out crystal clear is the move towards so-called timeless professional learning. This isn’t timeless in the sense that it is evergreen or learning that is important regardless of context, time period and people involved -- though that may be the case in some situations and is equally important. Rather, this is timeless in the sense that time is not the deciding factor in the design of the learning. For example, over the last few years, we have gradually moved further and further away from one-day learning sessions. As we’ve gone through this shift, we have also worked to increase the accountability on learners, and facilitators, by building learning into the spaces between workshop sessions. This anytime learning design not only mirrors what real learning looks and feels like, it also comes closer to giving educators what they need in order to go from exposure to action-taking. Still to come? We’ll be working to design systems to get a better sense of the long-term impact of these types of workshop series. Through this we’ll know what learning sticks, and what doesn’t.

While other trends may be present, these three appear across our region and as a through line across areas of content and skill development. We’re happy to see these changes and support schools and districts as they foster the continued growth of their young and adult learners.

Fred Ende (@fredende) is the assistant director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred blogs at www.fredende.blogspot.com, Edutopia, ASCD EDge and SmartBrief Education. His book,Professional Development That Sticks is available from ASCD. Visit his website: www.fredende.com.

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