Stages and Tools for the Local Education Agency (LEA)
Professional Learning System Framework
This stage is designed to support local education agencies (LEAs) in establishing or refining a vision for professional learning with the purpose of integrating a focus on selecting and using high-quality instructional materials and curriculum with offering content-anchored professional learning. It is preferable that the vision encompasses the LEA's entire professional learning system; however, a singular vision statement for a new priority such as this may also be considered. The statement clarifies the intention and will serve as a catalyst for future planning and action.
This stage includes a number of tools to support this revisioning process. LEA Tool 1.1: Building a shared vision offers a process for completing this work; LEA Tool 1.2: Empowering stakeholders provides guidance for organizing a districtwide advisory group to engage in the work; and LEA Tool 1.3: Launching the vision provides a succinct review of the characteristics of an effective vision statement for organizations and stakeholders within the district. In the Resources section, Resource 1.1: Definition of professional development found in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Resource 1.2: Standards for Professional Learning, and Resource 1.3: Characteristics of a good vision statement may be studied and applied during the visioning or revisioning process.
Start with a diagnostic assessment
Work through the appropriate tools
Finish with reflection questions
A compelling district vision
A compelling district vision statement for professional learning informs schools and organizations within the district and stakeholders of its essential role in overcoming systemic inequities and guaranteeing excellence for all. Such a statement can be short and direct:
All educators will have intensive, classroom-focused, data-driven, job-embedded, curriculum-based professional learning to ensure that all students meet and exceed high standards of performance.
Or, it can be a longer narrative:
Our district professional learning system is grounded in an unwavering commitment to ensuring our students meet academic standards by building leader and teacher capacity. At the center of our professional learning system are teams of teachers who assume collective responsibility for their students' and their colleagues' success. They have consistent and regular time within the workday to engage in a continuous cycle of learning anchored in high-quality instructional materials and curriculum. They also have access to individualized support relevant to their needs. Principals engage in similar cycles of learning and improvement and also ensure that their learning, as well as team learning, is shared across classrooms. Central office staff model continuous learning and improvement while they facilitate the exchange of expertise from school to school. These concurrent cycles of learning and problem solving are the core of a learning system.
Some key characteristics of an effective district vision statement include brevity, clarity, inspiration and challenge, the organization's purpose, a future focus, a goal(s), and success measures (see LEA Tool 6C: Characteristics of a good vision statement).
Typically, vision statements, as well as subsequent goals and action plans, are developed by a representative stakeholder group that has a vested interest in the successful attainment of both. It may be helpful to establish or repurpose an existing group to complete this task. Consider all the various organizations that are impacted by content-anchored professional learning and the selection and use of high-quality curriculum and instructional materials; then, engage as many representatives as possible and practical (see LEA Tool 1.1 and LEA Tool 1.2).
Writing or revising a powerful and compelling vision statement is important. While the stakeholder group will have important input, it will be most helpful to have a small group or single individual responsible for the multiple drafts that will be required to win support and achieve consensus.
Critical issues to address in writing or refining a vision statement
Changes in federal law, a growing body of knowledge and research regarding effective professional learning, particularly in the area of high-quality instructional materials as well as the Standards for Professional Learning, combine to create a timely opportunity for teams to write or revise a current local-level vision statement for professional learning within the statewide framework (see LEA Tool 1.1).
- ESSA Definition of Professional Development
With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015, Congress provided a new definition for the term professional development (see Resource 1.1). It states: "The term 'professional development' means activities that -are sustained (not stand-alone, 1-day, or short- term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused…". This statement is followed by an elaborate list of interpretations and allowable uses of federal funding for professional development (see Resource 1.3). Careful study and discussion of the implications of this definition of professional learning by the LEA will be part of the vision setting or revision process.
- Standards for Professional Learning
In the third iteration of the Standards for Professional Learning, the purpose of professional learning is explicitly described for educators to be able to develop the knowledge, skills, practices, and dispositions they need to help students perform at higher levels. The standards signal the importance of educators taking an active role in their continuous development and places emphasis on their learning (see Resource 1.2).
The professional learning that occurs when these standards are fully implemented enrols educators as active partners in determining the content of their learning, how their learning occurs, and how they evaluate its effectiveness. The standards give educators the information they need to take leadership roles as advocates for and facilitators of effective professional learning and the conditions required for its success. Widespread attention to the standards increases the equity of access to high-quality education for every student, not just for those lucky enough to attend schools in more advantaged communities.
- The case for evidence-based professional learning
While referenced in previous versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the importance of evidence in decision making and measuring impact was elevated in ESSA. Since the passage of the previous ESEA (No Child Left Behind), enormous strides have been made in measuring the impact of professional learning. Standards for Professional Learning and large-scale studies have elevated identified practices consistently found in professional development that has produced better outcomes for educators and students. These findings will be extremely helpful in informing the revision process. Summaries of key findings can be found in Resource 1.4: The research case for investing in professional learning.