Elements of Great Professional Learning

It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows.


I’ve been reflecting more and more the last few days on professional learning — how I have learned about my practice, how I want to continue to learn, and what that learning can look like when it is done well. I don’t claim to know very much about profession learning but here’s where my thinking is now, and how I plan to pursue new opportunities in the future.

A Rich Vision of Teaching 
The most powerful professional learning for me has always begun by pushing the boundaries of what I think great math teaching can look like, in ways small and large. It might simply present a new tool or approach I hadn’t thought of before. It might share a conception of what an impactful math class can look like that goes beyond my previous goals. It might share an engaging new approach to a challenging topic that I had thought was boring before. I can’t learn what I think I already know; learning needs to start by showing me what is possible and giving me new goals to work towards.

Focused Effort 
I often leave conferences with a dozen different ideas I want to implement, or come back from winter break with a list of bookmarked blog posts full of all the new lessons I want to teach. Neither of those translates very well to enduring learning. It’s really hard to pick one or two goals just outside my comfort zone and dive deep into making them happen in my classroom. At the same time, I think it can be empowering to put everything else on the shelf for a bit and focus on one or two small, concrete changes that will make a difference for students.

A Community of Support 
It’s hard to put focused effort into learning on a regular basis. It’s also hard to read blogs, attend presentations, and talk to teachers about the incredible things they’re doing in their classrooms without feeling a little bit inadequate. I learn more when I have people in my corner reminding me that getting better at teaching is hard, but it’s also worth it. Rather than comparing myself to other great teachers I should just be comparing myself to where I was months or years before. A community of support can come in lots of forms, but I need those reminders to stick with my goals.

One final truth for me is that it’s far easier to get better at talking about teaching than it is to actually get better at teaching. I’ve been writing on this blog for close to four years. I’ve become more thoughtful and articulate about teaching and learning. But too often I’m stuck at step one, talking about what I want my teaching to look like. The real work comes from focusing on a few specific ways to get better and building the community I need to sustain that work over time. That’s where the magic happens.

2 thoughts on “Elements of Great Professional Learning

  1. Lisa Bejarano

    I agree with your ideas here, but I also think you should include:
    Alignment of professional learning to your vision of teaching
    Too often teachers are put in professional development that is not aligned with their vision of teaching and it is not productive. Professional development should be differentiated among a school’s staff so that it aligns to the teachers vision.

    1. dkane47 Post author

      Great point. I think that’s especially important for school-based PD. I’m thinking a lot about the stuff I do on my own because I don’t have much of this happening at my school at the moment, so I’m not victim to much PD that’s at odds with where I want to be as a teacher.


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