Training versus Learning: Changing the Paradigm of Educator Development

I always cringe when I hear the the word “training” used when describing development work with educators.  As many people would agree, training seems to be what one does to people as opposed to a process of learning, which is developing knowledge through authentic and relevant experiences. Professional development must move from something that we do to educators to a culture of continuous learning cycles and problem solving that leads to better opportunities for their students.

Recently, I was out in the field working with a school leadership team to design systems to support teachers to create site-based professional learning opportunities for their teachers. We began by observing classrooms and discussing the current state of learning; we then determined the strengths and goals of the school. Finally, we prioritized the needs and designed learning systems aimed at helping teachers learn how to create desired learning environments. When it came time to develop the professional learning plan I recommended that the teachers lead the work. I was met with blank stares. One teacher questioned, “So, are we just going to take turns being in charge and pretending we’re experts? I feel really uncomfortable with this”. Based on the looks in the room I assumed the rest of the group had a similar understanding of what it meant to develop and lead their own professional learning.

These educators were so accustomed to being “trained” and enduring sessions by an “expert” imparting knowledge. Based on their experience, they assumed they were expected to do the same thing as part of the professional learning plan.  I explained the model of a professional learning cycle where they would drive their own learning goals and be expected to learn and get feedback from their peers to improve their practice and develop innovative practices–they were both surprised and intrigued. We began to delve into the different components of a professional learning cycle and talked about how it might look. Another teacher commented after we had a big group discussion, “This is more like collaboration and learning in small groups based on what we need”. Exactly! Isn’t that what professional learning should be?


To empower those who are doing the work to be part of the process (not just recipients), we have created the following cycle to help us work with schools and teams to design powerful learning experiences with clear expectations and systems that provide a balance of pressure and support.

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For this cycle to change how students learn, there has to be a culture that promotes collaboration and innovation to improve how teachers learn. Here are some guiding questions to help think about how to empower educators to work together to create new ideas, share strengths and challenges of innovations to improve practices and achieve the learning goals:

  • Vision– Do you have a common understanding of what you want to accomplish? What is the vision for learning and teaching?How will you empower teachers?
  • Goal Setting– What are your specific learning goals aligned to the vision?
  • Plan for Professional Learning- How will your team develop new knowledge and strategies to achieve the learning goals?
  • Models of desired practices– How will teachers have opportunities to experience new learning?  How often do teachers observe other practitioners to develop their practice? How can you leverage technology to see models of ideal practices?  
  • Safe Practice– How will you ensure teachers have safe opportunities to practice and reflect on new learning?
  • Coaching and feedback– How will all teachers receive feedback related to the vision and the desired instructional shifts?
  • Reflection and revision– How will teachers reflect on their feedback and make necessary revisions to continue to improve practice?
  • Analyze the impact and determine next steps– How will teachers assess the impact on desired student outcomes and determine next steps?

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2 Replies to “Training versus Learning: Changing the Paradigm of Educator Development”

  1. […] predictable cycle with clear goals, focused learning outcomes, facilitated collaboration and systemic measures of accountability, can […]

  2. […] to re-evaluate the way in which teachers are expected to learn and develop their practice– are you training people and creating learning opportunities?  Foundational to this is understanding that, teachers have learned about teaching from their own […]

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