Create Your Own Adventure (Professional Learning That Shifts Practice Part 5)

Teachers (like all learners) thrive when they have a clear understanding of the vision and know where they are going, yet have the autonomy to get there in a way that meets the needs of the learners in their classrooms.  A teacher’s preparation and previous experiences influence how they teach.  If you think about it, the opportunities and experiences that teachers have often get mirrored in their classrooms. Creating opportunities for teachers to engage as learners in more authentic and personal ways can impact the experiences teachers create for their students.  However, when learning opportunities are either too standardized or on the other extreme too open-ended, it rarely creates a culture that shifts practices and move a system forward to impact learning for all kids.  Here are some observations based on professional learning I have seen around the country.

When professional learning is too standardized:

  1. Learning is designed for one size to fit all
  2. Focus on fidelity to programs, not learners
  3. Designed for the “average”, meets the needs of few
  4. Externally designed path and pace
  5. Lack opportunities to for voice and choice of the learners

When professional learning is too open-ended:

  1. Lack of clear learning goals
  2. Passion runs high for some and others become paralyzed by too many choices
  3. No one is really sure what is expected of them
  4. Many left to figure it out on their own
  5. Little follow through and lack of cohesion on a team or staff

When professional learning has clear goals and allows for personal pathways:

  1. Develops skills and knowledge based on the needs of the learner
  2. Builds on strengths and interests
  3. Allows for creativity and passion to drive diverse learning experiences
  4. Honors individuals and allows them to progress from where they are
  5. Models desired teaching and learning

Create Your Own Adventure

Creating diverse opportunities for professional learning is more important that ever as many systems strive to move away from standardization to more personal learning…for all learners. Remember the old choose your own adventure books? Think of this matrix as just the beginning of the possibilities that exist to craft some personal learning experiences.   To be the most purposeful and have the most impact, starting with why you are engaging in learning opportunities will help determine the how, who, when, and where. With a clear purpose and goal, educators can leverage a wide variety of resources and experts, both in schools and across the global community to create you own adventure and continually improve practice.


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  • Apprenticeship Learning Models — Rather than conducting the traditional summer school and offer professional development separately, Cajon Valley Union School District created a program where both teachers and students learned together. One lead teacher was paired with a team that was eager to experience and experiment with new methods of teaching and learning to leverage technology and create more authentic learning experiences for students. The lead teachers modeled and guided the experience as the “apprentices” learned through experience and collaboration. Check out their video. Characteristics that shift practice: model desired practices, action-oriented, collaborative, and applicable.Here are some great examples of professional learning that is shifting practices. They range from district initiatives to small communities of practice but all are making an impact on how we learn and teach in schools. Hopefully these help you create your own learning adventure and continually develop your own practices to improve outcomes for kids.
  • Improvement Science –Carnegie has championed the Improvement Science movement and many schools and districts are using this methodology to utilize practitioner research to improve practice. The goal is to empower educators to find problems and address challenges that exist in their schools and classrooms, create interventions or engage in rapid plan-do-study-act cycles to determine the impact of the innovations.  Check out the book, Learning to ImproveCharacteristics that shift practice: learner-centered, inquiry-based, action-oriented, purposeful, goal-oriented, applicable.
  • Social Networks, Hashtags & Twitter Chats : Developing a personal learning network can help educators access a variety of people, resources and ideas.  Some of my favorite chats and networks are  #caedchat #leadupchat #satchatwc and #innovatorsmindset.  Beyond the actual chat is the people that you connect with on a regular basis to share ideas and support and push each other from near and far. Check out some of these chats to find your tribe. Characteristics that shift practice: personal, learner-centered, purposeful, and collaborative
  • Book Clubs– in Person or Virtual— There are many great books but even better are the networks and communities that are emerging to implement and discuss the ideas from them. Communities of practice around these books clubs are helping educators put the ideas into practice. A great example is one organized by Jennifer Casa-Todd and the #OSSEMOOC.  They put together a robust series of learning activities. Check out the  Innovator’s Mindset Book Club– they hosted a collaborative blog, Twitter chats, online panels, and Voxer groups and lots of powerful sharing and learning.  Characteristics that shift practice: personal, learner-centered, purposeful, and collaborative
  • Personal Learning Projects–In a course that I developed and taught for the University of San Diego’s online M.Ed program, the students (teachers) engaged in a 25 hour learning challenge.  The basic prompt was to identify a skill, talent, or activity that you would like to learn, set a goal and success criteria for learning, identify resources to support your learning process,and document and share the process. Throughout  the 25 Hour Learning Challenge teachers began to see the value of the vast resources online and the opportunities that exist to learn in a variety of ways.  Beyond the resources, teachers also experienced the power of connecting across diverse networks and how they could bring those experiences to their own classrooms. Check out the blog about it hereCharacteristics that shift practice: personal, learner-centered, purposeful, goal-oriented, applicable,action-oriented, collaborative
  • Micro-credentialsDiverse organizations are developing micro-credentials to identify critical skills or competencies that are critical for educators to develop and improve their practice.  Digital Promise has developed a platform to house these micro-credentials and allow educators to submit evidence and earn micro-credentials. This competency-based approach allows for teachers to choose their own path, place and pace for learning but ensure that all educators demonstrate competency in the desired area to earn a micro-credential. Houston Independent School District, Kettle Morraine School District and Baltimore County School District have prioritized select micro-credentials that identify skills that they believe are critical for teachers to develop. These districts are piloting this approach and looking at both professional development credits and salary increases to develop systems that award competency over seat time. Characteristics that shift practice: personal, learner-centered, purposeful, goal-oriented, applicable, and action-oriented. 
  • Learning walks In order to build capacity and develop a shared understanding of what powerful teaching and learning looks like, sounds like, and feels like, it is critical to observe (not just talk about) teaching and learning.  Too often we make decisions based on assumptions, as well as our own beliefs and perspectives, rather that what is currently happening in classrooms. Check out how I like to structure these experiences here.  Characteristics that shift practice: personal, learner-centered, purposeful, and collaborative, and applicable.

As a final note, out of the 10 characteristics, I did not include safe in any of these examples.  Although, I believe that a safe learning environment is foundational to all learning, it has to come from the team and those conditions have to be created and organic to each learning environment.  I’d love to hear how you adapt some of these ideas of others innovative models that are shifting practice that you would like to share.

This is the final post in the 5 part series on the 10 Characteristics of Professional Learning that Shifts Practice. Check out the rest of the series:

Purposeful Professional Learning- Part 1

Meaningful Problem Solving- Part 2

Moving from Planning to Action- Part 3

Creating Safe Learning Environments – Part 4

8 Replies to “Create Your Own Adventure (Professional Learning That Shifts Practice Part 5)”

  1. jencasatodd says: Reply

    Hi Katie,
    You make so many important points here about the nature of professional learning that works effectively! What I loved about the Book Club (I had never done this as a professional learning tool), is exactly what you evidenced. There were multiple entry points for a variety of learning styles but anchored on a common vision and ideas. Best of all, the discussions based on The Innovator’s Mindset, led to actual change in practice; not just for me, but for many. This could be seen in the various blog hops & artifacts that came from the Book Study which are archived on the OSSEMOOC site. George Couros’ book in particular is accessible to teachers as it isn’t too theoretical and the discussion questions lend themselves to action. I am definitely going to explore some of your other suggestions here! Awesome, post!
    🙂 Jen

    1. Thanks Jen! Talk about leading by example:). I love that you experimented with a new way of doing things and took risks to create really powerful learning experiences for educators both locally and globally. I know that a lot of people benefitted from it an will continue to develop their own iterations. Can’t wait to see what else you try!

  2. […] as her 5 part series on the 10 Characteristics of Professional Learning that Shifts Practice. In Part 5 she outlines where professional learning has clear goals and allows for personal […]

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