What is Smart Professional Learning?

professional development for educatorsWhen you think of professional development in the K-12 setting, what comes to mind? 

For those of us who have experienced it as a teacher or administrator, memories look like… 

  • Sitting in a room with your peers for a one-day “training” that has one or two actionable tips in an 8-hour day;
  • Attending workshops on topics that might’ve been useful in your first year of teaching but not your fifteenth; or
  • A feeling of borderline dread as you anticipate being introduced to yet another initiative to add to your already full plate.

The goal of professional development for educators is to propel teacher growth and student achievement in tandem, yet the research shows that PD hardly ever translates to improved practice in the classroom. The reason for this is pretty straightforward. We know that students learn differently. Thus, we understand the value of differentiating instruction to meet each student where they are. Why then have we not approached teacher growth with that same individualized attention?

As a former assistant superintendent and current public education consultant, I have long wrestled with the same challenges as other leaders do: How do we feasibly move away from the one-size-fits-all approach consisting of a variety of workshops, seminars, and online training to more relevant, individualized professional learning? And who has the time or resources to redesign the face of professional development in education to make this happen?

What if you could have a way to provide exactly what every educator needs in less time using less money? In an environment that’s distinctly diverse – and one that is suffering immensely in the face of the “Great Resignation” – we can no longer afford to wait. It is time to have the power of Smart Professional Learning in the hands of administrators. We need to make learning matter not just for students but for teachers, paras, campus and district leaders, administrative assistants, and facilities and maintenance staff as well.

We need Smart Professional Learning

Smart professional learning (spl) is the antithesis of the one-size-fits-all PD model. When done well, smart professional learning is:

  • Collaborative

    Smart professional learning recognizes the value of collaborative learning and networking opportunities. It encourages professionals to engage in communities of practice, online forums, and social learning platforms to connect with like-minded individuals, share ideas, and collaborate on projects. Additionally, it emphasizes the importance of personalized 1:1 coaching, where professionals work with a coach to set goals, incorporate research-based instructional strategies, and receive formative feedback. This holistic approach, incorporating both collaboration and individualized coaching, ensures a supportive and growth-oriented environment for professionals to enhance their instructional practices and drive continuous improvement.

  • Individualized

    Smart professional learning recognizes that everyone has unique strengths, interests, and areas for growth. It involves tailoring learning experiences to address specific needs, enabling professionals to focus on the skills and knowledge that matter most to their career goals. By personalizing the learning journey, individuals can make progress at their own pace, fostering deeper engagement and motivation.

  • Scalable

    Smart professional learning embraces the power of technology to break down barriers. It offers flexible learning options, such as online courses, webinars, virtual conferences, and micro-learning modules, which can be accessed anytime, anywhere. This flexibility ensures that professionals can engage in learning opportunities that align with their busy schedules, promoting a healthy work-life balance.

  • Evidence-based and data-informed

    Smart Professional learning stands out for its data-informed approach, utilizing valuable information to make informed decisions and achieve continuous improvement. Through the collection and analysis of data, including student assessments, progress metrics, and feedback, individuals receive actionable insights that shape their learning journey. These insights empower professionals to identify their strengths and areas that need growth, resulting in a targeted and impactful learning experience.

  • Predictable and sustained

    Changes in practice cannot be accomplished in short, one-off workshops. The traditional episodic and fragmented approach to PD does not afford the time necessary for learning that is “rigorous” and “cumulative”. Sustained professional development and coaching, with multiple opportunities to engage in consistent concepts or practice, leads to transformative teaching and improved student learning.

  • Qualitative and quantitative

    Few schools, districts, or state education agencies have created good systems of tracking PD, let alone systems for analyzing the quality and impact of PD. Without a sense of what is working and why, it is hard to adopt and implement professional learning for teachers that is evidence-based and designed to address potential obstacles.

  • Aligned to competencies

    For professional learning to be most effective, it must be relevant to the participants. This entails designing activities and learning experiences that align with:
    • The existing experience, knowledge, and needs of individual teachers.
    • The context and day-to-day experiences of teachers and their schools.
    • The desired outcomes for students.

Rather than requiring teachers to participate in PD that simply ticks a compliance box, smart professional learning meets each teacher where they are to differentiate the path toward growth and mastery. And it gives leaders the needed data and tools to save time and money using targeted decision-making.

It begins first and foremost by identifying the key competencies that are unique to and define your district. Rather than wasting money and time – arguably our most precious resource – on implementing PD programs that only add to initiative fatigue, having a defined set of competencies keeps things cohesive and simple. Music to an exhausted teacher’s ears!

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Just as we scaffold standards and differentiate activities for students, smart professional learning gives us the tools to scaffold competencies and differentiate support for teachers. It makes it easy for teachers to identify the classroom practices they feel confident in, pinpoint areas in which they’d like to improve, and utilize the relevant professional learning resources that meet their needs.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a crucial piece of this puzzle, the “smart” piece: documentation. As I like to say, if we don’t have data on it, it didn’t happen. We already utilize outcomes data to quantify student achievement! Leveraging a smart professional learning tool like GroweLab to quantify educator growth is key in measuring, reporting, and celebrating the effectiveness of your efforts.


Talent Development Platform-GroweLab

engage2learn recently launched GroweLab to provide public schools with an all-in-one talent development and coaching platform for educators that transforms traditional professional development. GroweLab provides scalable, comprehensive instructional coaching based on extensive peer-reviewed research on adult learning, best practices, and successful coaching interactions. GroweLab is packed with features intentionally designed to make instructional coaching support easy to implement and manage:

  • Coordinates hundreds of coaching sessions accessible to coaches and learners to stay organized and save time.
  • Collaborates with learners via live updating coaching logs and notes to design a variety of standards-aligned resources and learning experiences based on learner interests that are engaging.
  • Provides a vast online professional development library of vetted resources, tools, temp-lates, online courses, and video workshops aligned to competencies and focus topics.
  • Offers the flexibility of any time learning via mySmartCoach, an on-demand, personalized coaching system. mySmartCoach allows school districts to provide evidence-based instructional coaching adapted to the needs and learning style of each teacher.
  • Collects data from coaching sessions and classroom implementations to facilitate feedback from coaches on learner’s growth.
  • Certifies, celebrates, and encourages growth with microcredentials and badges based on evidence of successful and effective implementation of competencies.

eSuite Apps

Public education looks very different today than it did ten years ago or even two years ago. Instructional methods, edtech tools, classroom best practices, standardized testing – it’s a constant evolution, the never-ending pursuit of doing right by our students. Without prioritizing the evolution of professional learning in tandem, however, we can’t possibly expect teachers to keep up and stick it out.

Smart professional learning gives educators superpowers to move beyond the methods of the past and meet the challenges of today!

With smart professional learning, we can finally stop the churn of PD and begin the journey towards intentional teacher support, increased retention rates, and, most importantly, improved student outcomes for the long haul.

BONUS: Not sure where to start? We've got a quiz for that! Take it here: How Smart is Your PD?

Ready to provide competency-based, smart professional learning for your teachers? We’re ready to be your partner. Get in touch with us today!