Continuous Evaluation of Professional Learning

Well, winter quarter is wrapping up and all quarter I have been learning more and more about ISTE Coaching Standard 5: Professional Learning Facilitator. I have spent my last few blog posts sharing about professional learning in general and how to evaluate impact, rethinking the design of professional learning and ideas for using digital resources to make active learning and feedback better. So, for this blog post I want to wrap things up and look more at the coach’s role and impact on professional learning. To start I am focusing specifically on the ISTE Coaching standard indicator 5c which says, “Coaches evaluate the impact of professional learning and continually make improvements in order to meet the schoolwide vision for using technology for high-impact teaching and learning.” Wow there is a lot to this indicator, and it got me asking a lot of questions, however I knew that I needed to focus on one question and then hopefully the answers to my other questions would follow. So, for this blog post my driving questions is,

How can coaches continue to modify and improve professional learning to provide meaningful learning experiences for educators in a field where educational technology is continually evolving?

I am curious if there are specific resources that can support coaches and if this continuous modification and improvement cycle would look like what teachers do when reflecting and evaluating their own teaching.

So, what does it mean to evaluate professional learning? Since my previous blog post, Evaluating the Impact of Professional Development I have come across a few new resources and ideas for what it means to evaluate professional learning. One of the resources that impressed me the most was the NSW Government website for education. On their website they have an entire section devoted to professional learning and one part of that is focused specifically on high impact professional learning. State of New South Wales or NSW defines high impact professional learning as consisting of 5 key elements that when all working together aim to build teachers up to expert teachers and improve student achievement. Key to high impact professional learning is;

  1. The professional learning needs to be designed around agreed to and identified student needs
  2. School leadership teams are the ones needed to create the culture for learning
  3. Professional learning needs to be done in collaboration and should be job embedded
  4. Professional learning should align with school vision and goals and needs to be continuous
  5. It takes everyone’s investment, school leaders and teachers are all responsible for evaluating the impact
© State of New South Wales (Department of Education), 2019.

While all the key elements are important, I wanted to focus in on the last one which specifically talked about evaluating the impact. Something that NSW highlights is that in order to be able to measure impact, “school leaders and teachers need to be clear about whose impact on what” (State of New South Wales, 2021). This got me thinking because if the idea of professional learning is that it should aim to improve student learning than isn’t that what we should be evaluating? However, I think what is important is that the expectations around evaluation need to be clear for all involved. When tying this back to the work of Guskey it makes me think about his 5 levels of impact and how the levels 4 and 5 are all about the participant and the student. How are educators using the new knowledge and how is it impacting student learning goals? So, if we are to truly evaluate these two things then educators and students should be involved in the evaluation process. As Hattie (2015) describes, “student voice can be highly reliable, rarely includes personality comments and appropriately used, can be a major resource for understanding and promoting high-impact teaching and learning” (pg. 16). Something else that NSW highlights as a part of professional learning is this idea of a cycle of inquiry for continuous improvement cycle. What I find interesting about the improvement cycle is that it continues the idea that learning does not end. People are continually learning and improving their own practice and so if we can use an improvement cycle to help us do that than why not. it also highlights the importance of not doing this alone but how educators should be doing this in a collaborative effort. “A relevant, collaborative, and future-focused improvement cycle supports teachers to reflect on, question and consciously improve their practice” (State of New South Wales, 2021).

How do coaches play into this work?

If the evaluation of professional learning is collaborative than coaches need to be a part of that work. It is the coaches’ job to then be working with the educator to reflect on their learning and analyze the impact on student outcomes. Coaches should be communicating with the teacher to make plans for evaluation and have conversations around the use of new practices, technology, and learning all centered around student outcomes. What I appreciate is that the Washington State Standards for Mentoring really highlight how a coach can support and play a part in this work. While the standards may not specifically call out evaluating professional learning, they do talk about how the role of the coach is to support the mentee through conversation, data refection, connecting to outcomes, evaluating progress towards goals, learning from colleagues, just to name a few. So, coaches are integral to this work and need to support it every step of the way. As a coach it is my job to support the teacher in professional growth, by reflection, observation, conversation, and collaboration. Through these moves I can help focus on the impact on student learning, what this means, how to keep it going, and help build up expert teachers not just experienced teachers. For if the teacher is one of the leading influences on student achievement than we need to continue to nurture and create expert teachers in the field. According to Hattie (2003), “Expert teachers aim for more than achievement goals. They also aim to motivate their students to master rather than perform, they enhance students’ self-concept and self-efficacy about learning, they set appropriate challenging tasks, and they aim for both surface and deep outcomes” (pg. 9).

What role can and does technology play?

Technology can play varying roles when it comes to evaluating professional learning. I think the trick is to start with the end goal, what is the learning outcome, and what is the impact we are looking for? Then we can look to see what resource might fit the best. With the ever-changing environment of technology, it is hard to predict what resources might work the best. So instead of highlighting a particular resource I want to focus on how technology might be used. When thinking about different ways to evaluate and the reflective nature of evaluation I started thinking about the use of observations. However instead of a supervisor observing and reporting back how can technology allow the teacher to observe their own teaching. Video observations and reflection can be very powerful in helping teachers see things that they may not be able to see normally. Some of my own most powerful learning was when I had to video tape myself for my National Boards certification and reflect on my teaching practice. Therefore, building this into the evaluation of professional learning can be powerful. Video can also be used to bring student voice into the evaluation process. Teachers and/or coaches could interview students about their experiences, giving students the opportunity to share how they think the professional learning has impacted them. This could be either through video or just audio and with or without the teacher, it really depends on the comfort level of all involved. Technology also allows for teachers, coaches, building leadership to collaborate with out having to be face to face. This is great especially when schedules can often be hard to align. Bottom line, the opportunities for technology integration are endless. As a coach it is part of my job to support teachers in determining the right technology to use, making sure it aligns with learning goals.

Connecting Back

So, how can coaches continue to modify and improve professional learning in order to provide meaning learning experiences for educators in a field where educational technology is continually evolving? Well as coaches we need to continue to meet teachers where they are in their own professional learning journey. We need to continue to work to build trusting relationships with those that we work with. We need to continue to collaborate and learn from and with our colleagues. I also believe that it is important to remember that professional learning does not have to be a formal experience. Professional learning happens when we are pushed to think deeply, actively engage, and the learning is connected to student learning outcomes. As I continue my work as a coach, I am committed to helping develop expert teachers. Those who continually reflect on their practice, learn from and with others, intentionally look for ways to improve their practice, and seek out learning opportunities while keeping student learning front and center.

References

Guskey, T. R. (2016). Gauge impact with five levels of data. Journal of Staff Development, 37(1). Retrieved from: https://tguskey.com/wp-content/uploads/Professional-Learning-1-Gauge-Impact-with-Five-Levels-of-Data.pdf

Hattie, John, “Teachers Make a Difference, What is the research evidence?” (2003).
https://research.acer.edu.au/research_conference_2003/4

Hattie, J. (2015). What Works Best in Education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise. Retrieved from the Pearson website: https://www.pearson.com/content/dam/corporate/global/pearson-dot-com/files/hattie/150526_ExpertiseWEB_V1.pdf

ISTE Standards for Coaches | ISTE. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2021, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

Standards_for_Mentoring_2020.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved March 4, 2021, from https://www.k12.wa.us/sites/default/files/public/best/pubdocs/Standards_for_Mentoring_2020.pdf

What is High Impact Professional Learning. (2021, January 26). NSW Department of Education. https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/professional-learning/high-impact-professional-learning/what-is-hipl

2 thoughts on “Continuous Evaluation of Professional Learning

  1. I appreciate how you dug in deep explaining the essential role coaches play in guiding teachers through a self-evaluation process. I don’t think teachers carve out the time to regularly reflect on their own teaching in order to make improvements. Nor are a majority of teachers trained in analyzing data and evaluating the impact of professional learning on student achievement. What a great way coaches can support teachers. It makes me think for the hundredth time: every school needs coaches.

  2. Megan, I like how you have highlighted Guskey’s Levels 4 & 5. I think for too long teachers have been conditioned to think that PD happens to them; it’s something they need to endure. Creating a learning environment where teachers are encouraged to pursue cycles of inquiry would inevitably lead to teachers continuously assessing and improving their practice even as the learning/teaching environment transforms. As you noted, school leaders and teachers need to be responsible for evaluation. Teachers are active participants in evaluating the impact their teaching has on student learning and coaches are a valuable support in this area.

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