Sustaining a Culture of Learning for Educators

If we want our teachers to allow students the opportunity to personalize their learning experiences, then we should afford teachers those same opportunities. As stated in the 2016 National Education Technology Plan,

“Professional learning and development programs should transition to support and develop educators’ identities as fluent users of technology; creative and collaborative problem solvers; and adaptive, socially aware experts throughout their careers. Programs also should address challenges when it comes to using technology learning: ongoing professional development should be job embedded and available just in time.”

It is in support of this vision, that the Future Ready Leaders project aims to help district leaders deepen their capacity to support learning enabled by technology.

When I started teaching in 2003 I did so with the expectation that my learning as an in-service teacher would mirror my experiences as a pre-service teacher. On my path to becoming a professional teacher, every task was about what I, as an individual needed to learn and was curious about. Unit and lesson planning were structured as reflective tasks, built to improve my students’ learning and deepen my understanding of my teaching practice. Campus was rife with guest speakers, visiting lecturers, and student group roundtables providing us with a menu of options from which to plot our professional learning trajectories.

My expectation, once I joined the ranks of professional teachers with my own classroom, was that these options would only increase. I had no reason to think otherwise. However, what I found on a campus of 1,400 middle school students and nearly 100 educators was something wholly different and something I’ve since learned is representative of professional learning in schools across the country. Workshops were scheduled, attendance was mandatory, credit was earned toward certification and salary; and then we went back to our classrooms and shut our doors. Rarely, if ever, did we have control and choice over our professional learning. No systemic structures existed to encourage reflective practice or to determine if we were learning at all.

It is the memory of this harsh reality that has me excited about the work of Future Ready Leaders and its focus on Personalized Professional Learning. The districts featured in the videos below and the tools from our friends at Learning Forward have the potential to catalyze so many much-needed conversations about educators’ voice, choice, and agency in their own professional learning.

As with each of our three previous Future Ready Leaders posts, we’ve aligned the videos and resources with the research-supported dimensions of Personalized Professional Learning. To better understand your district’s position and readiness for Future Ready leadership, visit tech.ed.gov/leaders.

Job-embedded and personalized learning

“We’ve tried to raise capacity of our internal folks to be able to support and train each other…that puts teachers in a safe position. They feel like they’re learning with colleagues and from colleagues, as opposed to someone from outside, and they’re able to engage in ongoing professional development.”
— Kate Kieres, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, Palisades School District
Palisades School District, PA — Key Research-Based Dimensions: Job-embedded and personalized learning

Moving from Compliance to Agency: What Teachers Need to Make Professional Learning Work

Future Ready Leaders Dimension: Shared Leadership & Ownership

Learning Forward and the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future interviewed teachers and school administrators to understand the disconnect between the professional learning that teachers need and want and what they actually experience on the job. Teacher agency emerged as a factor that needs to be elevated in the discourse about professional learning. This report emphasizes the importance of teacher agency and pinpoints strategies that education leaders and policymakers can use to leverage agency in designing more effective professional learning.

Aligned and Integrated Outcomes

“What we know about traditional professional development is you go to a workshop as a teacher and you get excited about it, but then you get back into your day-to-day grind. So we have continuous learning coaches and teaching and learning coaches of elementary, middle, and high school that really work with our teams of teachers, whether it be on curriculum, whether it be on student engagement, utilizing the newest tool that we have in the classroom.”
— Sarah Stevens, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, Joplin School District
Joplin School District, MO — Key Research-Based Dimensions: Aligned and Integrated Outcomes

Meet the Promise of Content Standards: Tapping Technology to Enhance Professional Learning

Future Ready Leaders Dimension: Appropriate Technology

This brief from Learning Forward outlines how technology can enhance professional learning, offers examples of how technology is being used to meet the demand generated by rigorous content standards, provides guidelines for selecting and using technology as a resource for professional learning, and identifies common challenges and ways to avoid them.

Collaboration and Community

“In order for it be effective, it has to be collegial, it has to be ongoing, and it has to be job-embedded.”
— Steven Webb, Superintendent, Vancouver Public Schools
Vancouver Public Schools, WA — Key Research-Based Dimensions: Collaboration and Community

Lesson Study Puts a Collaborative Lens on Professional Learning

Future Ready Leaders Dimension: Collaboration and Community

Learn how lesson study brings opportunities for teachers to collectively examine and discuss specific classroom practice. This resource includes tools that support this collaborative process along with a real-life example of instructional coaches leveraging the strategy to build community and improve practice.

The above resources as well as the other videos and other content are available as part of Future Ready Leaders. Combined with the resources created by Learning Forward, these can serve as powerful tools for change as educational leaders plan for and implement a shift to more effective use of technology to support learning and teaching.

Additional leadership resources for developing robust infrastructure are available from our other Future Ready Coalition Partners. Future Ready Tools, including a comprehensive interactive planning tool called the Planning Dashboard, a new one-stop Hub for district leaders’ ongoing professional learning activities, and in-person summits and workshops, are also available.


Zac Chase is a ConnectED Fellow in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

Learning Forward contributed resource links in support of this post. Find more at www.learningforward.org.