National Study Notes Teacher Prep

A new report from the nonprofit groups Learning Forward and the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future includes Long Beach as a prime example of how to involve teachers in designing their own professional learning.

The report, “Moving from Compliance to Agency: What Teachers Need to Make Professional Learning Work,” defines teacher agency as “the capacity of teachers to act purposefully and constructively to direct their professional growth and contribute to the growth of their colleagues.”

Report author and National Board Certified teacher Laurie Calvert makes a distinction between more traditional professional development, where teachers are told what they need to learn, and professional learning, where educators help plan their learning and choose options based upon their own learning needs and the needs of their students.

“We have found in our research and interviews with teachers that it makes the difference when educators are given a voice in choosing and shaping their professional learning options,” said Calvert, who is the education policy advisor for NCTAF and Learning Forward.  “Our goal is to help district and state education leaders understand how critically important teacher agency is, as well as its role in creating learning experiences that lead to mastery for both teachers and students.”

A section of the report, “What Does Teacher Agency Look Like?” begins with the vignette, “Learning before designing:  Long Beach Unified.”

The section explains how the Long Beach Unified School District recently rolled out a professional learning virtual platform called myPD (as in my Professional Development), with support from the Gates Foundation.  The myPD system supplements face-to-face professional learning in the school district by connecting teachers with a variety of learning experiences like self-paced online modules and videos of teachers demonstrating teaching standards in action.  Before school district leaders made plans to improve professional learning for teachers, they conducted a thorough needs assessment.

“We realized we couldn’t design a system for the teachers without understanding those we were designing for,” Pamela Seki, LBUSD’s assistant superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development, states in the report.  LBUSD conducted an extensive review of its professional development offerings by following a five-step information gathering process developed at Stanford University.

“District officials didn’t stop there,” the report states.  “They continued to interact with teachers to interpret the survey’s findings and learn more about teachers’ needs.  In daylong meetings with several hundred teachers (about 750 hours of conversations), district leaders delved into the specifics of teachers’ teaching experiences and professional needs.  They formed a cross-functional district team (80 percent teachers, 20 percent administrators) who acted as thought partners throughout the design of a new professional learning system.”

For the report, NCTAF and Learning Forward conducted in-depth interviews with 26 teachers, former teachers who are now responsible for district-level professional development, and school administrators.  Read the full report.

Learning Forward is a nonprofit, international association of educators committed to excellent K-12 teaching and learning.  The nonprofit National NCTAF was founded in 1994 as a bipartisan effort to engage education policymakers and practitioners in recruiting, developing and retaining great teachers.