For Great PD, Create a Culture of Learning, not Teaching to the Initiatives

Professional Learning is Culture not “Teaching to the Initiative.” Some ideas for creating a culture of learning.

Like any industry or field, education is ripe with new initiatives. While some are external in nature, many are based on the decisions and priorities set within each district or building. Most initiatives begin with the best interests of students in mind, and I’m certainly not writing this to evaluated the effectiveness of various and sundry educational initiatives, but there is a common thread that separates successful, sustained initiatives from those that get “bindered” and shelved after about a year. The difference is the professional learning environment within the district.
In too many cases, professional learning or development is just another part of the plan per each initiative, as if securing a day or two in the beginning will propel the initiative to sustained success. Although planning for professional learning is essential with anything new, there is a big difference between “teaching to the initiative” and creating a culture for learning so that new initiatives just grow within the fertile environment. Whether you call it a PLC (in the best sense of the term) collaboration, or simply professional development, the existing culture determines the success of an initiative way more than the plan or credibility of the initiative itself.
With this in mind, consider the following ideas or thoughts in order to move forward towards a culture of learning. I’m no expert. These simply come from a combination of my own experiences and personal learning; I hope you find them useful:

1.Being reflective is essential.
Regardless of your role or responsibilities in the classroom or beyond, developing a habit of documented reflection encourages individual growth, which in turn encourages culture when that reflection is shared. Try blogging, journaling, #twitter chats, and simply talking to colleagues. Just make sure you focus on your next step so as not to get stuck. As a leader, reflect out loud and share the journey.

2. Be creative and make time for professional learning and collaboration (even without a big initiative)
This is where habits and behaviors are formed. Be sure to encourage everyone to simply identify an area of potential growth, and identify the next logical step for their learning and practice, regardless of the topic. Big visions happen with small, consistent steps. Encourage sharing and conversation where everyone helps someone else take their next step.

3. Allow room for topics and conversations that may not be part of the grand picture
While tech integration, critical thinking, and creating a learning revolution may be where you want your community to go, the little things mean a lot in terms of building confidence and culture. If time is spent discussing desk arrangement and anticipatory sets, let it roll. This may be of immediate value to someone who needs the confidence to grow in bigger areas.

4. Make room for follow-up and revision
In my experience, this is where great ideas get lost. Creating time and space for follow-up and revision may be as important as the initial rollout. Similar to creating curriculum maps, all initial learning and ideation benefits from a structured re-visit after there’s been time for people to execute and process the initial learning and ideas. Again, this begins as an individual endeavor, but ultimately is most effective in a collaborative environment.

5. Fail forward
I’m really trying to avoid cliche here but If you learn to embrace, encourage, and learn from failure, you’re sure to move forward in a more valuable manner than if you wait for the right planetary alignment to proceed. Naturally, this step or idea circles back to my first point about reflection, and around we go. The best time to start anything is now, flaws and all.