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Lessons From the Field: Improving K-12 Professional Learning

  • 4 Min Read

K-12 teachers want to develop, but their needs are varied. Hear from three leaders on how to improve professional learning.


You can order your coffee a thousand different ways: with beans from a certain region, brewed a certain way or with a certain type of milk, flavor or sweetener.

But however you order it, you still want a coffee.

The same goes for professional learning: K-12 teachers want it, but their needs are varied. Districts are getting better at understanding the needs of educators, and key among those needs is flexibility.

Life is busy and complex; what works for a teacher who lives in a central urban area is different from what works for a teacher who lives in a remote area. A teacher with a young kid or kids at home has different needs than a teacher who has no children or adult children.

“My pace, my schedule, my content, my context,” summed up Jordan Tinney, a retired superintendent of Surrey Schools in British Columbia, during our recent webinar, Transforming K-12 Professional Learning: Lessons From the Field.

But at the end of the day, these teachers all want the same thing: professional learning.

During the webinar, we spoke to three educators who offered their insights into how professional learning has evolved and how it will continue to do so.

What Has Changed? What Has Stayed the Same?

When it comes to professional learning, we asked the experts to reflect on what educators are asking for today and how it’s evolved over the past few years.

“While much has changed, a lot actually hasn’t,” said Peter Sovran, director of education at the Upper Grand District School Board.

“When we speak about educators, specifically educators in the classroom, it’s been my experience, at least over the last 30 years, that educators want professional learning that addresses their needs. And while those needs might shift, that professional learning needs to be on point, topical and high quality. That hasn’t changed.”

Sovran said that high-quality education is a necessity to deliver results. Educators’ time is precious, so ensuring that they feel that their professional learning is valuable is crucial to a program’s ongoing success.

When it comes to delivering that high-quality learning, it’s also important to consider how people learn.

“We know that adults learn differently than children. Autonomy is a big thing: They want to be self-directed, they want to bring forward their prior knowledge, they want to collaborate and to learn from others,” Tinney said.

“They want to get things done; they’re so busy, they want to know that their professional learning opportunities are actually delivering for them and they’re practical.”

Delivering Professional Learning for Everyone

Fiona Stewart, director of linguistic services with the New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, expanded on that idea, boiling it down to one word: accessibility.

“Here, we have some people who are in very rural locations, so your typical, traditional, in-person learning is not always a great option if you live on an island and have to take a ferry to get there,” she said.

“So [learning] being accessible at the right time, easily, so [people] can be included. We want to make it accessible to everybody and remove some of those barriers to access.”

Within each learning schedule, Stewart opens a registration and asks how people would like to learn. Some of the questions she asks include:

  • would you like to be part of a class?
  • would you like to work with a coach?
  • would you like to work independently via the platform we offer?
  • would you like feedback?
  • would you like to have the feedback in one-week intervals or two-week intervals?

Understanding each cohort’s needs helps ensure that courses are delivered in ways that can suit anyone. This frequent surveying also helps capture people’s latest needs as their life circumstances change.

This also makes sense from a district perspective, where resources—or a lack thereof—have dictated where and how professional learning can be delivered. Among those resource shortages are people.

“There is a very significant shortage of educators, whether you call them occasional teachers or supply coverage,” Sovran said. “What that has done is it’s forced us to think about, ‘how else can we offer professional learning?’”

This shortage has left those who roll out professional learning in a bind.

On the one hand, it makes in-person learning more difficult during the day, because there aren’t enough teachers to provide coverage. On the other hand, teachers have lives and families and friends who rely on them outside of the classroom, making after-hours learning difficult for some.

“At district levels, we’re looking at some of the alternatives to meet that need to deepen learning, to connect with colleagues, and knowing that it can’t happen for the most part during the classroom.”

Hear More Lessons From the Field

The webinar included several questions for these three educators who spoke for nearly an hour, sharing their personal stories and experiences.

Hear more from them by listening to the rest of the free webinar on demand.

Written by:

Chase Banger

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Table of Contents

  1. What Has Changed? What Has Stayed the Same?
  2. Delivering Professional Learning for Everyone
  3. Hear More Lessons From the Field