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K-12 Professional Learning: Key Takeaways From Two Texas Conferences

At the Digital Learning Annual Conference and the National Conference on Education, professional learning strategies and techniques took center stage. Here’s what I learned from attending both events.

Everything is bigger in Texas. This saying proved true in February as I traveled to the Lone Star State for two large educational conferences.  

The Digital Learning Annual Conference (DLAC) and the National Conference on Education (NCE), presented by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), included valuable sessions focused on professional learning strategies and techniques from leaders and superintendents who work in locations throughout the United States.  

Attending as the academic affairs manager here at D2L—and as a former educator and administrator—I was able to gain insights from a multifaceted perspective. I had the privilege of working in education for over 14 years. I can remember my time in the classroom—as an elementary and middle school teacher, a K12 special education teacher, and eventually an administrator—and how I always wanted to better understand how to be an effective and efficient educator. 

The professional learning I participated in during my teaching days taught me about the achievement gap, differentiating instruction, classroom management, equity and inclusion, ensuring the success of students with special needs, curriculum design, conflict resolution, mentorship, administrative support and effective communication. That learning ensured that I reached my full potential as an educator and administrator by helping me gain expertise on the factors that contribute to making an organization successful. 

In this blog post, I’ll discuss the valuable professional learning takeaways I gleaned over the course of the DLAC and NCE conferences. I hope you’ll be able to put some of these ideas to use within your own learning organization.  

Professional Learning Takeaways From the Digital Learning Annual Conference 

My conference tour began in the beautiful city of Austin, Texas. DLAC is for K-12 digital learning practitioners, researchers and policymakers, and focuses primarily on blended, online and digital learning. 

DLAC offered me the opportunity to share my expertise and experience from a thought leadership as well as a teaching and learning perspective on the topics of blended learning and guiding staff through the implementation and adoption of technology tools. The opportunity to participate in the facilitation of K-12 professional learning was focused on the implementation of technology and gave me insights into new topics within K-12.  

How to Advocate for Change at the Policy Level 

The first session I attended, “Policy Protectors: Unite,” was a collaboration between DLAC’s new policy community, represented by Susan Gentz from BSG Strategy, and my colleague at D2L Brendan Desetti, senior director, corporate strategy, Markets. It served as an advocacy workshop and discussed the policy issues surfacing during the 2022 state legislative sessions. Valuable conversations were centered around teacher burnout, school and classroom structures, and the specific needs of educators.  

For me, the most beneficial portion of the workshop was when the presenters gave attendees the opportunity to design a pitch to policymakers on changes they would like to see in their own districts. Attendees could advocate for their organization and vocalize their concerns, such as teacher burnout and teacher shortages, social and emotional learning initiatives, and levels of administrative support, while educating policymakers on their perspectives regarding other current issues.  

By recognizing what blended learning is and distinguishing it from online and virtual learning, we could implement efficient and effective teaching strategies to ensure that all student needs are met by providing flexible learning opportunities and environments. 

Brittany Singleton, academic affairs manager at D2L 

The Evolution and Promise of Blended Learning  

I also had the pleasure of moderating a session with co-presenter Heather Clayton Staker, founder and president of Ready to Blend. Titled “Blended-learning examples in Singapore, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and the U.S. inform our vision for 2043,” the session gave us the opportunity to share the history of blended learning based on examples from around the world. We disclosed what we viewed as the highs and lows of blended learning in the regions listed in the title, ranging from the theory of disruptive innovation to the story of computer labs, taxonomy to blended learning over a decade ago and Maslow’s hierarchy. We discussed how to shape blended learning into the innovation we want it to be to modernize schooling for the next 20 years. That vision includes recognizing specifically what blended learning is and how to distinguish it from online learning and virtual learning. These differences could help with implementing the most efficient and effective teaching strategies to ensure that all student needs are met by providing flexible learning opportunities and environments. 

We also discussed how blended learning has evolved since it first emerged some two decades ago. The audience was engaged, and while there were some differences of opinion, almost everyone in attendance expressed confidence in their ability to steer clear of blended learning’s pitfalls in order to amplify its potential.  

How To Address the Teacher Burnout Crisis 

The next day, I attended a two-part session run by my colleague Mark Schneiderman, senior strategy and public affairs director at D2L. The presentations focused on teacher burnout and professional development, specifically analyzing and reporting on the findings from the data informed by a recent D2L survey of more than 1,000 school district superintendents and administrators across the United States, in addition to a series of best practices recommended by a study group of experts and school leaders.  

Teacher interest, teacher-centered professional learning and a set of specific practices were reviewed for their ability to deliver more flexible, on-demand and relevant support. The teacher burnout survey provided a more in-depth perspective on professional learning and its findings—including the significance of teacher burnout, fatigue, and retention in school districts; how to reduce teacher burnout and retention; and the role technology plays in reducing teacher burnout to ensure teachers’ jobs are easier and more effective. The session resonated deeply with attendees.  

DLAC provided me with the opportunity to not only network—and answer any questions attendees had about D2L and Brightspace—but also learn more about professional learning, this time from a different role in education, as academic affairs manager at D2L.  

The K-12 Guide to Personalizing Professional Learning

To help support the need for modernized K-12 professional development, D2L convened a working group of educators to identify practices that will help reimagine teacher professional learning. This guide delivers their top eight recommendations for improving the timeliness, flexibility and relevance of professional learning.

Learn more

Professional Learning Takeaways From the National Conference on Education 

The next stop on the conference tour was the National Conference on Education (NCE), presented by American Association of School Administrators (AASA). AASA, the schools’ superintendents association, is a professional community composed of more than 10,000 educational leaders and is committed to providing a high-quality education for all students. AASA is also designed to provide educational leaders and superintendents with the opportunity to learn about best practices, the latest strategies and insights to help lead school districts to success. The theme for the conference this year was “Live well. Lead well.”  

How Leadership Development Can Help Students Succeed Too 

The first session I attended was led by Shari L. Camhi, superintendent of Baldwin Union Free School District in Baldwin, New York; Kamela Patton, superintendent of Collier County Public Schools in Naples, Florida; David Schuler, executive director designee of AASA in Alexandria, Virginia; and Aaron Spence, superintendent of Virginia Public Schools in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Titled “Minds for the Future,” the session discussed the emerging needs of leadership teams and faculty, some of whom are looking for support, with topics ranging from how to effectively implement action plans in order to ensure faculty and leadership success to how to actively support the leaders within the district and how to create a vision for the future success of schools within the district.  

The speakers discussed how implementing an action plan after analyzing specific school data will ensure that leaders, educators and students are successful. They also discussed how supporting leaders in leadership development can help overcome challenges and provide opportunities that might better help support students in their preparation for the future of work, and explored best practices through a strategic lens. This insight provided a glimpse into the challenges and opportunities that leaders face during the implementation and execution of action plans, and opened a valuable discussion around leadership development. 

How a Humanity-First Approach Drives Community, Student and Educator Success 

The next session I attended was “Collective Educator Agency: How Leaders Can Build Resiliency Through Relationships.” This session—led by Lynn Kepp, vice president of Learning Programs, Products, and Services at AVID in San Diego, California; Dr. Adrienne Battle, director of schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools in Nashville, Tennessee; Michael Lopes-Serrao, superintendent of Parkrose School District in Portland, Oregon; and Huan Nguyen, chief executive officer of AVID in San Diego, California—focused on the well-being of educators, students and communities through providing a humanity-first approach centered on relationships and collective educator agency.  

Creating a culture and climate that promotes student success and supports educators can help school districts thrive and builds relationships that support educators and help students excel socially, emotionally and academically. 

Brittany Singleton, academic affairs manager at D2L 

The panelists discussed how creating a culture and climate that promotes student success and supports educators truly helps school districts thrive. Creating this climate and culture builds relationships to support educators and help students excel socially, emotionally and academically. The panel’s experiences provided insights from different socioeconomic statuses, and each speaker shared actionable strategies, such as creating weekly professional learning communities for educators to meet and discuss how learning is going in their classrooms, as well as providing the opportunity to share ideas with one another. Focus was also placed on providing educators with the opportunity to participate in monthly meetings with leaders to discuss the successes and concerns they have within their classrooms. This provides educators with the opportunity to voice their concerns and participate in the process of implementing change while also supporting educators’ ability to foster strong relationships within the organizations. 

Addressing the Leadership Gap for Women Through Wellness and Self-Care 

On day two I attended the session “Women Excel With a Wellness Mindset,” run by Carmella Franco, mentor for AASA/USC Urban Superintendent Academy in Whittier, California; Maria Ott, a professor of clinical education who holds the Irving R. and Virginia A. Melbo, chair in education administration at USC Rossier School of Education in Los Angeles, California; and Ruth Perez, deputy superintendent of Riverside County Office of Education in Riverside, California.  

This session focused on the most recent data about women in leadership. A gap still exists for women in leadership due to burnout. According to the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the following factors cause burnout: workload, perceived lack of control, lack of reward or recognition, poor relationships, lack of fairness and mismatched values. The panelists presented topics and data focused on resilience, techniques for managing stress, and methods for avoiding burnout through implementing self-care and leading with a wellness mindset. Panelists urged attendees to reflect on how, as a leader, one can address burnout for oneself and others in the organization. They suggested taking small steps to ensure hope, efficacy, resilience, optimism, gratitude, empathy and mindfulness in order to close the leadership gap and ensure that the climate and culture of the organization are healthy and foster positive relationships. Panelists encouraged attendees to embrace uncertainty and solutions—such as living and leading well—that support women in their organizations in order to narrow the leadership gap.  

How DLAC and NCE Reinforced the Value of Professional Learning 

Attending DLAC and the NCE provided contributions to the general research that is taking place on professional learning and highlighted its importance to the growth of educators, leaders and other stakeholders. Professional learning provides individuals with the opportunity to continue to grow in all aspects. Most importantly, it helps narrow the achievement and leadership gap in order to ensure that students receive a quality education.  

Without professional learning, the opportunity for success is limited because resources and experiences are limited. In order to actively lead teams and ensure organizations are successful, professional learning is essential to every learning environment and should be the core of all organizations. Leaders should dedicate time to engaging in professional learning that educates them on effective strategies, techniques and initiatives that ensure students and educators are successful in prioritizing their well-being, which in return will ensure academic success. 

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Table of Contents

  1. Professional Learning Takeaways From the Digital Learning Annual Conference 
  2. Professional Learning Takeaways From the National Conference on Education 
  3. How DLAC and NCE Reinforced the Value of Professional Learning 

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