Developing a Professional Learning System for Adults in Service of Student Learning

The Aspen Institute Education & Society Program released a framework that outlines the elements of a coherent, district-wide professional learning system. Developing a Professional Learning System for Adults in Service of Student Learning is the culmination of collaborations with urban district leaders, teachers, and partners over the last several years, and it articulates a core set of design principles that enable a shift from centrally driven professional learning for teachers to ongoing, job-embedded learning tailored to the contexts of their individual schools and anchored in the curriculum they teach.

Design principles include:

  • Acknowledging that teaching is remarkably complex, intellectually demanding work;
  • Intentionally addressing equity, including the inequitable distribution of teacher and leader capacity across schools;
  • Putting high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials at the heart of meaningful professional learning;
  • Using evidence of students’ social, emotional, and academic growth to guide and, ultimately, measure the effectiveness of professional learning;
  • Recognizing schools as the place where teachers’ most important professional learning happens, with central office functions aligned to serve and support schools;
  • Shifting school leaders’ emphasis from the observation and evaluation of individual teachers to creating the conditions that support research-based professional learning school wide;
  • Recognizing professional learning as a collaborative, forward-looking change management activity requiring a culture and climate of trust, openness, and collaboration.

The ten elements of the framework are developed under five categories: School & System Culture, Curriculum & Assessment, Research-based Practices, Empowered Leaders, and Aligned Supports. These elements make visible how systems can deliberately stitch together the many different bodies of work that affect professional learning so they can reinforce each other in service of student learning. At its heart, this is an equity issue, because systems need to be redesigned so that every student has access to instruction and instructional materials grounded in high expectations, as well as access to teachers who can genuinely respond to their needs in achieving these expectations.

The goal of the work is to support system leaders and policymakers who embrace professional learning as key to ensuring that each student engages in rich learning experiences every day and each teacher has an opportunity to reach their potential. As educators strive to integrate new learning science and the compelling new knowledge that social, emotional, and academic dimensions of learning are inextricably intertwined, it creates an imperative to redesign professional learning; to achieve a transformation in student learning requires an equal or greater transformation in professional learning for educators. The framework can help system leaders recognize and act on the opportunities available.

For more, see