We have learned much on our journey through the pandemic. We have discovered how quickly we can shift our focus, change our practices, and reposition learning environments. We also learned important lessons and developed key insights regarding our own professional learning.
We could not always wait for prescheduled, carefully orchestrated professional development events. We found out that we can still learn what we need if we expand our search, focus on essential information and strategies, and are flexible in how learning opportunities are accessed.
We often found ourselves learning more, using more of what we learned, and sharing more with colleagues than we had prior to the pandemic. We learned with and from colleagues. We planned, adjusted, and honed new skills and transformed familiar practices. Not every new idea and practice worked well on the first attempt. We kept trying, improving, and perfecting.
We can look forward to the time when the pandemic subsides and we move toward a more stabilized and predictable normal. As we make the transition, it’s important to preserve what we have learned about our professional learning and integrate what we know to enrich, enliven, and extend future learning.
Let’s explore five lessons about professional learning that we can use to guide planning and support in the months and years ahead. First, we need to ensure that professional learning remains flexible enough to respond to the realities of our lives. Designed professional development days and after school sessions may still play a role, but access to on-demand learning support will remain key to timely, usable learning that meets our needs.
Second, we need to have access to professional learning that is short and specific. Bite-sized chunks of learning are often easier to digest and use immediately. Too much content at one time risks overwhelming our capacity and can lead to minimal application. The learning experience does not have to be be perfect, just specific and useful in the face of the needs and challenges before us.
Third, we need access to learning experiences that are practical. We need ideas and alternatives consistent with the demands of our work. One, two, or three practical ideas and action options can give us what we need to move forward without becoming overwhelmed. Understanding the underlying causes and origins of the challenges we face is important but knowing what to do and how to do it can give the guidance and confidence necessary to act.
Fourth, we need to see the connection between what we are learning and the learning we seek to nurture in our students. At times, we may start by becoming familiar with tools and frameworks, but real value comes when we can connect what we are learning with how it can inform our practice in ways that will benefit our students. Seeing this connection is what makes professional learning our priority.
Fifth, we need to preserve what we have learned about the value of collaboration in our professional learning. Sharing ideas, codeveloping learning experiences, and providing emotional support have become common place for many educators as they navigate the pandemic. The experience has enriched and informed our practices. We have learned from each other and learned together. As we make the transition, we need to remember how learning with colleagues has motivated us, helped us to learn better, and led us to retain what we learned longer.
Whether we are planning our own professional learning or supporting the professional learning of a team or staff, we need to keep in mind what we have learned over the past year about what works and what matters. Flexible, short, specific, practical, connected, and collaborative professional learning experiences are key to building expertise, navigating change, and supporting the success of students.