Developing group-held principles are key to substantive change.
Principles are the unquestioned beliefs educators hold that shape what they say, think, and do. Developing shared beliefs provides a platform for accelerating improvement efforts. When principles are articulated and visible, educators have permission to call attention to inconsistencies and to raise tough questions about next actions. Trusting and productive relationships make it possible for team members to explore the unknown and the difficult for the good of the team. This form of deep trust allows all members of a community to perform at their highest levels.
Ambitious and measurable goals precede effective professional learning.
When districts were presented with the need to be accountable for unprecedented goals for student achievement, they tried easy solutions first. They soon learned that the success of all students depended on the knowledge, skills, and aspirations of educators. The primary strategy they had to impact educator capacity was professional learning. From that point forward, expectations for professional learning increased, and professional learning shifted from a professional benefit to a professional responsibility.
Effective leadership is fundamental to successful schools. While individual educators can produce outstanding learning environments for small groups of students, only great leaders can ensure that best practices spread across the entire school. Leaders facilitate the development of a school culture that uses data to drive decision making, leverages time and other resources to support priorities, engages all teachers in cycles of continuous improvement, and maintains an unrelenting focus on student and educator learning.
Expertise exists within most schools to solve complex problems.
Too frequently, educators look beyond schools for answers to problems before examining the expertise that resides within the school. First, schools must look within their walls to identify their positive deviants—those individuals who get better results than other members of the same community while relying on the same resources. Positive deviants exist within all schools. When schools look within the community, they strengthen trust, build efficacy, and accelerate improvement.
Collaboration among educators is key to ensuring great teaching for every student.
Every student deserves great teaching every day. All students can experience great teaching when all teachers are members of learning communities that instill a sense of collective responsibility for the success of each and every child. High-functioning learning communities use data about student performance to determine educator learning needs. In a culture that both demands and values shared expertise and intentional discussion of challenges, educators come to trust their colleagues and share responsibility for their successes and failures. Teachers commit to a cycle of continuous improvement because of the outcomes they experience in such cultures. There is nothing more powerful and important for transforming the education profession.
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
Stephanie Hirsh is executive director of Learning Forward. With more than 12,000 members, Learning Forward is an international association of learning educators committed to one purpose in K–12 education: every educator engages in effective professional learning every day so every student achieves.
Hirsh presents, publishes, and consults on Learning Forward’s behalf across North America. She facilitated the process that led to the publication and national dissemination of NSDC’s Standards for Staff Development. The standards have been adopted or adapted by many states and are widely considered essential guidelines to establishing effective professional development. Hirsh also directed the development of Innovation Configurations, described in the book Moving NSDC’s Staff Development Standards Into Practice: Innovation Configurations.
Recent books include The Learning Educator, co-authored with Joellen Killion, and Transforming Schools Through Powerful Planning, co-authored with Kay Psencik. Hirsh writes a regular column for JSD, Learning Forward’s bimonthly magazine. She has also written articles for Educational Leadership, Phi Delta Kappan, The Record, The School Administrator, American School Board Journal, The High School Magazine, and Education Week. In 2008, Hirsh co-authored two book chapters with Shirley Hord: “Making the Promise a Reality,” in A.M. Blankstein, P.D. Houston, & R.W. Cole (Eds.), Sustaining Professional Learning Communities, published by Corwin Press, and “The Role of Professional Learning in Advancing Quality Teaching and Student Learning,” in Thomas L. Good, (Ed.), 21st Century Education: A Reference Handbook, published by Sage Publications.
Hirsh advises governors, chief state school officers, legislators, and other policy makers regarding all aspects of professional development. Hirsh serves on advisory boards for Learning First Alliance, Educational Testing Service Teacher Leadership Initiative, Region IX (Arizona) Equity Assistance Center, Chalkboard (Oregon) Project CLASS Program, the University of Texas College of Education Advisory Council, the University of North Texas Jewish Studies Program, Microsoft Partners in Learning, and the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems. She has been recognized by the Texas Staff Development Council with a Lifetime Achievement Award; by the University of North Texas as a Distinguished Alumnae; and by the Texas Association of School Boards as Master Trustee and member of the Honor Board.
Prior to her position with Learning Forward, Hirsh completed 15 years of district and school-based leadership positions, including: teacher, community college teaching, consulting teacher for free enterprise, and program and staff development director. In 2005, she completed three terms as a school board trustee in the Richardson Independent School District. She has been married to her husband Mike for over 30 years, has one son, and a daughter who is an elementary school teacher.
She has spent the last 20 years focused on how to improve the effectiveness of professional learning so that it delivers its intended results for its participants and the students with whom they work. Countless experiences and educators have contributed to these lessons learned.