Reflecting on the 2016-2017 academic year, there are numerous themes that were prevalent in education circles–including, but not limited to, an increased emphasis on personalization, SEL, project-based learning, big data, AI and much more. One theme that sticks out to me is that of the importance of lifelong learning.

That is why I wanted to again share a blog that we originally ran a year ago, with an emphasis less on a new design principle and more of an emphasis on the entry point that centers around one word: ONGOING.

High-quality educator preparation and ongoing professional learning opportunities should be personalized and self-directed; focused on the needs of educators, students and schools; competency-based; and embedded and practical.

For professional learning–and all kinds of learning–we believe that lifelong learning is the only option.

Randy Ziegenfuss’s recent tweet underscores this:

It is in that spirit that we believe that the schools of the future engage students not just for the four years they are at that school, but for the 40 that are to come.


In order to create the professional learning experiences that will transform schools, future leaders need coherent, job-embedded, authentic, project-based learning opportunities to create and sustain deeper learning movements.

The current system of preparation (true for most, but not all, schools of education) typically does not foster the development of leaders who can create or sustain deeper learning environments. Reflecting on my own journey, I earned both teacher and principal credentials in a very traditional manner with discrete, disconnected courses. The process of earning my superintendent’s credential, however–in a deep, project and simulation-based program–was an entirely different story.

The former informed me about things like policy, curriculum, and legal responsibilities. The latter transformed me by immersing me in big questions around social justice, equity and deeper learning.

The future of professional learning is bright when focused on design principles that emphasize rich experiences and foster transformation of professionals, schools and students.

The Future of Professional Learning

Design Principles for Professional Learning

In Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning, Digital Promise and Getting Smart outline four design principles for professional learning. These apply to credentialing programs, ongoing professional learning opportunities, and school or district-based initiatives. Graduate schools of education are in a perfect position to be leaders in applying these design principles.

What if professional learning experiences offered a diverse set of entry points–and future career paths?

Principles in Action: What it Means for Graduate Schools of Education

One example of a graduate school of education that is indeed a leader in applying these design principles High Tech High Graduate School of Education.

What follows are some higher ed examples pertinent to HTH GSE and beyond.

  • Focused on the needs of educators, students. Most importantly, the focus on educators and students must go far beyond rhetoric and be part of the design. One of HTH GSE’s strengths is its relentless focus on equity and deeper learning.
  • Personalized and self-directed. In addition to providing personalized learning experiences for students earning degrees, HTH GSE offers personalized learning experiences at a variety of entry points with school tours, conferences, residencies, an online Education Leadership Academy, a Center for Research on Equity and Innovation and more.
  • Competency-based. Like students, educators deserve a clear map of what they need to know and be able to do, multiple ways to learn, and options for demonstrating mastery. In most cases, the future of professional learning will be marked with a stackable series of micro-credentials. HTH GSE is looking to scaffold offerings to build stackable credits.
  •  Job-embedded and practical. Every adult has a personal learning plan and that learning plan helps connect “professional learning” and the “day job.” The future will hold no more random courses for continuing ed credits, just highly relevant job-linked learning.

The Impact of Such Learning

When built on the above design principles, the future of professional learning will settle for nothing less than transformation. Here are some examples of how professional learning transforms educators, schools and students.

Transformation of Professionals

With this focus on equity and deeper learning, professionals are transformed in powerful ways. For example, when professionals themselves engage in project-based learning experiences–particularly those grounded in an equity and deeper learning focus–they are transformed.

The six areas of deeper learning that have been identified for today’s students are also critical for the development of leaders. No matter what our age or experience level, Hewlett’s six competencies of deeper learning apply: mastering core content, thinking critically to solve complex problems, working collaboratively, communicating, learning how to learn, and an academic mindset.

This happens through experiences such as field trips and research. When we do that, we can solve budget, policy and other complex issues.

Transformation of Schools

There are a numbe of ways to practice transformative change in schools. In her blog on transforming schools through strengths-based professional development, Laura McBain said “You are allowed to be a masterpiece and a work in progress, simultaneously.”

  • Build on strengths
  • Offer disruptive professional learning opportunities
  • Create a sense of belonging
  • Make meaning
  • Celebrate

The tips Laura provides are timeless–and they work.

Transformation of Students

As students practice principles of deeper learning and engage in personalized project-based learning, they learn to redefine roles (for example, through Bobby Shaddock’s Pathway to the Plate); take on meaningful challenges (Kyle Linnik’s Meals and Muppets); listen deeply, create products for “the real world” (Britt Shirk’s Tiny Home); and, perhaps most importantly, ignite passion and tackle big issues like social justice (Nuvia Ruland’s Beyond the Crossfire). Across the board, learning was not simply an expectation, but a requirement for success.

Building a Legacy of Leaders and Impact

Ultimately, as this rethinking of professional learning builds a legacy of leaders who embody the competencies outlined in Preparing Leaders for Deeper Learning, the output will be leaders who set and convey a vision for deeper learning, innovate and manage shifts to deeper learning, lead deeper learning outcomes, and engage and scale deeper learning.

The future of professional learning will not only inform, but it will also transform how we learn and who we are.

This post originally ran on June 2, 2016 as part of a series entitled “Getting Smart on Rethinking Professional Learning.” A Smart Bundle was produced in partnership with High Tech High Graduate School of Higher Education (@hthgse). Join the conversation on Twitter using #EdLeaders or #RethinkPD and #SmartBundle.

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