Professional Learning: Transformed (a work in progress)

As I strive to model transformative practices within professional learning, I find this quite a challenge.  Not an impossible challenge, but a challenge nonetheless.  I appreciate the challenge, as a Lead Learner (I have borrowed this term and lately appreciate it for many reasons) in my district and an active participant in my own PLN, I value the importance of continuous improvement.  Leaning upon Alan November’s Transformational 6, a set of questions written to guide reflection through the lens of innovation and transformation of technology integration.  I have taken the liberty to adapt the original Transformational 6 for the purpose of professional learning.  I shared these at a recent Texas State Board of Education Learning Roundtable and have used them in my own work again recently.


Tasked with the necessity to train Special Education and General Education educators on the integration of academic vocabulary strategies in math lesson design, I recognized the opportunity to do this well and accept the challenge of modeling transformative practice.  Given the constraints of a short timeframe and large number of educators, I made the first decision to utilize our LMS (Schoology) to house the professional learning opportunity.  

To what end?

The big question I asked myself over and over in the design process was: To what end?  That is, why should the educators participate in this training and for what purpose?  What will they get out of it?  How will the district and their students benefit from it?  This question, To what End?, helped focus my plans on a worthwhile, purposeful training.

Ultimately, the structure of the training was organized into 6 steps:

Step 1: Academic Vocabulary Resources: Mathematics

Step 2: Coppell ISD Learning Framework

Step 3: Academic Vocabulary and UbD

Step 4: Utilizing Anchor Charts to Support Academic Vocabulary Acquisition

Step 5: Utilizing Frayer Models to Support Academic Vocabulary Acquisition

Step 6: Reflection and Next Steps

As the educators access the training through our LMS, they will complete each step before moving on to the next.

background knowledge

Back to the Transformational 6…In designing the training I asked each of the questions to ensure I was working to model innovation and transformation.  To some of these questions, I was able to respond confidently in the affirmative.  Others, well, I am still working on that.

Question 1: Did the professional learning experience build capacity for critical thinking in lesson design?  Throughout the training, the educators will refer to their own unit plans and find themselves challenged to improve upon them in terms of intentional academic vocabulary acquisition.  My informal research in the design process yielded a concerning outcome: many educators were unfamiliar with vocabulary acquisition strategies for teaching and rather confused them with vocabulary assessment strategies.  There is a time for assessment, but the focus here is on learning the terms.

Question 2: Did the professional learning experience develop new lines of inquiry? I included links to two academic journal articles as well as a brief excerpt from a book I referenced in a recent blog post.  Following the opportunity to gain new knowledge or challenge current knowledge, the educators are tasked with the goal of implementing two strategies (Anchor Charts and Frayer Models) and posting a reflection on a discussion board using given sentence starters:

  • I used to think…But now I know…
  • One thing I would change next time is…
  • One benefit for my learners was…

The educators must inquire about how to successfully implement these strategies in their classrooms, how they fit within their course, and what changes the process made in the lines of thinking of themselves and their students.

Question 3: Are there opportunities for the teachers to make their thinking visible? Beyond the reflections mentioned above, and before the teachers learn about the strategies of Anchor Charts and Frayer Models, they connect to our common vision, articulated in the CISD Learning Framework.  Their thinking becomes visible here, as they respond using one of these:

  • One question this brings to mind is…
  • This impacts my lesson design by…
  • I wonder…


Question 4: Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences around the world?  This is one of the questions with which I am still struggling.  I am hesitant to add “post a response on Twitter” or use social media to share out your thoughts, because that is not the authentic audience to which this question is referring.  Maybe the products (described below) that come of this work could be compiled into an iBook or published into an iTunes U course for educators around the world to read and learn.  We’ll see.


Question 5: Is there an opportunity for teachers to create a contribution (purposeful work)? In steps 4 and 5, as the educators learn about two strategies for academic vocabulary acquisition, they are challenged to implement each into their classroom with their students.  Then, they are to post a photo of each product (Anchor Chart and Frayer Model) with a reflection on the discussion board.  This work serves as a contribution to a greater compilation of work created by their professional peers.


Question 6: Does the professional learning experience demo “best in the world” examples of content and skills?  The two academic journal articles as well as the brief excerpt from the book ties to best content and skills available.  “Best in the world” is yet to be determined, but the content is definitely of high quality and purpose.


As I continue to grow as an education leader, I am proud to share that I am striving to improve my practice as a professional learning designer.  The response to my guiding question, To what end? will be determined soon by my educators as they experience this training.  Ultimately, I know the best professional learning opportunities are developed as a result of collaborative inquiry.


This professional learning opportunity has not been developed as a result of collaborative inquiry on the part of my educators.  Rather, the need comes as the result of a team of educators and administrators working to solve a problem within our district – all learners have not been successful and we need to do something about that (please excuse the summary of the problem here).  Thank you to my peers to reviewed my design and provided thoughtful feedback.  I will not soon forget that Feedback Builds Character.


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