By Killion, Joellen; Hirsh, Stephanie | Journal of Staff Development, December 2011 | Go to article overview


Killion, Joellen, Hirsh, Stephanie, Journal of Staff Development

Professional learning moves vision, framework, and performance standards into action

Student success depends on effective teaching - not just occasionally, but every day in every classroom and school. Effective teaching impacts students' academic, physical, socialemotional, and behavioral well-being. Effective teaching occurs best when all education stakeholders, including parents, policymakers, community members, and educators, share responsibility for continuous improvement and student achievement. For teachers in classrooms, effective professional learning is the single most powerful pathway to promote continuous improvement in teaching.

Consistently great teaching - every day, in every classroom, and in every school - emerges from a clear vision for teaching and learning. This vision is then translated into an instructional framework that details rigorous outcomes for student and educator performance. The framework and outcomes form the basis for the system for professional learning that makes them possible.

A vision for teaching and learning describes how students experience learning and the role of teaching in achieving that vision. Such a vision is grounded in learning theories and models selected to explain how learning happens, who the learners are, and the context in which students learn. The vision emerges from communitywide conversations among stakeholders who come together to describe the learning experience they want for students to prepare them for the future.

The following sample vision, based on the work of a national task force, describes teaching and learning based on the possibilities available through technology. Once a district establishes a vision, an instructional framework moves the vision from a dream to reality by describing how to achieve it.

"Imagine a high school student in the year 2015. She has grown up in a world where learning is as accessible through technologies at home as it is in the classroom, and digital content is as real to her as paper, lab equipment, or textbooks. At school, she and her classmates engage in creative problem-solving activities by manipulating simulations in a virtual laboratory or by downloading and analyzing visualizations of real-time data from remote sensors. Away from the classroom, she has seamless access to school materials and homework assignments using inexpensive mobile technologies. She continues to collaborate with her classmates in virtual environments that allow not only social interaction but also rich connections with a wealth of supplementary content. Her teacher can track her progress over the course of a lesson plan and compare her performance across a lifelong 'digital portfolio,' making note of areas that need additional attention through personalized assignments and alerting parents to specific concerns" (National Science Foundation Task Force on Cyberlearning, 2008, p. 5).

Whether an instructional framework is detailed or simple, it guides instructional decisions and builds accountability and consistency into learning experiences to improve results for students. See the sidebar below for examples of what such frameworks might include.

Visions for teaching and learning and instructional frameworks must be coupled with rigorous outcomes for student learning that specify what students are expected to know and be able to do as well as performance standards for educators. The Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics become an essential component of effective teaching because they specify the expectations for student learning. Without clearly articulated outcomes, teaching may be fragmented or unfocused. These standards have been fully adopted in 44 states and the District of Columbia and partially adopted in one additional state; variations of these standards exist in other states or in individual school systems.


Generating a vision, developing an instructional framework, and delineating student learning outcomes by themselves are insufficient to produce effective teaching.

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