From Professional Development to Professional Learning: If Schools Are to Change to Meet Their Increasingly Urgent Needs, Ms. Easton Argues, Teachers Will Have to Move from Being Trained or Developed to Becoming Active Learners. Significant Change Will Require Educators to Alter Their Attitudes and Behaviors

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ONCE WE called it training--what educators underwent before and sometimes during the school year. They were trained. For some, the word brought to mind a factory where employees were told precisely how to tighten a screw as products rolled by on the assembly line. Training certainly fit the factory model of education. To others, the word conjured images of what one does to animals, getting them to sit, roll over, and play dead. Few educators now describe their learning experiences as training.

The word development may be an improvement, but just a small one. It evokes images of what someone does to someone else: develop them. In education, professional development has, in fact, often been what someone does to others. The back-to-school speaker holds forth in order to motivate the teaching staff for the coming year. The specialist arrives from the capital to increase teachers' knowledge of state standards. The university professor advances the careers of educators through courses that offer credits to move them up on the salary scale.

Such development activities as these (and even some training activities) are neither bad nor wrong. In some cases they are vital to professional and organizational growth. But they are not sufficient. If all educators needed to do was develop (i.e., grow, expand, advance, progress, mature, enlarge, or improve), perhaps development would be enough. But educators often find that more and better are not enough. They find they often need to change what they do, on a daily or sometimes hourly basis, as they respond to the needs of the learners they serve. Doing this takes learning.

Why isn't it good enough to keep doing what we're doing, just do it better? Phillip Schlechty put it well more than a decade ago:

  Change in schools is much more urgently needed than most teachers
  and school administrators seem to realize. Indeed, I believe that if
  schools are not changed in dramatic ways very soon, public schools
  will not be a vital component of America's system of education in
  the 21st century. (1)

And evidence is all around us. Students are dropping out of school as early as seventh grade; as few as 70% of U.S. students graduate from high school. The percentage graduating is even lower for young people of color. (2)

The United States has a legal and moral commitment to educate all children, and its citizens must keep that commitment even though not all children are easy to educate. Currently, the pressure is on from those at the top, but insufficient and unevenly allocated resources make it tough for schools and districts to educate all students to high standards. Meanwhile, the mobility rate for students is rising, and, for some young people, homelessness is all they have known. The number of students for whom English is not a first language is rising. The world is complicated, with global maps changing overnight and knowledge exploding. More than ever, students need at least a high school diploma to escape menial labor and earn enough to support a family.

It is clearer today than ever that educators need to learn, and that's why professional learning has replaced professional development. Developing is not enough. Educators must be knowledgeable and wise. They must know enough in order to change. They must change in order to get different results. They must become learners, and they must be self-developing.

In the sidebar, Qualities of Powerful Professional Learning (page 757), I outline 12 features of professional learning that make it different from professional development.


Professional learning requires a new action plan for systems that are engaged in improving so that all children can learn. These systems may be whole schools, districts, Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), universities, or teacher centers.

Time for professional learning and how that time is used are the first changes to consider. …


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