Deeper Learning For All

For too many teachers, deeper learning only happens on our own and outside of our schools. During the summers, on weekends, or after the final bell rings, we sign on to virtual learning communities of practice to engage with powerful networks of teachers thirsty for deeper learning. This is one of many reasons why the recently released report “Teacher Leadership and Deeper Learning” by Barnett Berry is so important.

Recently I had dinner with a friend and colleague. She is a passionate teacher leader who has transitioned into a school leadership role. After catching up on life in general the conversation inevitably turned to professional matters, specifically, professional learning.

She made a bold and sweeping statement about the meaningful professional learning and networks that have impacted her practice and leadership journey. The commonality across experiences? Every high impact opportunity was self-selected, and took place outside of job-embedded structures provided to all staff members. The conclusion? If teachers want deeper learning, they must seek it out — on their own and likely outside of their school or district.

While this conclusion is a broad generalization, it resonated with my own experiences. Three high impact deeper learning experiences stand out in my own professional learning journey: pursuing National Board Certification, participating in an invitational summer institute with the Denver Writing Project (a local branch of the National Writing Project), and membership and engagement with virtual communities of practice like the CTQ Collaboratory. Each of these experiences was self-selected, and the time invested and learning occurred outside of my school and district’s professional learning structures.

For too many teachers, deeper learning only happens on our own and outside of our schools. During the summers, on weekends, or after the final bell rings, we sign on to virtual learning communities of practice to engage with powerful networks of teachers thirsty for deeper learning.

This is one of many reasons why the recently released report “Teacher Leadership and Deeper Learning” by Barnett Berry is so important. This report calls for deeper learning for all teachers across the system vs. deeper learning by chance or happenstance for individual educators curious enough to seek out meaningful opportunities and networks on their own.

The paper outlines and advocates for leveraging three shifts to drive deeper learning across our public education system: the demand for a new kind of school accountability, the visibility of innovative organizational designs, and the rise of teacher networks. It also blends over thirty years of research with powerful anecdotes from individual schools and practitioners who have successfully leveraged deeper learning in teaching, learning, and leading contexts across the country.

The paper is important because it provides both hopetimism (that’s CTQ speak for hope and optimism) and outlines a strategy for scaling and spreading deeper learning opportunities. It calls for systemic change through unpacking the seven conditions for teacher leadership, while acknowledging that incremental steps can be taken both through formal school level practices such as lesson study, as well as informal leadership and collaboration.

What is clear is that our schools and system must mirror and model the type of collaboration and inquiry based learning we want for all students. What is also clear, is that this mirroring and modeling is only possible if we rethink the way schools are designed and structure our work based on principles of holacracy instead of traditional management hierarchies.

There must be a school–and system–wide orientation toward inquiry and risk-taking. This includes tactics for developing individual and collective teacher agency. Our schools must embrace experimentation and even intellectual playfulness, with teachers and administrators who are willing to fail in order to find groundbreaking solutions required by deeper learning. (p. 24)

I share the vision and call to action presented in this paper. A system in which deeper learning doesn’t happen in the margins, but instead is front and center and available for all–leaders, teachers, and learners. When deeper learning is a part of all teachers’ professional journeys, transformative and collaborative practices will redefine the teaching and learning experience for all students.

Note: To download and read the paper in full visit teachingquality.org/deeperlearning.