Professional Learning
What Our Students Can Teach Us About Professional Learning
Ben Kornell
We also know that learning doesn’t begin and end in the classroom, nor does it end when you graduate and enter the working world—it’s a lifelong process that takes on many forms.
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As educators, we spend so much time thinking about how to construct and support magnetic learning experiences in our classrooms. I can still remember the thrill in the classroom as my 6th graders gutted and mummified chickens as part of our Egypt unit, before “excavating” them five months later. Or when we created our own Olympic sports as we studied Ancient Greece. 

We develop these experiences for our learners because we understand the enduring power of authentic, contextualized learning. We also know that learning doesn’t begin and end in the classroom, nor does it end when you graduate and enter the working world—it’s a lifelong process that takes on many forms. More often than not, the experiences that connect with the real world in authentic and relevant ways are the most powerful. This same learning paradigm we know is best for our students is best for learners of all ages and can vastly enhance educator professional learning, too. 

Reimagining Professional Learning

Travel is when I thrive most as a learner. Visiting famous sites, strolling local grocery stores, and conversations with locals are invaluable, authentic learning experiences that enrich my understanding of the history, culture, and daily life of people across the world. Last week, I took my first trip to Beijing for a conference and this craving for firsthand learning lured me out onto the streets. It was a refreshing reminder of the electric power of real-world learning and its critical role in education.

This trip had me thinking about how we can create contextualized learning experiences where adults thrive. We know that educators are key in fostering learner-centered environments and we know what great learning experiences can look like. A 2015 Gates Foundation study showed that increased spending on professional development did not translate into shifts in classroom practice or improved student outcomes. So, how can we create professional learning experiences for our educators that catalyze meaningful change?

Fortunately, we are experiencing a bit of a renaissance in professional learning. Organizations like PBLWorks, Envision Learning Partners, and Big Picture Learning are helping districts practice what they preach for adult learners. Conferences are moving to experiential and collaborative programs and ditching large, one-way communication auditorium presentations. I recently participated in what is called a “slice” where we walked local neighborhoods and met a panorama of community members to understand place-based education more deeply.

Altitude Learning Is for Educator Learning Too 

At Altitude Learning our professional learning extends far beyond the typical “PD.” We start with your school’s unique vision and needs. From there we map to competency-based and self-directed pathways for professional growth. This week we kicked off two exciting pilots that will propel this work forward:

  • The Mount Vernon School in Atlanta, GA, will be using the Altitude Learning platform to coach educators across the country with a learner-centered approach. Guided by Mount Vernon School’s educator competencies, participants will be able to engage in their own authentic learning experiences, assess themselves and their peers, and reflect on progress over a yearlong cycle.
  • The Menlo Park City School District in California is partnering with Altitude Learning to dive into transformative grading practices in a “learn through doing” summit this June.

In addition to these formal partnerships, use cases are bubbling up across our network where educators are leveraging our professional learning model and platform to drive their own growth. A principal in Menlo Park City School District recently shared her own goal-setting and reflection practice using her demo account. After a student-led conference, she realized that her students had mastered goal-setting and that she herself could use self-directed learning tools on the Altitude Learning platform to drive her own growth, too!

Laurel Elementary School’s principal is using the Altitude Learning platform to hold herself accountable as she meets with students in a mentoring program. She is monitoring her progress toward goals and, at the same time, modeling the experience for younger learners.

Capturing Learning Anywhere, Anytime

Inspired by these user stories, I approached my trip to China in the same way. Leveraging the platform, I captured evidence of my own learning—from the conference and from the streets. It provided a surface for reflection and also made me accountable for getting the most out of my visit.

With a goal to better understand and analyze some of the world’s best assessment systems, I captured evidence of my learning and progress along the way.

The use cases for our learning platform with educators are virtually unlimited, so long as they are connected to our core principles of self-directed, competency-based, experiential learning. Going forward, we are excited to offer this tool as an enabler for schools, districts, and even professional learning organizations. In combination with the student-facing platform, we believe this will be a huge step forward in catalyzing the shift to learner-centered education.

Please let us know if you would like to partner with us to empower your educators with a learner-centered experience that applies to learners of all ages.