At Professional Learning Maps (PLM), we design engaging professional learning experiences that meet educators where they are, build on their existing strengths, provide the tools for immediate application of skills, and build communities that encourage collaboration among colleagues. Our professional development is action-oriented and professionally relevant, informed by adult learning theories and best practices. We use effective design principles to facilitate deep learning, drive real changes in practice, and generate tangible results in the classroom.
Our PD Philosophy
We recognize that adults, like students, process information and participate in learning in different ways, which is why PLM puts educators and instructional leaders at the center of the professional learning process. Our professional development is designed to help educators direct their own learning, set their own goals, measure their own progress, and become true owners of their learning and success, because we know that these are critical components of professional development.
Our philosophy is grounded in the Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning (2011) and steered by extensive research. We follow Malcolm Knowles’ principles of adult learning, which state that adult learning should be relevant to job and personal life, experiential, and problem-centered rather than content-oriented (1984). We believe that effective professional learning is ongoing and sustained, not infrequent and transitory; is job-embedded rather than external; occurs in the classroom and school context; focuses on results rather than perceptions; and is systematically aligned with school and district goals (DuFour, DuFour & Eaker, 2008; Lutrick, 2012).
How We Facilitate Learning
Six design principles support our professional development philosophy.
Build on Existing Knowledge
The brain stores information in complex neural pathways. We recognize how tough it can be to get new information into those networks, which is why our professional development is structured to provide scaffolding of new information in order to enter those pathways (Willis, 2010). PLM’s professional development consistently elicits and builds on existing knowledge and experience in order to support the transfer of learning to long-term memory.
Using resources like PathFinder, we assess adult learners’ skills in order to meet them where they are and scaffold their learning, creating a personalized learning path that guides educators as they build on their existing strengths.
We recognize that adult learners benefit from the same autonomy and flexibility that we afford students and, as a result, provide differentiated learning opportunities in our professional development. PLM offers multiple layers of choice to the adult learner, ranging from learning progression, modes of accessing content mediums, and even content mediums themselves (text, video, audio, summaries, case studies). By designing a variety of learning experiences, we put the reins in the educators’ hands, allowing them to set their own goals, track their own progress, and foster a sense of ownership.
We believe learning should take place in a meaningful context that emphasizes the practical application of skills in order to encourage transfer to the classroom and campus. PLM provides a variety of opportunities for learners to observe best practices in role-relevant scenarios. We also believe in the value of practice and experimentation, which is why we provide actionable tools and resources to facilitate job-embedded challenges.
Support Collaboration & Community
Frequent, low-stakes, nonjudgmental conversations are essential when asking learners to make changes in practice, because they provide an open forum for collaboration and experimentation. Interacting with peers who are going through similar learning experiences aids in internalization and mastery of new learning. Knowing that a shared construction of meaning is a critical aspect of learning and community-building, we strategically integrate opportunities for collegial collaboration.
Provide Opportunities to Demonstrate Learning
Learners benefit from being able to check their understanding and demonstrate learning during and after professional learning experiences. PLM offers a variety of ways for learners to provide evidence of their learning, because we know that adult learners benefit from the same flexibility and authentic assessments that we afford our students.
Structured Professional Development Opportunities
PLM gives educators a chance to experience new instructional practices first-hand with self-directed modules. Each module is 15 – 30 minutes long, an amount of time that has been proven optimal for online engagement and fits within educators’ busy schedules. Because it takes longer than 15 – 30 minutes to master a new skill or concept, each module includes performance tasks, or “challenges,” for educators to practice the skills in their classrooms.
These facilitated learning experiences take educators through four stages based on Mattiske’s 4MAT training design (2012). The first stage asks workshop participants to examine why they need to learn the skill in question, helping them understand the need for the learning taking place and how it will help them increase student achievement. The second stage takes learners through the steps involved in learning or reinforcing a new concept. The third is the “doing” stage, taking learners through the experience and providing opportunities to practice and use tools to engage in hands-on learning. The fourth and final stage prepares learners to identify potential obstacles and challenges by asking them about tips, tricks, and solutions to difficulties that may arise.
Our coaching relationships focus on building internal capacity in order to transfer learning to new situations. During job-embedded coaching, our coaches foster a relationship that spurs thinking in new ways, where reflection and creativity are sought and valued, dialogue is improved, strengths are enhanced, standards are held high, and language is respectful, clear, appreciative, and results-oriented.
Instructional coaches offer support throughout our professional learning experiences, providing educators with opportunities to learn not just through discussion, but through observation and data collection.
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