Leading an Annual PD Revolution – Part 3

This blog is part of a #pdrevolution series featured on CraftED’s blog.

Organize yourselves around learning in pursuit of that thing about student learning you want to improve.

“Organize around learning” can sound pretty ambiguous. Here are some practical questions to help you pull it off:

  • Time: In what ways is our master schedule already designed to clear the path for us to prioritize and maintain a deliberate improvement focus? Where are there opportunities for us to adjust? What might we stop doing, so that we can truly commit to a singular focus?
  • Leadership: Who is most logically positioned to design and facilitate this ongoing learning effort (i.e. department chairs, grade level team leaders, curriculum specialists, instructional coaches)? What support and development will those leaders need, and how we can ensure structures are in place for this support as a regular part of this process? (Bonus questions: Will those leaders change over time? How can we articulate this distributed leadership system for future use?)
  • Culture: Do we already have rituals and norms that will lend themselves to the level of discipline and collective capacity building this focus will require of us? In what ways? What rituals and norms are most likely to help us bring this improvement vision to life? Who might need some additional or unique support through what will likely be some periods of “disequilibrium” (Heifetz, 2009)?

In addition to ensuring you consider and plan intentionally for tending to the conditions for learning (questions above), this type of learning pursuit implies a cyclical inquiry process. Whatever framework you choose, it will likely prioritize 4 things – data, analysis of that data, strategizing informed by the analysis, and testing strategies (which then creates your new set of data!). Be sure the team leading this improvement effort carves explicit and regular time to “see things from the balcony” (Heifetz, 2009). Reflect upon where you’ve been, where you are in the process, and determine the most thoughtful next steps to continually strive towards the improvement you want to see – just like a good teacher does!

Here are two visual examples of approaches to cyclical improvement efforts:

Example of 3 data-analysis-strategy cycles in service of improving students’ disciplinary writing knowledge and skill through implementation of New Tech Network’s College Readiness Assessments. Cycle of inquiry is an element of New Tech Network’s Learning Organization Framework, which is heavily informed by the work of Peter Senge.


Example of year-long virtual PLC effort in progress with a cohort of AP Instructors from Michigan Virtual School. Process leverages improvement science principles and practices from Anthony Bryk’s, Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better. See my A True PLC series for details.

Frame with intention – over and over again.

The more I interact in the field of education, the more strongly I believe a school or district leader needs to practice the art of framing, which requires both communication skills and a certain level of emotional intelligence. How you communicate must change based on stakeholder, and it can be a great benefit to internalize the communication nuances inherent in working with adults who fall across a broad adult development spectrum (see Drago-Severson or Berger). Committing to a singular focus for improving student learning as a staff will require leadership to communicate strategically in a variety of ways.

  • How is what you’re doing aligned to broader layers of the educational system (i.e. district initiatives/mandates, state policy and accountability measures, federal policy and accountability measures, grant opportunities), and how can you make that connection simple to understand?
  • Who on your team might find your particular focus an adaptive challenge (i.e. it doesn’t naturally feel aligned to their content area), and how can you help them to see the relevance to their work?
  • Who might struggle most with focusing on one thing (i.e. curriculum director who is used to planning a cornucopia of PD), and how can you help them through that struggle?
  • What about this effort is likely to build stakeholder support (i.e. what should parents appreciate about this?), and how can you proactively harness your message about it in ways those stakeholders will value? How will you share bright spots, no matter how small?  

In, “Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform,” Michael Fullan asks us to, “Imagine that you would become a better teacher just by virtue of the fact that you are on the staff of a particular school in a particular district in a particular state or country.” Imagine. This is what I believe leading an annual #PDRevolution will accomplish. You are blazing the trail!


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