Coaches Inspire Professional learning

Learning is a life-long journey

In a previous post, Teachers are Learners Too!, I explored the idea of a learning culture where schools become centers of learning for students and teachers and potentially even the wider community. I’m really interested in exploring the idea of teachers as learners because I think that teachers who consider themselves as learners understand better how to teach others. If this is the case, then it behoves administrators and coaches to also consider their teachers as learners, especially when planning and designing professional learning.

The Seattle Pacific University Digital Education Leadership master program focuses specifically on the standards for technology in education developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE.) As I near the end of the program, I appreciate more and more how the wording of the standards have impacted the way I see myself as an educator and life long learner. These standards are categorised for Students, Teachers, Coaches, and Education Leaders. Have a look below at the headings that ISTE uses to describe coaches, teachers and students. Each one acknowledges that learning is a journey, learning is creative and innovative, learning is social and impacts are far-reaching.

The specific question I am investigating this week is derived from ISTE coaching standard 5b: Coaches build the capacity of educators, leaders and instructional teams to put the ISTE Standards into practice by facilitating active learning and providing meaningful feedback. My question is:

How can using the ISTE standards when designing professional learning impact and transform the educator’s professional learning experience so that it directly enhances student learning?

The focus for this question is on the professional learning experience of the educator.  There are three ‘big umbrella thoughts’ to consider: 1) Educators are adult learners. In a blog post titled Using Adult Learning Theories to Plan for Professional Development, Sarah Straume explains adut learning theories and offers a list of eight tips for how coaches can enhance the adult learning experience. 2) Like our students, Adult Learners have a variety of learning styles, so a one-size-fits-all approach to Professional development is bound to have limited success. 3)The most effective learning is active learning; learning that centers on authentic activities which are directly transferable to the classroom.

Of course, the ultimate aim of professional development is to increase student achievement.  However, if we shift our perspective from professional development to professional learning, then the aim of professional learning  expands to include the learning of the teacher.  The aim of effective professional learning experiences is for teachers to become “empowered educators, visionary leaders, and inspired knowledge producers,” (NCTE 2019) who in turn lead classrooms in which students are empowered, engaged and successful learners. 

Just to be clear, there is a difference between professional development and professional learning. Although traditional professional development has well-intentioned outcomes (meet the school’s mission and goals and improve student achievement,) it often falters or fails because it fails to consider the teacher as a learner. As we consider best learning experiences for each one of our students, we should also consider best learning experiences for each of our teachers. This means shifting our perspective from the traditional ‘sit-and-get’ professional development to participatory, active, collaborative, inquiry-based, personalized professional learning.

Shifting from Professional Development to Professional Learning: Centering Teacher Empowerment

According to The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE,) “In order for professional development to be an empowering experience for ELA educators, it must have four key dimensions: 1) collaborative learning, 2) participatory professional development, 3)collaborative knowledge production, and 4) commitment to cultural competency.” (NCTE 2019) I think that these 4 criteria reflect active learning.

Four examples of ISTE standards-infused Professional Learning Experiences

Collaborative Learning

NCTE calls it “creating a constellation of learning communities.” I love the poetry of the statement. Coaches should encourage teachers to create or join personal learning networks (PLNs) or personal learning communities (PLCs) to collaborate and learn from each other. Twitter really is a whole galaxy of learning communities. If you would like to know how to use Twitter as a PLC, read Cory Cummings’ post, Building and Engaging in Meaningful Professional Learning Communities with Twitter. Cory has easy-to-follow instructions and many tips for effectively growing a PLC, interesting suggestions for educators to follow and ways you can contribute to the community yourself.

Megan Heinneman takes the idea of collaboration to the next level and makes it a true culture of learning experience in her blog, Collaborating and Co-learning Together. She offers a number of digital tools (incuding Padlet, Zoom, and PB Wiki) for building “a community and a support system in which we as educators and students learn from each other then trying something new and asking for help becomes less scary because we know we have the support of others.

Participatory Professional Development

“…when multiple voices with diverse experiences and from diverse contexts enter the conversation, a new kind of knowledge is createdexpanding the learning space to include diverse others as well as tools of technology to expand conversation.” (NCTE 2019.) Again, music to my ears. Coaches should create opportunities for teachers to explore Inquiry-based learning. “An inquiry approach focuses on teachers’ true wonderings about their own teaching and their students’ learning. Teachers then inquire into those questions, focusing on their own students and classrooms, gathering data about their question within their context. As they glean information, they reflect upon their own teaching and make changes to constantly improve the learning environment.” (NCTE 2019.)

Problem Based Learning(PBL) is a great example of inquiry. According to Douglas Daskalos, “The idea in PBL is that students [teachers as learners] are engaged in opportunities for deep learning solving complex problems with opportunities for real outcomes, while, at the same time, all PBL units [are] passion-based learning opportunities for students [which]build a strong foundational and lifelong love of learning.” In his post, and Teaching by Design, Part Deux, Doug Daskalos builds a strong argument for PBL and offers many example of how it can be used in the classroom and by coaches.

Collaborative Knowledge Production

The NCTE paper quotes Michael Palmisano who states, “Collaborative inquiry changes the professional learning experience by reframing how professional knowledge is constructed and applied.” (2013) The paper also shares the six key elements that Palmisano suggests are necessary for collaborative inquiry: 1)Investigate shared problems or questions of practice; 2)Learn from and with colleagues; 3)Seek expertise and perspectives of others beyond the inquiry group; 4)Use evidence and data; 5)Act, reflect, and refine practice; (6)Share and connect learning

These key elements made me think of another post by Cory Cummings, Understanding Adult Learning Theories in Reimaging Professional Development, in which he encourages coaches to, “consider the expertise that exists within their school community and leverage opportunities for individuals to share their wealth of knowledge.” He concludes that there are other compelling reasons for giving educators opportunities to lead professional learning experiences or mentor colleagues. Such opportunities “add the value of developing relationships, building trust, and strengthening connections across a team and/or school community.”

Collaborating with others is rewarding, but not without some difficuties. One of those difficulties dealing with feedback and is highlighted by Kaelynn Mumley in her post The Art of Giving Meaningful Feedback. She gets right to the heart of our ‘teacher frailty’ when she says, “And while many teachers want to be the best that they can be, it is sometimes hard to open up our classrooms to outside feedback and scrutiny. I think that is because we pour so much of our soul into our craft that feedback becomes a very personal thing and being vulnerable is hard.

Rachel Batschi urges coaches to give effective feedback, she recognizes that “humans crave feedback. We want to know where we can do better, and we want to hear praise where we have done well. Adult learners, like children need a respectful and trusting relationship to really absorb feedback to make changes to their practice. As a professional leader, it is not just your job to provide feedback but to model and ask for it from your learners.” She offers some great tips for effective feedback in her post, Feedback and Professional Learning.

Commitment to Cultural Competency

According to the National Education Association, cultural competence is “understanding your own culture, other’s culture, and the role of culture in education.” NCTE suggests that Cultural competency enables educators to affirm the following core values:

  • Sustain an inclusive pedagogical imagination that recognizes and engages difference positively within curriculum development
  • Develop an awareness of the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, disability, religion, nationality, and class within the everyday lived experiences of educators and our diverse student body
  • Develop an awareness of diversity (its significance and importance) as teacher-leaders in collaboration with administration on professional development programming.
  • Develop an awareness of diversity as producers of knowledge on the practice of teaching and student learning. (2013)

I suppose it’s fitting that the last word on cultural competency be given to our colleague Jess Sarr who always turns our discussions to matters of equity and inclusivity. In her post, Professional Learning: the Importance of Empathy and Environment, she eloquently explains that effective coaching is , “Taking time to understand the individual role within the group dynamic, evaluating the language used by group members, and working on creating group norms and structures to encourage each individual to feel supported, heard, understood yet keeping the focus of the group on the larger vision and purpose is not an easy task. Providing opportunities for teams to communicate and understanding the importance of working together through this process as well as individually reflecting empathetically can lead to stronger teams who are willing to dive into very difficult conversations and tasks in education.

Concluding Thoughts

The concept of professional learning really appeals to me and the ISTE standards complement professional learning. Since I started investigating all the ISTE standards for this Blog, I know that my own personal learning journey has taken a steep climb. As well as that, what I have learned has impacted both my students and my colleagues at school. Thank you to my PLC for providing such rich information for my post this week:)


Batschi ISTE 5 Feedback and Professional Learning Febru, R. (2021, February 21). Mrs. Blatschi’s Blog. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from

Cabusao, J. A., Fleischer, C., & Polson, B. (2019, July 30). Shifting from professional development to professional learning: Centering teacher empowerment. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from

Cultural competence. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2021, from,leads%20to%20better%20educational%20outcomes.

Cummings, C. (2020, June 09). Building and engaging in meaningful professional learning communities with twitter. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from

Cummings, C. (2021, February 08). Understanding adult learning theories in reimaging professional development. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from

Daskalos, D. (2020, November 16). Teaching by design, part deux. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from

Heineman, M. (2020, April 12). Collaborating and co-learning together. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from

Iste standards for coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2021, from

Mumley, K. (2021, February 19). The art of giving meaningful feedback. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from

SarrLewis, J. (2021, February 21). Digital leader & educator in education. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from

Straume, S. (2021, February 08). Using adult learning theories to plan for professional development. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from

5 thoughts on “Coaches Inspire Professional Learning

  1. Thank you so much Jan for your post. I have been using the terms for professional development and professional learning synonymously! How you have opened my eyes!

    I really appreciate that you also highlight the change from professional development focusing on improving student learning, to professional learning and focusing on enhancing teaching craft. This is such a wonderful and insightful post, I can follow your thinking throughout and it is quite inspiring.

  2. This is beautifully written, Jan, and demonstrates the passion you hold for the craft and the learning along your professional journey. 🙂

  3. What a great blog post. I especially like how you turned the entire post into an example of how you were actively engaged in your own professional learning experience by researching and writing this post. I think NCTE has it right when they say that professional learning should “empower educators, visionary leaders, and inspired knowledge producers”. It’s so important to continue to highlight learning and not just for learnings sake. It should cause change and growth and inspire the learner. Thanks so much for sharing and inspiring me!

  4. Jan, I appreciated how you explained the difference between professional learning and professional development. What a difference this could have in our education system! I love the idea of encouraging teachers themselves to be lifelong learners. This could really change the culture of a school if we set up personalized, job-embedded PD where teachers were not only given agency but then support from coaches in pursuing learning they were passionate about. And I was encouraged myself after reading your post to go check out those other blog posts again, too. Thanks for the recommendations. 🙂

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