Professional learning is a crucial element of the work of all educators throughout their entire careers. The education profession is grounded in a rich professional knowledge base, and education professionals must be well-versed in this knowledge base, as well. In addition, an understanding of the theory and research behind the knowledge base is crucial to guide the thousands of decisions educators make each day. And educators must engage in intentional practice to refine their skills and professional judgment.
Medicine, law, and education are each examples of professions that require continuous professional learning throughout an entire career. For educators, this imperative arises from multiple factors including:
- Ongoing research that expands our understanding of effective practices (e.g., emerging research in such areas as trauma-informed pedagogy and social-emotional learning)
- The changing landscape of issues and needs that educators must address in working with students, families, and communities (e.g., changing demographics increasing the number of English language learners)
- Changes in policies and statutes that govern the work of educators (e.g., changes in the curriculum requirements for graduation)
- Educators’ evolving professional responsibilities, particularly when assignments and duties change (e.g., changing grade levels assigned to a teacher, or making a switch to online learning environments in response to a national crisis).
States, districts, schools, policymakers, and unions representing educators in public schools all have a role in helping to create the positive culture in which career-long professional learning is the norm of practice for all educators. Additionally, districts and schools must build their capacity to provide educators the time, space, support, and systems that promote ongoing, job-embedded professional learning. For that reason, school leaders are fundamental in promoting and nurturing an organizational culture of continuous learning and collaborative practice.
Three excellent sources provide guidance to help educators make professional learning decisions and also help them create and advocate for a culture that supports their growth:
- NEA’s Great Teaching and Learning Report. In addition to describing a vision for professional learning at various times of a professional’s career, it also identifies five elements of organizational culture that are necessary for transforming our schools and for supporting professional excellence.
- Learning Forward's Standards for Professional Learning. These standards provide specific guidance in the design and implementation of professional learning experiences that support growth in both the knowledge and skills for the professional educator.
- Education Support Professionals (ESP) Professional Growth Continuum. This document provides guidance for each of the nine ESP categories for professional growth.
The NEA Center for Great Public Schools supports our members as they pursue the vision for great teaching and learning throughout their entire careers. Some of these efforts include:
- The Teacher Leadership Institute that provides tools for our members to create genuine transformation of the entire organization – classrooms, schools, districts, and communities.
- NEA’s Aspiring Educators Program that supports professional excellence through teacher preparation initiatives.
- The Early Leadership Institute supports educators from the very outset of their careers for a trajectory of excellence and professional leadership. The Early Career Learning Labs provide an opportunity to investigate a problem of practice collaboratively along with a virtual coach.
- Micro-credentials (over 170 available as of June 2020) provide a way for educators to exercise autonomy over their professional learning priorities and to expand their expertise across a vast array of teaching, learning, leadership, and community support topics.
- Jump Start provides support to educators interested in pursuing National Board Certification. The program is supported by NEA in collaboration with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
- Support for Cooperating Teachers is available in multiple formats including micro-credentials, blended learning study groups, and a curriculum addressing the major elements of the student-teacher/mentor-teacher relationship and work.