Allie Rodman, the author of Personalized Professional Learning: A Job- Embedded Pathway for Elevating Teacher Voice and founder of The Learning Loop, shares ways that school leaders and instructional coaches should be building learner voice, co-creation, social construction, and self-discovery into their designs for professional learning. What are we learning as leaders in the time of virtual and hybrid days that should we carry forward?
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Steve[Intro]: 00:25 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:53 Professional learning—let’s not go back to the old normal. I’m excited today to have Allie Rodman, the author of personalized professional learning, a job-embedded pathway for elevating teacher voice, join us on the podcast. Allie is also the founder of The Learning Loop, an organization that designs, facilitates, and coaches professional learning. Welcome, Allie.
Allie: 01:20 Thanks so much for having me, Steve. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
Steve: 01:24 I’m wondering if you would just start telling us a little bit about your background and what led you to form the Learning Loop?
Allie: 01:32 Certainly. So I was a high school teacher and both Richmond, Virginia as well as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I worked as an instructional coach and a school leader and through each of those roles, one of the things that continued to bother me was how despite the fact that we were asking teachers to differentiate personalized learning for their students, we were continuing to facilitate one-size-fits-all sit and get professional development for them and I knew that not only could we do better, but we had to do better on behalf of those teachers.
Steve: 02:08 Well, on your website, you describe the importance of professional learning including learner, voice, co-creation, social construction, and self-discovery and I’m wondering if you could kind of walk us through those considering what role should administrators and instructional coaches play in making those happen for teachers?
Allie: 02:38 Certainly. So those four key elements of personalized learning come from Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda’s work as they coach teachers around what it looks like to personalize instruction for students. And as mentors of mine, I really turned to them to think about how could we reimagine those same key concepts of personalized learning, but in the andragogical or the adult learning space. So in my work with both leaders as well as coaches, in thinking about those professional learning spaces, we use the elements of voice, and co-creation initially to bring teachers into the process, not only to select the topics of professional learning that are interesting to them, but also to truly be co-creators in the process of design. And then from there, we want to ensure that the professional learning sessions themselves, whether those are happening synchronously or asynchronously. Provide opportunities for teachers to socially construct to get messy with the content, not just go through a series of strategies and deliverables. So that ultimately, when they leave that session and go to implement the work in practice, it leads them toward a self-discovery where they continue to extend that learning loop both as a group, as well as individually in their practice.
Steve: 04:01 One of the phrases that I frequently use in my work with professional learning communities and then tie it back to teachers developing their professional growth plans is the question, what do my students need me to learn? I’m wondering how you see that student needs or student goals entering into the work of professional learning.
Allie: 04:31 Yes. So Steve, typically when I’m working with a district or school leader or a professional learning facilitator, I encourage them to use multiple data sets to guide their planning processes. And one of those sets is a teacher needs assessment. So that’s the sort of teacher want part of the equation, right? That choice and that voice, in the process. Another part as you noted, is our student achievement and growth data. So from what we’re seeing related to student progress, what are our students mirroring back to us that they need from us as learning facilitators for them? And then third, I also look at with those leaders and coaches, the observation and evaluation data that they’ve collected both formally and informally over the course of the year because I want to ensure that when we identify what the student needs are, we’re also matching them up with the teacher needs. Where are the gaps in practice that we need to address to ensure that teachers have the capacity, the skills and the mindsets necessary to meet that student need as effectively as possible.
Steve: 05:36 Allie, how has the pandemic impacted your work that you’re doing?
Allie: 05:44 Well, I’m spending a lot more time in Zoom rooms, I have to be honest there. Less time working directly in schools and in conference spaces. In some ways, I like to refer to this time as sort of the pause and the pivot, right? And I think we’ve overused that word pivot possibly, as much as we possibly can, but we were moving to this space and professional learning where things were becoming more personalized, not only for teacher professional learning but also for coach and leader professional learning. And in some ways, we kind of halted, right? We paused and went back to, as we did in student instruction, to some of our old practices where it was much of the same, one-size-fits-all, you know, work. However, where we were able to pivot, and I hope that we’re able to keep some of this is that we started rethinking how we use time and space in professional learning. So whether that was making some shifts in our learning and our coaching platforms or becoming comfortable with new modes of communication, I feel as though the pandemic gave us an opportunity to reimagine how we use, not only the content part of professional learning but the time and space elements as well.
Steve: 06:59 I’m wondering how we look at what we learned that we need to hold on to as we move ahead. And I found that I was forced to actually more personalize my work over Zoom and I’ve expanded that. I just put a project together this week where I’m consulting with a school that’s looking to redesign their professional growth plan with teachers and there are seven administrators. And so the project is going to start with me having a one-on-one conversation with each of the seven administrators so that when we go into the first meeting that I’m facilitating, I’ll go into it with all that background. That’s something I never would have done when I was jumping on airplanes and flying off, but I think I need to keep that when I start getting on the plane and flying off. And I can still Zoom it, you know, on the front end. But what are you thinking we need to do to kind of stop and see that we don’t go back to that old normal and really take advantage of the things that we’ve learned?
Allie: 08:31 Well, one of the points is certainly those connection elements that you referenced, Steve, right? In some ways, you and I are coaching in schools that we’ve never stepped physical foot into, right? And that’s a completely – when you want to talk new normal for us, we’re used to walking the halls, shoulder to shoulder with a leader, getting a sense of the space and the culture, and then stepping into a professional learning space with teachers and leaders. So that part certainly feels different but I think as a facilitator, much like you, it’s pushed me out of my comfort zone to re-imagine new ways to make those connections and better understand the culture and the feeling of particular learning organizations. Along with that, there are two other elements that stand out to me that I want to make sure we don’t lose.
Allie: 09:17 One is space for reflection, in some ways, being away from the hustle and bustle of, you know, moving from class to class, meeting, to meeting room to room, it’s given us an opportunity at all levels of the system in some ways to pause and to be able to reflect on the procedures and the practices that have had the greatest impact on our work and those that we might be able to let fall away in order to make space for the most critical elements. And second, is that in some ways, much like you described kind of that personalization and those one-on-one touchpoints, this time has given us permission to exclude individuals from particular sessions in a meaningful way. In Priya Parker’s work, “The Art of Gathering,” she references this principle of excluding well in order to ensure that our gatherings together are as meaningful and as authentic as possible. And I think sometimes in education, we bring everyone to the table without the thought and intention about whether it’s the right people in the right space at the right time. And by putting people into different teams and rooms and breakout sessions, we’ve had to get much more careful and intentional about those moves and I hope that that piece continues to serve us well, whether we’re in virtual spaces or physical ones.
Steve: 10:52 That’s powerful. I’m just thinking back to the very beginning of my career as a – I was still full-time classroom teaching and doing some PD services, and I would plan out what I was going to do with the central office person who was hiring me and then I’d show up and there’d be people in the audience – that was making absolutely no sense at all.
Allie: 11:25 It’s clock hours, right? We feel like everyone has to be there and it’s not respectful, it’s not thoughtful and it’s certainly not what we would do with our students so we shouldn’t be doing it with our adult learners either.
Steve: 11:38 I have not thought of this in years till I was just listening to laying out, but I was actually asked to do an at 90 minutes session on bringing hands-on into the primary science classroom and I was having people go around and introduce themselves and this person said, “I’m a high school English teacher.” I stood there with my mouth open and I didn’t know what to say. I was like, embarrassed that – it certainly wasn’t my responsibility that they were there, but…
Allie: 12:14 In the same breath, we’re coaching teachers to put students into very intentional, small groups that are based on learning objectives. I mean, we can do the same for adults also.
Steve: 12:25 As we move along here to close it out, I’m wondering if you’ve got one top suggestion that you’d like to offer to those who would be planning professional learning pieces that might be available to teachers this spring yet?
Allie: 12:44 Certainly. So it would include the learners, not just in the selection of the topics. So often when I work with leaders, they’ll say, “well, I’m incorporating learner’s voice. I gave them a menu of topics to choose from and then they picked.” That’s a good first move, and I don’t want to lose that, but I also want to ensure that those teachers are co-creators in the process as I referenced earlier, so that we are bringing them in early when we are planning the design to make sure that the series of learning activities that we are outlining, that the types of resources that we’re bringing in and the ways in which we’re conceiving that learning continue beyond the synchronous engagement, considers their individual needs and learning preferences as well along the way.
Steve: 13:32 You just tapped me, I’m going to have to pass on a compliment. I had a first phone call with an administrator last night who was looking for some information about some PD. And to my surprise, when the Zoom room had opened, there were five teachers there that he had invited to talk to me before we got into any other discussion. So I will be dropping him a note to share your words there. And it was powerful. I must say it stepped me it stepped me back.
Allie: 14:18 Who better to inform the learning than the learners themselves? They should be a part of that design process.
Steve: 14:23 If I’ve ever if I’ve ever experienced that before, it’s probably because I sought it out. So I was surprised that they had
stepped forward and built it into the design.
Allie: 14:35 It’s exciting to see.
Steve: 14:37 Allie, I’m wondering if you would share with folks a little bit about your book and some information about your website and how
people can connect with you.
Allie: 14:46 Certainly. So my book is personalized, professional learning, a job-embedded pathway for elevating teacher voice. It’s available from ASCD as well as on Amazon. And it really serves as a guidebook for both leaders and facilitators to walk them through the steps that they might take to design, as well as continue, a more personalized model of professional learning at all levels of the system. And individuals can connect with me on Twitter or Facebook and Instagram @thelearningloop, as well as a check out my website, www.thelearningloop.com. This spring, I’m going to be offering a virtual course specifically for facilitators. So we’ll walk through step-by-step, what does it mean to craft professional learning engagements that don’t just feel like one-time events, but truly personalized experiences for our learners.
Steve: 15:45 Well, Allie, thank you and I’ll make sure that we have your website posted on the lead-in to this podcast in case folks are out walking as they’re listening and didn’t catch it, they can go there and find it. Thanks again for sharing your thinking and expanding your mind. It was a real pleasure.
Allie: 16:06 Thanks so much, Steve. I appreciate you having me on.
Steve[Outro]: 16:09 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.