Podcast: Strengthening Professional and Organizational Capacity - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Strengthening Professional and Organizational Capacity

Strengthening Professional and Organizational Capacity

Allie Rodman, the founder of The Learning Loop and author of “Still Learning: Strengthening Professional and Organizational Capacity,” explores critical elements for teacher, team, and organizational learning. Consider the roles of stillness, pause and reflection in generating educator learning. Explore learning as an individual educator, team member, and as an organization.

Listen to earlier podcasts with Allie:

Professional Learning—Let’s Not Go Back to Normal!

My Professional Learning – How Do I Make the Most Of What I’ve Learned During Virtual and Hybrid Teaching

Connect with Allie & visit The Learning loop website here.

Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:01.130] – Steve [Intro]

Welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. As instructional coaches and school leaders, you have a challenge to guide continuous teacher growth that promotes student success. This podcast looks to support you with strategies from our experienced guests and insights that I’ve gathered across many years. I’m thrilled you’re here. Thanks for listening.

[00:00:27.480] – Steve

Strengthening professional and organizational capacity. Returning to the podcast today is Allie Rodman, the founder of The Learning Loop and the author of, “Personalized Professional Learning: A Job-Embedded Pathway for Elevating Teacher Voice,” and a just released book, “Still Learning: Strengthening Professional and Organizational Capacity.” Allie, thanks so much for joining us.

[00:00:56.080] – Allie

Thank you, Steve. It’s wonderful to be back here and have an opportunity to connect.

[00:01:00.560] – Steve

Tell folks a little bit about the work that you do through The Learning Loop.

[00:01:05.370] – Allie

The Learning Loop really focuses on ways that we can personalize professional learning for educators across the system. So that means working with systems’ leaders to understand their data, not just from a student perspective, but also an observational one, and then figure out what professional learning opportunities we should be offering whole school or whole system, and those that should be more personalized, and then also working with facilitators, whether that be building leaders or teacher leaders, to help them craft really meaningful and intentional learning experiences for educators that strengthen both their professional capacity as well as the capacity of a system as a whole.

[00:01:41.840] – Steve

Well, Allie, I’m excited that you’re returning to the podcast, and in an earlier podcast that we did, you talked about the role of coaches and leaders building teacher voice, co-creation, social construction, and self discovery into the designs of professional learning. I’m wondering if you could touch on those as a little bit of a review for us, and I’ll be sure to place the link to that previous podcast in the lead-in to this one. So folks who come across this here can go back and listen to that one as well.

[00:02:16.520] – Allie

Absolutely. So it’s crazy to think that the last time I was on the show was a few years ago, and our educational systems and the ways that we go about learning, both for our students and our teachers looks quite different than it did the last time we spoke. So I think those elements of voice and co-creation and social construction have really sort of evolved in terms of what that means in our schools. And I think now more than ever, teachers are looking for a voice in their professional learning offerings that goes beyond just completing a survey. They want to be able to have a space to come to the table and say, this is the topic that I want, but also this is how I learn best. I think the past few years have really opened up for us a variety of different learning opportunities, not only in terms of function and what teachers actually need and coaches need, but also format. We’re so much more open to different learning formats because of the comfort level of being in hybrid and zoom environments than what we were talking about just three years ago. So I think the voice there, yes, is around topic for educators, but it’s also around, is this synchronous or asynchronous?

[00:03:27.910] – Allie

Am I coming to a space physically, or is this a chance for me to engage in a virtual environment? And then beyond that voice, having a space for them to co-create what happens in the learning experience. Are they there helping to define the success criteria? So I know that you’ve done a lot of work around forming learning hypotheses and having that drive the professional learning process. So really bringing individuals into that conversation rather than defining those components for them with the hope that ultimately it does lead not just to social construction from educator to educator, but also this sense of self discovery where they want to continue to push themselves through ongoing learning loops that make their practice that much stronger.

[00:04:15.040] – Steve

So what’s going through my mind is I know that historically, in the field of professional development, we’ve seesawed back and forth between teachers having a major voice in the what of professional development and the school having a need that had to be addressed and balancing that. How do you put those two pieces together?

[00:04:47.240] – Allie

So it’s really interesting, Steve, I just co-facilitated a session with Isabel Sawyer at Learning Forward, where we examined professional learning through the decades. And what we sort of dug into with participants is exactly what you just described. You know, I even made a reference at one point in the session, it felt like a Britney Spears song where it was like, “Oops, I Did it Again.” Things just kept coming back around. And Isabelle and I both published books on personalized professional learning in 2019. So to then kind of sit back and see where we went and then how we came back and how we’re evolving again has been really interesting. And I think there are some things that we absolutely should be bringing back from that practice. In November, December 2019, we were just getting to that point of teacher voice, but then there are components where, as you note, maybe that practice doesn’t serve us as well. So I think sometimes with the professional learning experiences that were completely open ended, we didn’t have that level of structure that was necessary to not just move the needle on teacher practice, but then ultimately help our students progress.

[00:05:57.300] – Allie

So there definitely needs to be a balance when co-creating with educators and leaders together as to what are the components that we need, because it’s going to really push students forward. But then what are the things that we want in terms of our own growth that now more than ever is going to help to protect and promote teacher retention? Because I think that’s a new challenge that’s on the table that exists in a much scarier place, I think, in some ways than several years ago. We just can’t fill a number of the positions in our districts.

[00:06:33.740] – Steve

I work with quite a few places where they’ve now built PLC learning goals, and usually those PLC goals have some connection to what the school has set as goals for student growth. And then teachers, particularly one of the schools I work with, they have the school goal, they have the PLC goal, and then teachers have their individual goals. And in some cases a teacher will line all three of them up so that they’re all closely tied together, where in other areas, teachers will be part of a PLC goal, but then they’ll have a separate teacher goal that has got another area that’s critical specifically to that teacher. As I was listening to you and thinking about it, it’s kind of I need the teacher voice across the board. If the teacher’s voice is part of setting school goals, then it makes sense for the pieces to line up. If it doesn’t get to the teacher’s voice until we’re at the teacher making a choice, it seems like that may be a spot where it’s missing.

[00:07:44.970] – Allie

Yeah. And a lot of this is grounded in the culture of each school, too, in terms of, is this a space that really values collective inquiry and individuals feel comfortable asking the tough questions? Or is it one where there is a lot of top down decision making? The balance of structure and agency within a school as a whole, I think plays a major role in the degree to which you’re able to sort of flex and move to have perhaps a different PLC goal than an individual teacher goal and so forth. When I work with school leaders around developing needs assessments for educators for their professional learning needs, one of the first things I say is do not give out this survey unless you’re actually going to use the data and be very clear with folks about the data that you’re going to be able to employ in the short term versus where you’re collecting information for long term planning. Because I think historically, and this isn’t unique to education, this happens in so many fields where we give out surveys or we ask for people’s opinion or voice, and then we do absolutely nothing with it.

[00:08:47.860] – Allie

And that just erodes buy in over time. So being very thoughtful about where that voice is actually going to count and drive decision making versus where it really is just an information gathering exercise.

[00:09:00.040] – Steve

Well, your new book, the title jumps right out at me, so I wanted to break it into two pieces. The first part catches my attention, “still learning.” You want to talk about where that piece comes from?

[00:09:12.250] – Allie

Sure. So it was a lot of fun to kind of workshop with some other authors and thought partners around. This is what I want the work to convey. How do we do that? What does that sound like? And so often as educators, we value constant learning. We know that we are truly models of learning for our students. And with that, though, in a culture and a society that values busyness, I think sometimes that gets sort of misplaced with this idea that learning always needs to be in this constant state of movement and progress and doing something, whether it’s reading the book or going to the workshop or attending the conference. And we overlook how much learning can truly happen in the moments of pause and reflection. It’s something that we ask our students to do, to reflect back on how they did in a particular unit of study. It’s something that we will at times ask educators to do at the end of their year teaching or their year coaching, but I don’t know that we value that stillness as much in our ongoing professional learning. So it was really important to me, particularly as we’ve seen the field and just our workings in general evolve over the past several years, that we continue to value that ongoing and constant learning that we know is our professional responsibility and is very much a part of the work that we do, but that we also recognize and elevate in some cases the value of pause and reflection, recognizing that if we can make space for that type of work, we are able then to make decisions that are that much more thoughtful and intentional and hopefully accelerate progress for both students and teachers.

[00:10:52.300] – Steve

It’s interesting I, as of late, am making reflection a bigger part of my work in coaching. I knew it was always there, but I think pulling it out and getting both the coach and the teacher to recognize that. I like your use of the term pause. You can’t get the reflection without a slowing down.

[00:11:22.520] – Allie

No, you really can’t. And I facilitated a conference session several months ago and a superintendent came up to me afterwards and he said, thank you so much. No one has ever given me permission to put time for reflection on my calendar, to be able to recognize the value and the role that that plays professionally not just for leaders, but for coaches and for teachers to say, it’s okay to stop and to consider, is this the best next step or are there things that I could be doing that would be a more intentional use of time?

[00:11:56.420] – Steve

Take us on to the second part of the title, then. “Strengthening professional and organizational capacity.”

[00:12:03.540] – Allie

So I wanted to ensure that this book wasn’t just for leaders, wasn’t just for teachers or coaches, but that it truly touched on the needs for all educators to continue to grow, to value those moments of pause, and to think about for themselves at the individual, the team, and the systems level, what that looked like. So the book is organized across five different disciplines and really looks at from those different lenses, how do we know ourselves better as learners? How do we make intentional decisions about how we’re spending our time? But then how do we also pay more attention to our team dynamics and the ways that we’re growing as learning organizations so that we’re as effective as possible, but also our organizations that truly thrive, that we’re not these places of burnout where people just keep churning from day to day today and don’t feel that sense of fulfillment.

[00:12:56.740] – Steve

Well, if it’s okay, let’s look at it in those five pieces that the book is laid out to. So, the first one, you use the term, “attunement.” That was a new term for me.

[00:13:10.110] – Allie

Yeah. So I wanted to make sure that individuals, first and foremost, know themselves as learners. It struck me as I was going through a lot of the research and really thinking about education as compared to other fields, that we look to educators to be model learners for students. But we don’t really spend time to give educators the opportunity to know themselves as learners. So, whereas in a business space, it’s very common to complete different type indicators, such as a Myers Briggs type indicator or a Clifton strengths finder, for whatever reason, that’s not much of a common practice in our educational spaces, to be able to understand, from a personality standpoint, a team dynamics one, as well as just a strength based approach, who we are and how we thrive and what that means. So, attunement really looks at do you know who you are as an individual, your identity, your growth profile, the things that motivate you? And then are you able to attune or bring that full self to your professional space? Because I think in many places now, there are individuals who have to filter parts of who they are as a learner as well as an individual within their professional space.

[00:14:20.850] – Allie

So really creating that opportunity for safety and belonging where individuals not only know themselves, but then can bring their full selves to the workplace and not be yet another source of things that make them tired, where they’re always sort of filtering and having to sort of watch different components of that.

[00:14:40.680] – Steve

I want to check if it lines up with something that I’ve been exploring. I’m thinking that that’s been a piece missing post Covid. The word I’ve been using is satisfactions. Teachers, during the whole Covid piece, kind of lost hold of where they get their satisfaction from the hard work, teaching and they’re back doing the hard work, but it’s not connecting with the satisfaction. Is that on the same wavelength of knowing yourself?

[00:15:13.840] – Allie

Absolutely. So it’s that satisfaction and it’s also, and we’ll talk about this a little bit as we shift from attunement to alignment. But knowing what brings you joy. What are those things that are going to continue to fill you up? So, for know, if I look at some of my own Clifton strengths, one of them is futuristic. I always want to sort of be looking on the horizon of what’s next and seeing what’s possible. And if I were to be in a learning environment that didn’t provide an opportunity for me to do that and to ask the tough questions of why not and how not, and be able to engage in that type of dialog, that might be a difficult place for me to continue to grow as a professional.

[00:15:53.680] – Steve

So is alignment making choices based on what you identified in the attunement – finding out about yourself?

[00:16:01.220] – Allie

Exactly. So it’s giving individuals in educational spaces the opportunity to really set purposeful goals for themselves in the professional space as well as the personal one. So when you talk to educators and they say what motivates you? What gets you up in the morning? We always say our students. And while, yes, that should absolutely be a driving force, unless we’re taking time to say, where do you want to grow professionally and what’s important to you personally? And are those purposes that you’ve established, whether that’s through a smarter goal or some other goal driven mechanism, are those things driving your daily practice, or is your inbox driving what you’re doing day to day? Are you just looking at that task list at the end of the day and it’s longer than where you started? How are you engaging, not just in good goal setting practices, but then having the structured time and the disciplined action to make sure that you’re making progress on those goals on a day to day basis? So that there’s that alignment between your purpose and your practice.

[00:17:02.350] – Steve

I have to say, there’s several schools I’ve been working with where I’m actually, in short, one on one calls with teachers establishing their growth goals before they go into the administration. And the number of teachers who get on that call expecting to get something done that they need to get done, and within 15 or 20 minutes, uncover something that they, oh, my God, I really want to do this. And I think time is part of somebody listening to the conversation.

[00:17:38.560] – Allie

It is. I mean, I’ve worked with groups of building leaders where we sit down and I kid you not, we make bucket lists together. We say, okay, what do you want to do personally? And just even someone valuing that as a part of the growth experience for those individuals is a big part that’s missing from the conversation right now.

[00:17:58.500] – Steve

Somebody asking about it and listening to it.

[00:18:01.480] – Allie

Yeah. And providing sort of the mechanisms and the structures to help individuals make that happen. So some of the work that I’ve been doing with educators in this space is around time blocking. So if you say that this is important for you, how are you blocking time on your calendar for it to happen? How are you establishing really good habits and daily rituals that enable you to not necessarily find more time, but make the best use of the 168 hours that you have each week?

[00:18:29.360] – Steve

So let’s move into the next one then. Perspective.

[00:18:32.720] – Allie

So as we look at perspective, I think sometimes in the busyness of the work that we do, it’s tough to step back and understand that while teaching is an incredibly isolating profession. We go into the classroom, we close the door, it’s us and however many students. There is a lot of richness to be said for the varied perspectives across from classroom to classroom or from office to office. And I wanted to make sure that at the team level, we were equipping educators with the tools and some of the protocols necessary to be able to engage in really good perspective taking together, to not just have that safe space where you can be yourself as a learner, but then also have the awareness to be able to bring others into that conversation as well. So this particular chapter drew on a lot of Dan Coyle’s work around looking at the cultures of spaces and how those team dynamics play out together. We looked at how do you help teams become better listeners so that we’re not just sort of reflecting back what other people are saying, but truly hearing and amplifying those conversations so that we can, over time, ask tough questions that lead to better collective practice.

[00:19:52.070] – Allie

So whether it be something like is this an equitable grading policy that we have? Is this the best way to monitor student progress over time? Are we having a master schedule that meets students where they are? Or are we just following the same traditional blocks and shifts and scheduling approaches that we were doing 30 years ago? Unless we’re willing to be able to sort of step back and have the tools necessary to take the perspectives of others, as well as to openly share our own, I don’t think we’re ever going to find ourselves in a place where we can ask those types of tough questions and continue to move forward as a profession.

[00:20:31.640] – Steve

And I guess that sets up the collective efficacy then, is the next one.

[00:20:36.730] – Allie

It does. So when we talk about alignment, it’s really that idea of self efficacy. And can you sort of put the stars up on the board and say, yes, I did this, I checked this off for myself? But then from a collective efficacy standpoint, creating a space for teams to experience that progress. You mentioned PLCs, setting goals. Then what do the check-ins around those goals look like? What are the lead measures and the lag measures that are enabling teams to sort of measure their progress over time? And how are we helping individuals to set weekly commitments within their team so that there is sort of this sense of forward motion? When I work with educators, when I talk about self efficacy, I often refer to Pizza Hut’s “book it” program that many of us were familiar with where you read a certain number of books, you get the coupon for the personal pan pizza. And how are we doing that then on a team level as a collective? How are we thinking about what’s going to motivate us, and how are we having those moments of progress and celebration together so that we’re moving forward from a place of both strength as well as vulnerability that also creates trust where we can engage in really tough conversations as a team.

[00:21:48.880] – Steve

And then I like that “organizational capacity” was in the title and then “organizational learning,” it’s been a phrase that I’ve come back to quite a bit with looking at goal setting and teacher professional growth. So talk about where you take it with that part of the book

[00:22:08.260] – Allie

So I wanted to make sure that when we looked at individuals and teams, it wasn’t just about the collective, but it was also about forming real learning ecosystems. So could our schools be places that were not only models of what student learning could look like, but ultimately, I would love them to be models of what learning looks like for adults as well. So that businesses are looking to schools and nonprofit organizations are looking to schools as sort of this hallmark of this is how we train adults, this is how we create learning cultures where individuals continue to thrive, so that it’s not just about the four walls of a school, but instead what does it really look like to be a deliberately developmental organization? How do we support individuals with their personal mastery, but then also build team mental models that over time really make those conversations richer, deeper and more meaningful? And that’s a place that I just don’t think we’ve gotten to yet as schools. But when I talked about being futuristic earlier, that’s certainly an aspiration that I have, is how do we create these places where schools are hallmarks not just for student learning, but for adult learning as well?

[00:23:21.930] – Steve

It’s interesting, a little while back I did a podcast with the authors of the book open system, and they describe the school being open, that the community is part of it. I’m kind of hearing that in what you’re laying out there.

[00:23:43.380] – Allie

Certainly. It’s sort of like that laboratory model where we have classrooms that serve as laboratories for some folks where they can come and do those types of observations. But I think there’s a real generative opportunity here for schools to play the same role and to truly be models of what that looks like. And it’s something within the profession I would certainly like to push us forward in that direction.

[00:24:07.020] – Steve

So I’m wondering if the recent presence of AI has got your brain stretching out as to where we could end up going here.

[00:24:18.660] – Allie

It certainly has. So I would be lying if I said I hadn’t played around with Chat GPT and some other tools, particularly as it relates to professional learning. So in the same way that I know many teachers have plugged in, “write me a 40 minutes lesson plan focused on this learning objective for this number of students,” I have seen what it can produce in terms of what would it look like for a 60 minutes workshop focused on this topic. And I think it’s good as a starting point, and it certainly provides some structure and some ideas. But for me, it’s been more helpful in, I think, expanding my thought process around reflective questions or to get back to sort of that idea of personalization and also perspective taking. Is there a perspective here that I’m missing that AI could supplement? So if I’m constantly writing reflection questions or forming action planning tools from my perspective, could that perhaps deepen and also widen the perspectives that are brought into my professional learning sessions? So that, I think has been the more recent way that I’ve been using the tool is to think about could I be more inclusive here in the ways that I’m crafting and designing professional learning?

[00:25:33.400] – Allie

And are there possibilities that I’m just overlooking entirely, recognizing that I am one individual from one perspective and there’s some value there in thinking about new ways to personalize.

[00:25:45.660] – Steve

I’ve been wondering on my own if the places that it saves teachers time allows that time to be invested more in the teacher’s learning or the teacher’s exploration, all of which comes back to learning.

[00:26:04.790] – Allie

Certainly. And I think the thing that has struck me most poignantly in this work is that the tool is only as good as the questions that you ask. And I know that you’ve done a lot of work in this area. So thinking about how do we coach teachers and also leaders to think about, are we asking the right questions? So often some of the questions that we ask in team meetings, whether that’s at the teacher level or the leader level, feel safe. And I think that’s why in parts of this book I really wanted to help folks create places of belonging where you could ask the tough questions. And when we look at AI, it really is only as good as the initial question and then the follow up questions that we’re able to ask. And I think that’s the real task, if you will, for professional learning that lies before us is how do we help people ask the tough questions and be more specific and really dig into what’s going to give us more intentional and personalized responses.

[00:27:07.000] – Steve

Well, you led me into my wrap up question.

[00:27:11.000] – Allie


[00:27:12.600] – Steve

I wanted to ask you if you had a question or two that you thought instructional coaches and school leaders should be asking themselves as they look at their role in supporting teacher learning?

[00:27:27.420] – Allie

Certainly. So one, I think goes back to that initial conversation about stillness. Are you valuing and making space for reflection the same way that you’re making space for bell to bell professional learning, if you will. So that teachers have time, and it’s not just that 32nd reflection at the end of a PLC session or at the end of a workshop to say what is your key takeaway, but that it’s truly valued within the context of professional learning. So are you making space for stillness? And then secondly, are you doing everything that you can to make your team time as meaningful as it can be, whether that’s helping your teacher leaders be better facilitators, implementing and helping people utilize protocols effectively, or ensuring that they have the action planning tools necessary to take those conversations and that work forward. So really looking at the intentionality of that team time because we know how precious it is within our schedules to make sure that that’s being maximized in every way possible so that both through that reflection and then that effective use of team time, we’re able to drive student achievement that much further.

[00:28:40.340] – Steve

Yeah, it’s striking me that too often, people don’t see team time as learning time. They see it as work time.

[00:28:50.250] – Allie

They see it as work time. We’re going to swap lesson ideas. We’re going know, share this particular tool. But for all practical purposes, we’re still, I think, you know, if given the right facilitation and action planning tools, it really is a learning opportunity.

[00:29:06.860] – Steve

Well, Allie, thank you so much. Want to tell folks best way for them to get in touch with you, find out more about your new book?

[00:29:14.980] – Allie

Certainly. So check out my website, www.thelearningloop.com. And I’m also across social media channels at The Learning loop and always look forward to the opportunity to thought partner with folks and think about professional learning together.

[00:29:29.200] – Steve

Well, great to be back with you and I will look forward to our next time.

[00:29:33.700] – Allie

Wonderful. Thanks so much for the invitation, Steve. I appreciate it.

[00:29:36.530] – Steve

Take care.

[00:29:38.920] – Steve [Outro]

Thanks for listening, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn at Steve Barkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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