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Helping Educators Move from Learning to Action to Try New Ways of Working

Amid hectic schedules and many competing demands, it can be difficult for educators to carve out time for professional development, and applying what they learn can feel even more challenging. Below are a few ways education networks are working to ensure what they are offering their members is relevant, timely, and actionable.

Helping Educators Prioritize Professional Development. For many educators, the first barrier to overcome for continual practice improvement is being able to make time for professional development. Recognizing it is difficult for educators to step away from daily demands at school, many education networks rely on member engagement and feedback to select times for offerings that work with school calendars and lengths and formats that work with educators’ daily schedules.

In addition to consideration around scheduling and formats, Black Principals Network (BPN) also uses strategies to help members of their network prioritize their own professional development, or as Executive Director TaraShaun Cain put it, “giving them permission to invest in themselves.” For example, BPN provides education and training on distributed leadership approaches. When principals distribute leadership across their leadership teams, it can free up time and space for their own growth and development, thereby further benefiting their staff and students.

Building in Time for Practice and Application. Once educators have successfully carved out space to learn new approaches, the next hurdle is finding ways to put those learnings into practice. Some education networks are finding it helpful to include space for practice and application as a regular part of their offerings. For example, members of the assistant principal network within the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) asked to be able to use some of their time together to practice things like having difficult conversations with staff. “We’re thinking more about how we can structure the time our members have together,” said Kaylen Tucker, associate executive director. “We want to make sure they have time not just to talk about the strategies, but to practice them as well.”

Similarly, in a focus group, BPN members asked for cohort-style programming. In response, BPN is piloting a cohort program where participants will work on common challenges together and co-create a tool they can give back to the network to lift up learnings from their work together. BPN has evolved the design of the cohort, in response to participant feedback, to include more time for collaboration among cohort members.

Creating Feedback Loops and Opportunities for Reciprocal Engagement. Member engagement is a key way education networks can ensure their offerings are relevant. Like many networks, BPN surveys members for feedback directly after program offerings. The team then works to apply that feedback into the next session so participants see their feedback is being heard and acted on. “This also models for our members how they can implement the feedback they receive as well,” said TaraShaun Cain. “When people see themselves in what we’re offering, they will see the value in it and will be more committed.”

Some education networks are also trying to mobilize their members as leaders in the network to strengthen connections, help expand the network, and ensure offerings are relevant. For example, Benjamin Banneker Association (BBA) is working to develop a network of facilitators to deliver programming to help the organization extend its reach. Recognizing there is great wisdom within the network itself, many networks have members serve as speakers or facilitators to share their knowledge and experience with peers.

Helping Members Get Internal Buy-In. Some changes in education practice will require broader support from district or school administrators. Some education networks are finding ways to support their members in getting the buy-in they need. For example, California Math Project (CMP) shares its learnings from professional development efforts through a public lesson study format. CMP encourages administrators to attend the public research lesson study as well because their buy-in is critical for teachers to be able to adopt the immersive professional development model.

As another example, members of BPN sign an MOU upon signing up for certain programs that stipulates that administrators support the principal in participating in the program and will not require the principal to use personal time to participate in the program.

While this list isn’t exhaustive, here are some ways education networks can help ensure their members are able to apply what they’re learning and try new ways of working to support their students’ success.

  • Be mindful of schedule and format for your offerings, considering school calendars, time zone differences (if applicable), and how much time your members can reasonably spend in a session. Ask for feedback from members.

  • Support your members in being able to prioritize themselves. Consider strategies you can share to help them carve out space for their own professional development.

  • Give members time to apply what they’re learning together. This could be space to practice new skills, co-create tools or frameworks, or plan their next steps and get them on their calendars.

  • Rely on deep member engagement to stay relevant. Seek regular feedback and use it. Consider how you can leverage your members as leaders and sources of knowledge and experience.

  • Support members in getting the internal buy-in they need to try new things. Help them make the case to administrators for the structure and support needed to try new approaches.

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