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Are We Missing A Critical Move?


In the drive to successfully reopen districts and schools, are we letting go of a critical success move?

During our recent "Conversations with IMPACT" podcasts, Dr. Doug Fisher, Dr. Anthony Muhammad, and Dr. Stefani-Arzonetti-Hite shared common stories, and a theme emerged: "Schools are minimizing or eliminating time for collaboration and adult learning." We have heard similar stories from leaders in schools and districts we serve and support. Districts and schools are making every effort to serve their staff during this challenging time of change. Admirably, they identify ways to eliminate additional responsibilities and minimize time spent on things that don't consist of planning for instruction. As a result, many school systems are eliminating or severely curtailing job-embedded professional learning. While this intent to support teachers by minimizing their time and responsibilities is valued, the result can be damaging. Before we share our thoughts on the damaging effects of minimizing job-embedded professional learning, it's essential to understand what exactly is job-embedded professional learning.

Job-embedded professional learning is the learning that surfaces when teams of educators, during the workday, "assess and find solutions to authentic and immediate problems of practice as part of a cycle of continuous improvement" (Croft, et al., 2010). Inquiry is at the center of job-embedded professional learning. When educators engage in shared and collaborative processes and dialogues that link learning to instructional practices, teacher and leadership practices strengthen, and student learning improves. Done right and well, job-embedded professional learning leads to collective efficacy, a culture of continual learning, synergy, and renewal. Job-embedded professional learning leads to high levels of competence in new skills and strategies. Professional Learning Communities, Coaching, Data Teams, Peer Observation, Collaboration Meetings, Examining Student Work, Lesson Study, Study Groups, and other learning designs are all forms of job-embedded professional learning.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, reopening schools has forced professional educators and educational leaders to rapidly grow their skills needed to effectively and successfully adapt and transform. At this time, educators are learning new skills and managing complex change processes. The rate of change can have a dramatic impact on our mental stress. Unfortunately, there are limited models of remote learning to explore and replicate, little research on effective remote learning strategies to review, or clear answers to the many complex questions pertaining to best practices for operating schools during a pandemic.


  • the time to collectively understand the why, what, and how behind the rapid changes and innovations

  • the time for team members to share new learnings

  • opportunities for inquiry into what's working and what's not;

  • the time to co-create knowledge and understanding,

feelings and actions associated with uncertainty, fear, caution, apathy, skepticism, and even resistance can begin to set in and unravel a functional team or healthy collaborative culture.

At a time when educators are facing the most complex systems change of their lives, we must maintain and build in continual opportunities for adult learning and collaboration. Removing or minimizing the time for educators to learn and make meaning of their new work can lead to diminished collective efficacy, foster unhealthy cultures, and lead to dysfunctional teams. Change equals learning, and learning requires ongoing and job-embedded support and planning. It is unfair to ask someone to perform a task that you haven't prepared them to do. For that kind of knowledge and skill development to produce significant results, implementers must engage in ongoing job-embedded professional learning. In their research, Joyce and Showers state that it takes up to 20 times of trying a new strategy to develop initial proficiency. John Dewey said, "We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience." We know learning will occur as teachers work with colleagues in ways that enable them to problem solve, think together, and find the best route to overcome barriers.

Additionally, job-embedded professional learning designed to acquire new skills and knowledge has come with its challenges during these times of social distancing and remote learning. This problem is not insurmountable. There are opportunities for job-embedded learning to continue in these rapidly changing learning environments. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) just published a Rapid Evidence Assessment: Remote Professional Development. The assessment summarizes "the efficacy of remote professional development (PD) approaches to support school leaders and PD providers with decisions they are making about PD provision given social distancing requirements caused by the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic." It also is a wonderful examination of existing research used to determine the best approaches districts and schools could or are already utilizing to support remote professional learning. EEF provides five key findings and implications.

Key Findings and implications

  1. Professional development can be supported effectively remotely

  2. Remote coaching, mentoring, and expert support can be effective alone or as part of broader PD programs

  3. The use of video can enhance PD

  4. Interactive content and opportunities for collaboration hold promise for remote professional development

  5. Remote professional development requires supportive school conditions (support from leaders, protected time, tech-specific training, platform ease of access)

For access to the Rapid Evidence Assessment, click here:

"As our review shows," comments EEF chief executive, Prof. Becky Francis, "remote professional development sessions are not only effective means of improving pupil outcomes, but they also ensure that a sense of community and support endures amongst staff members in these unprecedented times."

As we adapt to the complexities currently facing schools across the globe, taking a stand for high-quality adult professional learning is our call to action. Please advocate for this critical move on your campus, with your leadership and your communities. As Atul Gwande stated, "Complexity requires group success." Although we face complex challenges right now, we can make an impact when we learn, adapt, and implement with a skilled team. Make job-embedded professional learning a priority and an integral part of your implementation plan.

IMPACT Learning and Leading Group

Steven Carney and Jenice Pizzuto


Education Endowment Foundation (2020) Remote Professional Development, Rapid Evidence Assessment, London: Education Endowment Foundation.

Joyce, B., and Showers, B. (2002). Student achievement through staff development (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality 2010, Job-Embedded Professional Development: What It Is, Who Is Responsible, and How to Get It Done Well Issue Brief, Croft, Coggshall, Ph.D., Dolan, Ed.D., Powers, Killion

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