#92 – Sparking Collective Educator Agency: Reigniting Hope Through Professional Learning

Unpacking Education May 18, 2022 38 min

“Educators really are hope dealers. We deal in hope, and that’s what our students rely on us for. It has to start with ourselves.” These words from our guest, Jenn Nagle, reverberate throughout our conversation about professional learning. How can we reignite hope for educators, so they can continue to pass this feeling of hope along to their students? What role does professional learning play in promoting hope, and how can we structure professional learning to be inspiring and effective?

These questions frame our conversation with Jenn Nagle, Communications Manager at AVID Center, as we explore ways to develop collective educator agency through well-structured professional learning. We discuss various in-person and virtual models that can be implemented as well as the need to identify specific strategies or areas of focus that teachers collectively work to master.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Not having heard of it is not as good as having heard of it. Having heard of it is not as good as having seen it. Having seen it is not as good as knowing it. Knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice.

Xun Kuang, Chinese philosopher


The following resources are available on AVID Open Access to explore this topic in more depth:

Developing Collective Agency

During our conversation, Jenn talks about the importance of collaboration and connection during professional learning. She says, “One of the most important things that can happen in professional learning is that we’re building a sense of togetherness and learning to speak a common language, so as we’re talking about our instructional practices, we’re able to support each other and be there in the trenches with each other because educators do need each other. This is not a career that can be done well in isolation.”

To help teachers connect and thrive in their careers, we must develop effective professional learning opportunities that allow for collective teacher agency. Through collaborative learning and peer support, teachers can improve their craft, regain hope, and empower their students. Here are a few highlights from this episode:

  • A Shift From Efficacy to Agency: While we must first believe that we can be effective, that alone is not enough. We need to turn our beliefs into actions. One of the first steps in doing this is to spark and support teachers in working collectively and collaboratively to make a difference.
  • The Power of the Collective: It’s hard to teach in isolation. It’s also hard to maximize the impact we can have on a student population if we’re all working on our own. Effective professional learning can bring teachers together in a way that allows them to collectively learn and plan. Well-structured professional learning can provide this opportunity by helping teachers develop common language, common goals, and a collaborative support system.
  • The Importance of Action and Support: Agency requires action. Once we learn something, we need to actually go and do something with that new learning. Jenn talks about the importance of collegial support to agency and the implementation of new practices. We need colleagues who we can go to and share our experiences with while also receiving support and encouragement. As Jenn says, teachers need to be able to say, “We’re going to do this. We have each other.”
  • An Environment for Learning: For professional learning to be maximally effective, we need an environment that is supportive while also valuing high expectations. This environment can be established in multiple ways. I can be created by an effective, passionate leader, and it can also be effectively developed through grassroots teacher advocacy. Regardless how it is developed, a positive learning environment sets high expectations for performance and collaboration while also providing a support system. Teachers are responsible to the collective whole and believe, “I don’t do this by myself.”
  • Empowering Students: To empower students, we need to teach them empowering skills. This starts with teachers collaboratively reviewing the necessary skill areas and collectively targeting a limited number of core skills. These skills are then strategically implemented throughout the school to help students learn how to learn. As Jenn explains, this approach can result in “unlocking content, and scaffolding rigor, and creating access for them [students], really engaging them in learning.”
  • Having a Focus: Jenn shares a key question for teachers to ask: “What are the strategies that we can actually agree to get good at this year?” There is collective power in identifying a few core strategies, having a focus, and holding each other accountable for these goals.
  • Bringing It to Campus: We discuss the reality that “a lot of times, things don’t make it back to our classrooms after summer.” This implementation gap can be closed by bringing the professional learning to our school campus. Quality learning experiences can “create space where we can immerse ourselves” and allow us to visualize what this could look like in our classrooms when our students come back. We can collectively ask, “How can we actually make this work? . . . What do we need to do to make this possible?”
  • Intentionality and Scaffolding: Jenn shares this insight: “We need to create space to learn these strategies, to learn these practices, and then start to overlay the complicated, rigorous content on top of that. And that requires all of us. . . . There has to be intentionality.”
  • AVID Opportunities: AVID provides multiple types of professional learning opportunities that are built around high-quality Communities of Practice, which are designed to meet the diverse needs of educators and incorporate multiple learning styles and schedules. AVID Summer Institute is a 3-day, in-person, best-in-class learning experience. AVID DigitalXP™ offers those valuable skills and learning experiences in a virtual format. AVID Path to Schoolwide® training brings a 2-day, in-person experience to your school or district, and AVID ElevateXP® provides four 3-hour sessions of virtual learning offered year-round. All of AVID’s professional learning experiences include 12 hours of professional learning, digital badges, and CEU credits that are available for purchase. You can learn more about these opportunities by visiting AVID.org.
  • A Unique Opportunity: A powerful and unique way to engage in professional learning is to facilitate it on your own school campus. For instance, you could have your teachers engage in a virtual learning experience, like AVID DigitalXP, and then come together between sessions to debrief, collaborate, walk the halls, and envision how this new learning can become reality in your own school setting with your own students. This approach can bring together the power of learning, both with and from others, beyond your school walls with collaborating and planning within your own school community.

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your teaching team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • How do teachers in your district generally receive professional learning?
  • How would you rate the effectiveness of your current professional learning model? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
  • What do you believe are the keys to successful professional learning?
  • In what ways are your teachers empowered during professional learning? Are there opportunities to increase their ownership in the process?
  • How might you improve your current professional learning model?
  • What aspects of the AVID model sound appealing to you and your district? Are these opportunities you’d like to explore?