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  • Writer's pictureDr. Sue Chapman

Going Up! Elevate Student and Teacher Learning through School-Based Professional Learning

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

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What is School-Based Professional Learning?

Imagine the power of learning tied directly to the work educators do each day.

  • Learning that is relevant because it focuses on issues that emerge in practice

  • Learning that is driven by inquiry and continuously refined

  • Learning that is immediately applicable to practice

  • Learning that is sustained over time and shared within the community

This type of learning energizes and engages educators to learn and grow. This is school-based professional learning. (Killion, Sommers, Delehant, p. 1)

How can we maximize the impact of our professional learning efforts on educator and student learning? What strategic actions can we take to make best use of our limited time, energy, and financial resources dedicated to instructional improvement work?

In their new book Elevate School-Based Professional Learning, Joellen Killion, Bill Sommers, and Ann Delehant mentor us through the processes of planning, implementing, and evaluating high-quality professional learning that, in turn, elevates student learning. This comprehensive guide offers educators both the research and practical tools they need to achieve heightened results from their professional learning initiatives.

Why School-Based Professional Learning?

  • School-based professional learning is essential for addressing the unique needs of a school and its staff and the shifting priorities of the existing community and culture.

  • When professional learning is disconnected from educators’ daily work and their specific school context, the learning may not transfer to practice. (p. 3)

I reached out to co-author Bill Sommers about this exciting new resource. He graciously agreed to chat with me after a busy day as a high school principal before heading off to a girls’ basketball game. Here are some highlights of our conversation.


In Elevate School-Based Professional Learning, you and your co-authors Joellen Killion and Ann Delehant talk about school-based professional learning being “a living laboratory in which all members share responsibility for every student.” If I walked into a school where school-based professional learning was the norm, what would I see and hear?


You’d see teachers talking to each other. And you’d see the principal bringing teachers together to learn from each other, making learning “job one” for everyone. Once we build this type of learning-focused school culture, the learning for adults and students takes off. It defines the organization.

Learning Together

When teams hold themselves accountable for drawing learning from every experience and sharing it with others, they spread knowledge and influence practice. The key to sharing is to share the learning, the evidence that led to the learning, the adaptations made, and the results.

By continually drawing from one another’s experiences and reflecting on their potential for others’ situations, the community of learners becomes a living laboratory in which all members share responsibility for the success of every student. (p. 34)

A Continuous-Learning Mindset is Key to School-Based Professional Learning Educators commit to being continuous learners, not for compliance requirements of governing agencies, but as a core value they hold. That value guides how teachers and instructional support staff engage in their work and with one another. Those with a continuous learner mindset realize every experience is an opportunity to learn, confirm or disprove what they know, and discover new questions to ask. (p. 34)


You talk in the book about the importance of teachers and leaders adopting a continuous-learning mindset. How can we cultivate this mindset in ourselves and in those we serve?


To cultivate a continuous-learning mindset in others, leaders need two things. They have to be the head learner, to actively demonstrate intellectual curiosity. And they need to develop others as learners. If I’m not learning, my teachers probably aren’t learning as much as they could. And if my teachers aren’t learning, our students aren’t learning as much as they could.

Planning for School-Based Professional Learning Just as instruction for students involves art and science, the same is true in designing professional learning for educators. The art involves aligning learning with the learner, content, and context; the science involves applying research-based practices for adult learning. (p. 90)


In the book, you share a model of situational leadership for choosing learning designs that offer a way of differentiating professional learning. Tell us a bit about how a leader might use this model.


This model comes from my book Creating Talent Density: Accelerating Adult Learning. Most of our teachers fall in the lower right quadrant of the model. They love kids. They are willing to walk on hot coals to help kids learn. They’re the backbone of our schools because they want to learn, and they can grow in their ability to support student learning. So, we provide coaching and guidance to raise their level of expertise. Other teachers might be best served by different professional learning designs.


You and your co-authors talk about the importance of reflection as a critical part of professional learning. You are quoted as saying “Reflection is the difference of having one year of experience twenty-five times and twenty-five years of experience honing our behaviors for better results.” Tell us more about the relationship between reflection and school-based professional learning.


Reflection is all about building our toolkits. It’s important that we reflect forward, backward, and in the moment. I find it helpful to have a learning partner, someone who will ask me questions that help me to reflect. Then I can reciprocate by helping them to also reflect on their experiences and learning. The more we have these reflective conversations, the more we all learn.


You’ll be sharing your experience and expertise at the Learning Forward Texas Annual Conference in June in a session called Compliance Cop to Culture Coach: Explaining the Why, How, and What. This is also the title of your latest book coming out in June. Tell us what we can look forward to in this session.


For years, we have tried compliance as a strategy for raising test scores. My question is “how is that working for us?” Test scores remain low and drop-out rates are increasing. Instead of compliance, let’s try coaching toward a culture of learning that supports improvements in teaching and learning while strengthening organizational well-being. I look forward to exploring these ideas with fellow educators at the conference.

Join Bill Sommers on June 20 at the Learning Forward Texas Annual Conference.

Compliance Cop to Culture Coach: Explaining the Why, How, and What Calling all leaders. The seven Cs of Leadership include: Communication, Collaboration, Coaching, Change, Conflict, Creativity, and Courage. Learn specific strategies to implement in your school/district to accelerate organizational health. You will leave with powerpoints and research to use with your team.

Elevating Learning for Students and Educators

Professional learning at the school level accelerates the application of learning, personalizes the learning process for the school’s specific needs, and builds collective responsibility for student and educator learning. (p. 213)

Elevate School-Based Professional Learning is packed with practical leadership tips, reflective questions and tools. School leaders and professional learning specialists will find these features helpful in planning and implementing their own school-based professional learning. The book is certain to become a favorite professional resource that educators will pull off their bookcases again and again.

Elevate School-Based Professional Learning offers readers a wealth of tools to support planning, implementing, and evaluating professional learning. Example: Assessing the Current State of School-Based Professional Learning


Killion, J., Sommers, W. A., & Delehant, A. (2023). Elevate school-based professional learning. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Sommers, W. A. (2021). Creating talent density: Accelerating adult learning. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Sue Chapman is a professional learning consultant and author of MathVentures: 33 Teacher-Coach Investigations to Grow Students as Mathematicians. Connect with Sue at and on Twitter at @SueChapmanLearn.

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