When Teachers Need to Learn Deeply

This post is published in its entirety in EdWeek's Learning Deeply blog.

Even though we know a good deal about what it takes to provide deeper learning experiences for students, we often neglect to provide comparable learning experiences for teachers and those who support them. Maybe this is because constructing deeper learning experiences that effectively integrate content and open-ended inquiry is hard to do. It takes time and attention, requires clear learning goals, and specific knowledge of the learners' needs.

I have studied one district's effort to provide educators with sustained opportunities for learning so that teachers can better educate their students. When administrators in this district saw "all the schools that [were] not doing well in literacy," they took bold action. They hired literacy coaches and assigned them to schools where learning needs were greatest.

In spite of hiring strong teachers to become literacy coaches, problems emerged: not all coaches knew how to coach; not all coaches possessed the same literacy knowledge; some "did things that didn't connect to the district core curriculum"; and some coaches and principals struggled to communicate effectively with each other. In addition, high rates of teacher turnover meant there was a steady stream of teachers arriving into the district who were unfamiliar with the district's approach to literacy. These were real problems. Despite a significant investment of resources, student literacy was not improving as well as desired.

Then, the district made a momentous decision. It put two coaches in charge of coach learning and created a Literacy Coach Network to ensure coaches could better serve the varied learning needs of teachers and principals. These Network leaders began designing professional learning for coaches to deepen their knowledge of literacy and the district core curriculum, to teach them effective coaching techniques, and to support their work with principals.

A multifaceted support network developed, described by one coach as "pretty exquisite." Coaches experienced four intertwined strands of learning focused on:

  • Developing literacy content knowledge;
  • Practicing teaching and coaching in schools with actual students;
  • Getting help developing customized school coaching plans;
  • Receiving regular feedback from an expert coach

A hallmark of the quality of coach learning was how closely the activities matched individuals' learning needs toward achieving a common district goal: literacy instruction that ensures all students can read and write well, analyze texts, and express their own ideas. Read more


This post is by Ann Jaquith, the Associate Director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE), and the author of the forthcoming How to Create the Conditions for Learning: Continuous Improvement in Classrooms, Schools, and Districts, to be published by Harvard Education Press in September.