Frequently Asked Questions
Developments in research, practice, and how we think about professional learning since the 2011 Standards for Professional Learning warranted an update to ensure educators have current and enduring guidance to design and implement high-quality professional learning. The 2022 standards were developed to meet current and emerging needs of students and educators.
The latest standards are organized into three frames: Rigorous Content for All Learners, Transformational Processes, and Conditions for Success. These frames echo the structure from the 2001 Standards. In addition, based on new research and lessons from the field that have emerged since 2011, the 2022 revision includes five new standards: Equity Foundations; Equity Drivers; Equity Practices; Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction; and Professional Expertise. Every standard has been updated and revised.
Typically, state departments of education champion the standards adoption process, beginning with an effort to educate and raise awareness about the purpose and usefulness of standards among key stakeholders and partner organizations. Local Learning Forward Affiliates serve as experts on standards and how they inform, guide, and add value to a state’s or province’s efforts to build comprehensive professional learning systems. Learning Forward is ready to partner to support adoption of standards. Please review this short overview of Why and How to Adopt the Standards and reach out to Learning Forward for more information.
First, there is a “Quick Start Guide” to orient you to the standards content, and Learning Forward staff is available to discuss getting started if you are new to standards or interested in orienting your team or colleagues.
Next, there are free Action Guides for these roles: superintendent, system/central office, principal, teacher, coach, external partner, and state commissioner. These 8-page PDFs include a short overview of standards and highlight the key responsibilities for educators in those roles as they support standards use and implementation. Each action guide also includes a unique set of questions to help educators in that role identify their first actions. It is our hope that these Action Guides are used for collaborative learning and collective inquiry. For system/central office, principal, coach, and external partner, the Action Guides also include a full Innovation Configuration Map, which is a detailed progression of specific behaviors undertaken to achieve the Standards. Educators use them to guide action and to measure implementation. You can find these at standards.learningforward.org under the Action Guide tab.
Learning Forward Affiliates are also experts in building understanding about the Standards and how they are implemented well. Check here to see if there is one near you. In addition, Learning Forward’s Standards Assessment Inventory (SAI), a web-based teacher survey, can help assess the current state of professional learning in your school or system. The SAI provides leaders with data and actionable next steps related to standards.
All educators have a role in advocating for standards by using them in their day-to-day work and documenting their use, no matter their role or positional authority. Individuals can build awareness about standards among their colleagues and teams, while teams of educators can engage with the Innovation Configuration maps to identify their current state as it relates to standards and identify and plan the behaviors they would like to strengthen to achieve even greater outcomes in educator and student outcomes.
Yes! Standards are currently used in many countries in addition to the United States. Although in some cases the language and terminology may need slight adjustment or additional explanations or the roles and responsibilities may vary, the concepts and expectations for quality are relevant in many contexts. Future plans for standards include translating them into languages in addition to English.
To learn more about the use of Standards for Professional Learning internationally, take a look at this study about the state of professional learning in Canada and how the findings align to standards.
And this article about how standards are the foundation for several programs of Learning Forward-India, a thriving affiliate.
Standards and selected action guides are available free at standards.learningforward.org. Printed books are available for purchase ($25 for non members and $20 for members). Action guides for all roles are available at no cost to everyone, while online IC maps are a members-only benefit. Online Innovation Configuration maps are included in every level of membership, including with a digital membership ($69/year). Later this year, Learning Forward will publish books that contain the Innovation Configuration maps and Action Guides for purchase by members or non-members.
A respect for and reliance on research, in addition to professional expertise, permeates Standards for Professional Learning. Each standard is anchored in research and evidence about the essential aspects of how professional learning has positive effects on teacher practice and student learning. Research also informs the approach to the conditions, processes, and content that are likely to make professional learning relevant and effective. Learning Forward considered many sources in building the research foundation for the standards revision, including our own research, other standards, theoretical frameworks, case studies, qualitative research, and large-scale data studies. Selected (not all) research is listed for each standard.
In addition, the Center for Great Teachers and Leaders at the American Institutes of Research (AIR) extensively studied the concepts represented in the Standards. The meta-analysis found “consistent evidence that program alignment with the Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning is associated with improved teacher instruction and student achievement outcomes” (Garrett et al., 2021). Read more about this study here.
Learning Forward contracted with the American Institutes of Research (AIR) to conduct a comprehensive literature review of studies of professional learning interventions and their teacher and student outcomes. Building on that work, AIR then conducted a meta-analysis, a systematic look at tightly scoped studies that tie key concepts in the standards to observable outcomes in teacher instruction and measurable outcomes in student learning. The findings of the meta-analysis are positive overall, clarify where there are gaps in the research that need additional exploration, and inform Learning Forward’s future research agenda. Read the full report here.
Standards for Professional Learning work within a framework of three frames:
- The Rigorous Content for Each Learner standards describe the essential content of adult learning that leads to improved student outcomes.
- The Transformational Processes standards describe process elements of professional learning, explaining how educators learn in ways that sustain significant changes in their knowledge, skills, practices, and mindsets.
- The Conditions for Success standards describe aspects of the professional learning context, structures, and cultures that undergird high-quality professional learning.
The 2011 Data standard has been updated and expanded. Now called the Evidence standard, it includes additional information about using research studies and other types of evidence to inform planning and assessment of professional learning.
Concepts covered in the 2011 Learning Communities standard are now included in the Culture of Collaborative Inquiry, reflecting the understanding that collaboration and collegial support for professional learning must be broadly embraced across a system. The current standard also reflects recent research about the power of collective inquiry in both adult and student learning.
Standards provide a research- and evidence-based framework that can clearly define what high-quality professional learning looks like, provide language and expectations that can be shared with all educators and stakeholders in order to increase coherence across departments (or systems or schools), and have clear measures and behaviors for achieving improved outcomes for educators and students. Program alignment to standards improves educator and student outcomes, as found in a recent AIR study. After a rigorous study of standards, AIR researchers concluded, “Investments in professional learning can yield meaningful improvements in student achievement, and the benefits for students come through improvements in instruction”.
While every educator can find actions to take as part of their professional responsibility to improve their own practice using standards, there are several detailed action guides that provide detailed behaviors to achieve standards for policymakers, coaches, principals, central office leaders, and external providers.
You can become a Standards Ambassador to communicate, promote, and increase awareness and understanding about Standards for Professional Learning with a variety of educators and stakeholders. Further your own professional learning growth and development by: participating in at least one Learning Forward-sponsored Standards event in 2022; organizing or helping to plan at least one Standards for Professional Learning event, featuring one of the Standards tools, in your local community in 2022; and publicly sharing your story about the importance and relevance of Standards for Professional Learning to your professional role and responsibilities in a written or presentation format of your choice in 2022.
There are many other ways to share information about revised standards. Please visit our communications toolkit (add link) to find blurbs for newsletters, sample tweets and social media posts, and slides you can add to your own presentations.
We believe that all students and educators can learn and have the right to learn. The equity standards delineate how educators and leaders establish the conditions that ensure equitable access to professional learning for educators. The standards also help educators develop or strengthen the practices that ensure each and every student has access to learning.
There is an equity standard in each frame, reflecting the importance of equity being considered in content, process, and conditions related to professional learning. The Equity Foundations standard relates to the context and conditions that support equitable professional learning such as leadership, the Equity Drivers standard relates to the adult learning content and processes that encourage equitable outcomes, and the Equity Practices standard is focused on the content of professional learning that results in improved and equitable outcomes for students.
There are other terms and phrases that can be used to convey important concepts about access to learning and access to opportunity that some of our colleagues use, for instance “reaching all students.” It may also be helpful to share research and evidence about the positive impact on students when they are in settings that respect their cultures and backgrounds. Many educators don’t recognize that teaching and learning challenges result from and are sustained by inequitable policies and practices, including professional learning that does not address inequities. For more about Learning Forward’s work regarding equity, see:
Learning Forward defines equity as the outcome of educator practices that respect and nurture all aspects of student identity rather than treat them as barriers to learning. This definition is included in the Foundations of Standards and has been informed by research and the work of organizations such as the National Equity Project.
Each Standard starts with “professional learning results in equitable and excellent outcomes for all students when educators understand their students’ historical, cultural, and societal contexts, embrace student assets through instruction, and foster relationships with students, families, and communities.
The term “professional learning” begins each Standard, emphasizing that the focus of Standards is always on professional learning for educators, because improved educator learning benefits all their students.
The phrase “equitable and excellent outcomes” means providing professional learning that equips teachers with the knowledge and skills they need so that every student has access to the learning opportunities they need to reach their fullest potential.
“Embracing student assets” refers to how incorporating students’ cultures, backgrounds and lived experiences into instruction can increase student engagement and success. Professional learning is grounded in a belief that all students can learn and no student should be treated as though they have intractable deficits.