Where Adult Learning Meets Student Learning

By Robert J. Harris

June 15, 2017

Most educator compensation systems provide teachers with incentives to continue their learning by granting them pay increases for graduate credit earned for additional coursework. In theory, this model is a win-win: teachers make more money and school districts have more well-trained teachers. In most cases educators leverage this model in the service of their students. However, the ‘credit-for-compensation’ model begins to fall short when educators enroll in graduate coursework that is only peripherally linked to improved student outcomes.

As unfortunate as this may sound, there are those educators who see this model simply in terms of earnings and not in terms of learning. These educators take low cost courses with a minimal workload to yield the highest return on their investment with little to no benefit to the students they educate. Most frustrating of all, is the educator who does not see value in his/her own continued professional growth. Sadly, this educator does not seek out any additional learning opportunities throughout his/her entire career.

Salary increases based on the completion of graduate credit costs school districts lots of money. Yet, school districts have not developed metrics to identify how successful their professional learning programs are, and if indeed they are getting their ‘bang-for-the-buck’ in terms of improved learning outcomes. Since it is unlikely that teachers and their unions will readily capitulate to the elimination of the current ‘credit-for-compensation’ model, there are steps that school leaders can take to produce better results for students within the existing paradigm.

Accordingly, school leaders should design course approval processes that place the responsibility on educators to explicitly identify how a course leading to a pay increase will result in improved student learning. This can be achieved by requiring each educator to: a) demonstrate that the course he or she will be taking is directly linked to a measurable student learning goal, a school improvement goal, or a system goal; b) by matching the subject matter of the proposed coursework to their state’s, a national, or a district determined curriculum framework; and c) by connecting the teaching practice(s) learned in the course with one or more of their state’s, a national, or district determined standard for teaching.

School districts should further require educators to provide evidence that the content of the proposed course is specifically aligned with the content they teach, and/or with a teaching practice currently being used or being piloted by the district. If educators are required to provide: a) a course description and syllabus for each course in which they intend to enroll, b) a copy of the syllabus for the corresponding course(s) he/she teaches, and c) a third document explaining the correlation between the two, this will make the nexus between adult and student learning more visible.

21st century school leaders must have the capacity for envisioning schools from both educational and business perspectives. Given that school systems are responsible for improved learning outcomes for all students and staff, and given the unsustainable cost of k-12 public education; the place where adult learning and student learning intersect is an example of where both perspectives are necessary.

Robert J. Harris (@edudexterous) is the Founder of Edudexterity.


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