After 13 years working in the Professional Learning Field- I have learned at least one very important thing.  Teachers learn and implement the learning when they can apply it to their teaching.    Woah!! That is not really a mic drop moment.  It is kind of a “duh” it took you 13 years to figure that out?  Not really- but we do continue to do things the same ol’ way in many cases- like let’s do a workshop to show them a process or new curriculum or even a new assessment. OR how about the sit and get we do before school starts so we all get the same message?  OR even having the counselor and the specials teachers at the inservice meeting because “it’s not fair if they get time when the other teachers don’t.” We need to stop the insanity. We must move towards a more personalized, job-embedded approach to professional learning in order to help all teachers and students thrive

Here are a few instances of how our ESU has  promoted job-embedded professional learning for our schools..

Instructional Coaching- in a few of our schools we coach teachers that want to change, get better, or improve their practices.  Most of the time-the teachers being coached have approached their principal with a question of how to get better at something. Those principals reached out to us in many cases so we could provide non evaluative feedback to the teacher based on what that particular teacher wanted to get better at.  Now that doesn’t mean that we are experts at everything so we can then pass on our “expertness” to the teachers. NO WAY!! It only means that we are really good at giving feedback or questioning strategies on a goal set by the teacher and following that teacher’s directions on what data to collect and share back.

Implementation coaching- in a few more of our schools we have helped deliver initial PD on a particular concept (like writing instruction) and then we have coached the teachers in the implementation of that concept.  The teacher is in charge of what piece they would like to implement- we come along side of the teacher and offer feedback and questioning on what data they have asked us to gather. Sometimes like above we use video, observations and face to face meetings.

Personalized PD- in other schools we have introduced a concept of personalized PD where all staff chose an area that they want to get better at- set outcome goals, create a plan and research the topic, then implement it in their classroom.  One example is instructional strategies. They learn about 1 or 2 particular instructional strategies-perhaps from their instructional model and then implement it. Once implemented, they share with the admin team and/or staff the results. Collecting baseline data before or after and/or sharing with PLC teams can  certainly help with the implementation.

I encourage our Nebraska schools to think differently about professional learning.  If you don’t have a PD a curriculum department-use your ESU’s to help you build a continuous, job embedded professional learning plan.  Once you think differently about the PD, and implement your plan, you will get different results for sure. Our teachers and our students deserve it.

Eileen Barks

Top Ten Books to Add to your Summer Reading List


It is finally starting to act like spring which means that summer will be here before we know it. Ah, summer–a time in which all educators take their annual three-month vacation. Yeah, right. Most educators utilize the summer break for graduate coursework, planning and preparation for the upcoming school year, and hopefully to squeeze in some much-deserved family time! In the hopes that you are also able to carve out some time to read, here is a Top Ten list of titles to consider!


#1 – Dare to Lead by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW

Written by Dr. Brené Brown…need I say more? Dare to Lead is her work on shame, vulnerability, and daring greatly applied to the work environment! I also recommend checking out her Dare to Lead Hub for accompanying resources to help you dive into this gem! Not familiar with Dr. Brown’s work? Check out her widely-viewed “The Power of Vulnerability” TED Talk!


#2 – Take Time for You by Tina H. Boogren

Educators are notorious for neglecting their own needs for the sake of everyone else. Based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Dr. Tina Boogren dives into addressing our self-care needs at each level of the pyramid. With an active Facebook group lead by Dr. Boogren and accompanying Solution Tree Reproducibles, the ongoing support to apply this work is second to none! If you are looking to apply this same work with students, check out Motivating & Inspiring Students:  Strategies to Awaken the Learner. (Dr. Boogren is a co-author with Dr. Robert Marzano, Darrell Scott, and Ming Lee Newcomb.)


#3 – They Call Me Mr. De by Frank DeAngelis

Grab a box of tissues and dive into this newly released title by the retired principal of Columbine High School in Colorado. Frank DeAngelis was the principal at Columbine on April 20, 1999. Despite experiencing unspeakable tragedy as the building leader, he pledged to remain principal until every student in the Columbine feeder schools had graduated. Now a national speaker and consultant on leadership and school safety, Mr. De shares his story of not only heartbreak & loss but also of hope & resilience. A powerful read you won’t want to miss!


#4 – Unleashing Great Teaching by David Weston & Bridget Clay

Based on the research and experience from the Teacher Development Trust (UK), this book is a practical guide to help you implement effective professional learning! Multiple examples, checklists, and easy-to-implement ideas designed to remove barriers and foster continuous improvement are included.  A webinar recording is also available to assist in the processing of the content in this book. Whether you lead at the district, building, or team level, this book can help you “unlock the secrets” of great professional development!


#5 – All Learning is Social and Emotional by Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, and Dominique Smith

“Social and Emotional Learning” (SEL) has become the latest education buzzword. However, it is sometimes misunderstood to be just for certain content or specific groups of students. Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, and Dominique Smith contend that ALL learning is social and emotional. What educators say, how we interact, what materials and activities we choose…it all has an impact on students and their learning. This book describes their model for integrating SEL into every classroom and with every student, every day!


#6 – Fierce Conversations:  Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott

When considering basic skills, “communication” is always on the list. However, it however, it is anything but basic. It is absolutely critical to the growth and success of any organization. Fierce Conversations gives you ways to transform everyday conversations both at work and at home. You can also explore the Fierce Conversations Blog for additional related content. SHAMELESS PLUG:  ESU #3 is hosting a “Fierce Conversations Workshop” this summer…click here for additional details or to register! (If tackling tough but important conversations is something near the top of your list, Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton, and Heen as well as Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Greeny, McMillan, and Switzler are recommended!)


#7 – Leading with Focus:  Elevating the Essentials for School and District Improvement by Mike Schmoker

Following up on his best selling book “Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning” (ASCD, 2011), Mike Schmoker shows district and school leaders how to apply his work to their roles. He gives practical advice for simple, focused leadership with streamlined practice focused on student learning. If you are looking to move your district’s continuous improvement process from theory to practical implementation for maximum impact on a daily basis, this is the book for you!


#8 – Professionally Driven:  Empower Every Educator to Redefine PD by Jarod Bormann

Growth mindset + intrinsic motivation + sustainable autonomy = Professionally Driven Educators! Jarod Bormann, a Technology Integration Specialist at Keystone AEA in Iowa, aims to move educators past the traditional top-down, sit-and-get professional learning experiences. It puts teachers in the driver’s seat to research, integrate, reflect, and share their own personalized learning journey as a true professional. The Professionally Driven website includes many support materials, including sample journeys, printable materials, videos, articles, and more!

(If personalized professional learning is what you are after, Personalized PD:  Flipping Your Professional Development by Bretzman, et al. is also highly recommended.)


#9 – Invent to Learn (2nd Edition) by Sylvia Libow Martinez & Dr. Gary Stager

In this recently released second edition of the proclaimed “bible of the maker movement in schools,” educators can use this practical guide to tap into students’ natural inclination to tinker. This book can help you to launch a makerspace in a learning environment and guide you to infuse the making mindset in all learning environments, every content area for every student. The Invent to Learn website is a highly recommended resource, including their blog and list of resources sorted by chapter, type, and topic!


#10 – Whatever you want!

Summer is the perfect time to dig out that book you’ve been wanting to read forever. Enjoy a lazy morning on the front porch with a cup of coffee and the latest intriguing mystery by your favorite author. Spend the entire afternoon in the shade with a trashy romance novel and a gossipy tabloid magazine. Whatever it is, summer is about slowing down to take some time for yourself and your to-read list!


Post Written by Kate Carlson, Instructional Technology Consultant – ESU #3 LaVista, NE

Instructional Rounds to Foster Growth: A Process, not an Event

Todd Tripple Ed. D.


A process, not an event. This is what I keep going back to when thinking about designing effective professional learning experiences. Events absolutely have a place in a systematic approach to professional learning. However, how do we ensure the learning continues throughout the year? Instructional Rounds are a way to provide this job-embedded, relevant, ongoing professional learning.


What are Instructional Rounds?

Instructional Rounds occur when groups of teachers visit classrooms to observe an identified problem of practice or essential question. Instructional Rounds are not synonymous with evaluations/walkthroughs. In an evaluation or walkthrough, the teacher is the learner and receives feedback on his/her practice from their evaluator. This feedback is designed to help the teacher grow in his/her craft. In the Instructional Round format, the observers are the learners. These non-evaluative learning observations provide an opportunity for participants to learn and apply knowledge with a community of learners in an effort to systematically enhance the learning experience for students.


Who participates in Instructional Rounds?

The beauty of Instructional Rounds is anyone can participate. Remember, rounds are about systematic learning. The more people participating, the more systematic learning taking place. In our district, we have had teachers, teacher leaders, building administrators and district administrators all participate in Instructional Rounds. Having various stakeholders involved has created a common understanding and vocabulary. When we talk about the practices we observed, each person involved in the Instructional Rounds are all on the same page.


How do Instructional Rounds work?

To improve the probability of success with Instructional Rounds, it is important to spend some time planning for the experience. First, it is important to define a Problem of Practice. Richard Elmore (2016), author of Instructional Rounds in Education refers to a problem of practice as “Something that would make a difference for student learning if we improved it” (p. 102). Establishing the problem of practice helps define the time spent in the observation. There is simply too much happening in a classroom to observe everything in a 10-15 minute visit. Defining the problem of practice helps observers focus on a key teaching practice, which serves as the focus of post-observation discussion.

After a problem of practice has been determined, it is important to identify who will serve as group facilitators. The role of the facilitator is to help the Instructional Rounds process move smoothly. The facilitator leads the pre-observation conference, guides participants through the observations, keeps track of time, and leads the group debrief upon completion of the observations. Below is a sample Instructional Rounds structure.


Why Instructional Rounds?

Instructional Rounds require pre-planning and resources, however, the benefits received are well worth the effort. Whether observing a classroom management technique, instructional practice, or a component of a new curricular adoption, Instructional Rounds provide a structure for job-embedded, ongoing and relevant professional learning. In a time of budget constraints, rounds provide answers and support without leaving the building.


Sample Structure:
Total Time: approximately 90 minutes

  • Time can be adjusted to meet your specific needs and time constraints.

Pre-Observation Conference (10 minutes)

  • The pre-observation meeting sets the stage for the observations. The facilitator can provide information on the classes to be observed and provide a reminder of the problem of practice. Transition to Classes (2 minutes)

Observations (45 minutes)

  • It is important to see multiple classes during Instructional Rounds. A 10-15 minute observation is sufficient when a problem of practice has been identified.  Transition to Debrief Area (2 minutes)

Post-Observation Debrief (30 minutes)

  • During the post-observation, the facilitator leads the group through a discussion about the observations. The discussion should focus on the established problem of practice. It may be helpful to have some discussion questions scripted for the debrief conversation.




Todd Tripple is the Director of Staff Development & Instructional Improvement for Millard Public Schools. He can be reached at:




City, E. A., Elmore, R. F., Fiarman, S. E., & Teitel, L. (2016). Instructional Rounds in

Education: A network approach to improving teaching and learning. Cambridge

(Massachusetts): Harvard Education Press.

Joining Learning Forward Nebraska for me has been a no brainer.  I work in the field of professional development and Learning Forward is THE Professional Learning Organization.  I work with teachers, paras, principals, and superintendents every day – helping, supporting, coaching, teaching, and ok-sometimes cajoling – them to the next level, next step, next improvement/level in their practice.

Learning Forward Nebraska is all about getting better at this craft we call education.  It is about associating myself with like-minded individuals; me getting better at what I do; and using the tools (free in many cases) to help me.  I joined because I saw this as an organization that had momentum and leverage. In our education world- the constant is improvement. School Improvement, Classroom Improvement, Legislative Improvement, Professional(Educator) Improvement.  Learning Forward Nebraska has helped me understand that thinking through the system of professional learning will lead to a change in practice that will affect all students.

So, it is not about the pen or the squeezy ball or the notebook of sticky notes that I got when I joined.  It is about the relationships, the conversations, the planning, the systematizing of our craft of professional learning and knowing that I have a cadre of experts behind me-helping me through it all.  

Members are needed to network and share about Learning Forward Nebraska during Administrators’ Days. Here is a link to sign-up for a 1-hour time slot!

Plan to attend the 2017 LFN Annual Business Meeting, which will be held on Wednesday, July 26 over lunch break on NDE Day of the NCSA Administrators’ Days Conference in Kearney from 11:30 to 12:15.

The meeting agenda will include highlights of 2016-2017, a vote on the proposed constitution and bylaws, installation of newly-elected board of directors, and a report from president Scott Blum on the strategic plan for 2017-2018.

LFN Screen shot of website

In 2016 Learning Forward Nebraska found Paul Burner of Slide Arts Graphic Design in Lincoln who worked with us to develop a professional-level website.

The Learning Forward Foundation annually awards one $10,000 competitive grant to Learning Forward Affiliates. Learning Forward Nebraska was notified in May that it was selected as the 2016 LFF grant recipient.