Learning Forward Blog

If I Knew Then What I Know Now!

Author: Linda Frace De Ivernois

“If I knew then what I know now”– how many times have you either said this to yourself or at least thought it? When asked by a colleague to share how my own professional learning has impacted my practice, this adage was what I thought of first.

When I started teaching umpteen years ago, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. I can’t even imagine what my first and second year students gained or didn’t gain.  Did you ever see the video clip of the airplane crew trying to build the plane while flying it?  That’s pretty much how I felt as a new teacher.  Fast forward a few years of taking graduate courses and gaining first-hand experience and I knew I was in the right profession.  I became a department leader and then a building principal and I carried with me the value of networking with colleagues, trying new strategies, keeping the ones that worked and searching for others when they didn’t work.

With all of the years of professional development and graduate work, I can honestly say that the most impactful professional learning occurred when, as a supervisor of secondary education, I applied for and received a block grant to hire our district’s first “math and reading coaches”. Let me give you a little background. With the adoption of NCLB, our state started block grants for which districts could apply.  Our state assessment achievement data clearly indicated that we needed coaches at both the middle level and the high school level.  Before we started implementing their services, I tapped every resource I could find and the coaches and I began an intensive learning experience together.  We gained insights from national coaching gurus Jim Knight, Steve Barkley, and Joellen Killion, and we joined with other districts in our intermediate unit who were beginning their own journeys as well.

After two years of integrated coaching with the math and reading teachers, we expanded our program so that the “instructional coaches” could work with all content areas.  The building principals joined our professional learning cadre and fully supported our work and the gains in achievement that were evident.   At the time, I was in my doctoral program and since I was so fully intent on seeing these coaches make a difference, I focused my research and dissertation on the impact they were making on the professional learning of others.

Impact is difficult to measure. As Joellen Killion (2018) writes in her newest book, Assessing Impact, “…while researchers continue to examine empirically if and how professional learning affects educator practice and student learning, educators know from their experience that professional learning is a significant factor in improving educator effectiveness” (p. xiv).  My dissertation results supported Joellen’s findings. Over time, our teachers began feeling as if they were working with a team member rather than a “coach”.  What at first was perceived as a “push in” professional developer who needed to be invited into the classroom was now a “teammate” who tried new strategies alongside them, looked at performance data, brainstormed new ideas, and shared with other like-content area or grade-level teachers.  The collaborative culture actually grew and even though the state ended its block grant for instructional coaching, the district embraced the importance of examining practice and kept the instructional coaching program.

As an educational leader, graduate course developer and instructor, I continue to value gaining my own professional learning and providing it to others.  And yes, as I continue to learn and reflect on how professional learning impacts me personally, I know I will continue to say to myself, “If I Knew Then What I Know Now”. . .

Dr. Linda Frace De Ivernois is a graduate course instructor at Delaware Valley University and a subject matter expert (SME) for PLS3rd Learning.  Formerly, she was the Supervisor of Secondary Education for the East Penn School District in Emmaus, PA and currently, she is an executive board member for Learning Forward Washington State.  She and her husband reside in Sequim, Washington.