Ross Romano: [00:00:00] Welcome in everybody to another episode of the Authority Podcast here on the Be Podcast Network. Thanks so much for joining us for this conversation today. My guest is Allison Rodman. Allison is the founder and chief learning officer of The Learning Loop. Learning Loop is an education consulting organization that provides professional learning design, facilitation, and leadership coaching to districts, schools, nonprofits, and businesses internationally.
Her work focuses on adult learners, and she brings experience as a teacher, instructional coach, school leader, director of teaching and learning, director of professional learning, and a board member. Allison's latest book is called Still Learning, Strengthening Professional and Organizational Capacity.
It's published by ASCD. [00:01:00] It just came out recently. And Allison, welcome to the show.
Allison Rodman: Thanks so much, Ross. I'm super excited to be here.
Ross Romano: Yeah. Excellent. So, let's start here. What's, what's the, the big idea behind this book?
Allison Rodman: When my previous book came out in 2019 that focused on personalized professional learning leaders said, this is great, but we need even more support. And for some of them, that support looked like helping facilitators as You know, whether they're teacher leaders or building leaders to design better professional learning.
And then sort of on the other end of the spectrum, others said, you know what, we just need more support around learning culture. We spend so much time thinking about the learning culture for our students, and we need to continue thinking about what that looks like for adults in our spaces. So particularly given that we look to educators to be model learners for students, this particular book looks at how we can support Educators at the individual, the team, and the organizational level to [00:02:00] continue their own learning, to strengthen their own capacity, both individually and collectively.
Ross Romano: And I, I know there is a lot of data that you looked at around best practices for educator capacity building. Is there anything in particular that stood out and contributed to either the topics you chose to focus on in the book or the way you ended up structuring the book?
Allison Rodman: Absolutely. So I think we've given some attention to the team spaces, right? How do we facilitate professional learning communities? What does it look like for grade level teams or departments to interact together? I don't think we've given as much attention to the individual components as a learner in terms of knowing yourself and how you grow and what drives and motivates you, as well as how you set your own goals and align your tasks day to day to, to meet those goals.
And then similarly, kind of at the other end, going beyond the team to think about from a school wide or a district wide perspective, what does it really mean to grow [00:03:00] as a learning ecosystem and not just this, this individual collection of teams?
Ross Romano: And, and you know, a big piece of the book that is unique is, is the emphasis and the focus on educators, social, emotional, well being, development, growth. And you write about how, of course, there's a lot of focus and prioritization around SEL for students but not as much for the educators themselves.
Why do you think that that is so infrequently prioritized?
Allison Rodman: Education as a profession has traditionally been hallmarked as a very busy job, right? You're constantly moving, you're constantly multitasking, managing the needs of varying students with all so many different needs, as well as different courses and classes and periods. It is truly a profession of busyness, yet what's ironic in all of that is when [00:04:00] we talk about student learning and we talk about helping students to track their own progress over time and to see how much they've grown, critical component of that is stillness.
and reflection. Helping students to create that space to step back and to understand where they've come from. Yet we don't do that for the educators in our spaces. So it was really critical for me sort of in a play on words with the title with, with still learning to think about what does it mean to help educators be that constant learning, but to be that constant learner, but also elevate.
within the profession, the value of stillness, that it's okay to pause, it's okay to stop and reflect and think about what's truly going to move you and your students to the next level, that not everything needs to be this constant flurry of busyness.
Ross Romano: Yeah, let's talk about that more, that intentional reflection right, and the stillness as you phrased it, [00:05:00] how, what, what does that look like a little bit more and, and how critical is it really? Because there is that constant motion and between what's happening in the classroom and between the other professional learning and between what's happening at home right?
That, that reflection doesn't just necessarily happen naturally or even if it does in those moments where you're stay on your commute or something, right? By the time you get where you're going, then your mind is back to whatever it's on and, and there's not necessarily an opportunity to have, to Download your takeaways and plan a follow through.
So that intentional reflection and building that into one's practice. What what's the importance of that,
Allison Rodman: When I think about that, I think it has three major components. We've got to think about it on the systemic level, right? So how are we building into our bell schedules, our team meetings, our agendas, areas of focus, [00:06:00] time for reflection and thoughtfulness as much as we are the next strategy or plan or action tool.
It's got to happen at the relational level. So being vulnerable enough to have conversations peer to peer. And say I need space for this, or I need you to help me prioritize, or can we connect and be accountable accountability partners for each other in a real and authentic way? And then it also happens at the individual level, not feeling guilty taking 10 minutes to Take a deep breath in the middle of the day to be able to engage in a calm meditation or to take that time for reflection, recognizing that that's going to be as restorative as running more copies of the copy machine.
But sometimes I think in education we carry with us that that sense of guilt that those moments of both self and community care are not worth the same as some of the other things that can consume our schedules.
Ross Romano: [00:07:00] Over the past few years, including the pandemic and a variety of other things going on, there's been. A lot of need for ongoing learning, a lot of changes things that have, that change temporarily, things that change permanently were there certain things that you looked at over, over that period that were indicative of the need for educators to be quote unquote still learning or or also that define like what, That learning can and should look like moving forward.
Allison Rodman: Absolutely. So what's interesting about this particular work is it was first outlined in the fall of 2019. So that need sort of emerged in spring 2019. We went through an initial outline, and then, as you noted, the needs continued to evolve and change and shift. And I think we felt that [00:08:00] for our students, and most notably, as we look at some of our current hiring challenges and teacher shortages, we've certainly felt that across teacher and leader positions.
in our schools, that the needs both for individuals within the profession, as well as those even considering the profession have continued to, to evolve and shift. So an important part of this work for me was not only monitoring some of that and understanding how the nature of education had shifted from a format perspective, right?
So. virtual learning, hybrid learning, face to face learning, but also just the interconnectivity of that. Relationships, personal and professional, became that much more important. Understanding our goals and, and what drives us became that much more important during this time. So part of the work for me was not only keeping up with, with some of that research and monitoring the shifts, but I actually returned to my prior school where I was an administrator for a few days a week to offer additional support and really [00:09:00] understand what it was like to be a teacher and a leader on the ground during that time.
And I think as we continue to sort of come out of this space, right? This is kind of our, I don't want to say a return to normal, but more of kind of a, a recentering, if you will. It's been really interesting to think in the professional learning space, particularly what elements have stayed the same. The fact that we absolutely need to upskill teachers and leaders in terms of strategies and be as practical as possible in, in our workshops.
But also what components have shifted and continue to shift. So thinking about the need for that connection for helping folks to feel that sense of peer to peer support as much as they might need the next strategy or the next activity for class.
Ross Romano: Yeah. Is there anything that stood out as far as what, what teachers are looking for and thinking like potentially as, as far [00:10:00] as. relative to their, their experience level or generationally, right? And teachers that are newer to the profession and, and one might have particular learning needs relative to their inexperience, but also generationally might have an interest in certain types of authentic learning and what it means to them to be able to grow and advance in the profession versus, you Your 30 and 40 year teachers who already probably have a relatively set expectation of what professional learning looks like or what they feel like they need.
Allison Rodman: Absolutely. So I think teachers with greater levels of experience are looking for that productive team, right, where they can come into the space and know what one another needs and how they can support one another, so whether that's through Co planning or sharing really strong instructional practices.
Those who have sort of been in the game for a while, see the value of that and that [00:11:00] connection and that team experience. And then for some of our newer professionals, I'm seeing this need for flexibility to be able to kind of tap in and tap out to learning to get on demand opportunities because their schedules are a little bit all over the place as they try and balance the demands of being new to the field and trying to understand what it looks like to really manage their schedule in a way that's both productive, but also sustaining.
So throughout the book, there are five disciplines that, that really anchor this work across the self through organizational level. And the discipline that's explored in chapter two, the one focused on alignment really continues to emerge as an area of specific interest for educators. So looking at, to what degree are you setting really strong personal and professional goals for yourself?
And how does your day to day practice align towards attaining those goals, right? So I think it's easy to kind of step back and say, Oh, we, We need to be better time managers, or we need [00:12:00] to learn a few strategies here and there. But in some ways, it's not just about managing time. It's also about managing self and the goal setting that goes along with that.
So while I am seeing some of the generational gaps in terms of what's valuable on the professional learning front, I believe that core discipline of alignment continues to emerge as one that's been critical across both positions as well as experience levels.
Ross Romano: Yeah. So you mentioned alignment being one of those five core disciplines around which the book is built. Would you like to give a brief overview of, of the other four? Just so listeners kind of get a sense of what those are.
Allison Rodman: Absolutely. So the first discipline is that of attunement, really understanding oneself as a learner and having that individual come to full light within your workspace, right? So being able to say, yes, this is how I learn best and this is who I am in terms of both my static as well as my dynamic identity.
And I'm able to [00:13:00] show up fully. to work as a fulfilled professional who can be the best possible version of oneself. So it walks through particular strategies as well as different personality profiles and strengths indicators that educators can use to get to know themselves better as learners.
So often we work with educators to get to know their students, but we find that Ironically, in this profession, we don't always know ourselves, so helping them to really understand their true sense of self and then bring that full self to to the workplace. As I mentioned, the second discipline is that of alignment, so walking through kind of the goal setting processes as well as then developing some strategies so that the day to day actions you're taking are directly aligned to those goals and you're using your time as intentionally.
as possible. Then moving from the self to the team level, the third discipline really looks at perspective. So how are we creating communities that understand one another's perspective? Spaces that are safe at [00:14:00] the team level to share what we're seeing in our classroom or different strategies that we found to be effective or our own personal experiences.
And then being able, over time, when appropriate, To shift our perspective, whether that be around something like a grading policy or a particular assessment practice, recognizing that as a field, the research that we do and the work that we do continues to evolve and we count on one another as learners with varied perspectives to, to continue to push that work forward.
The fourth discipline is collective efficacy, really looking at how do we move beyond the self level to the team and organizational level to recognize our progress over time and demonstrate not only a unifying focus to get better together, but a growth mindset to work through challenges that we experience along the way.
And then finally, the fifth discipline is that of organizational learning. So how do we move beyond just responding to technical challenges or meeting some of the adaptive opportunities that are there, but instead [00:15:00] really digging into the generative spaces that exist for us in learning right now at the student level, but also the adult level to stop saying, we've always done it this way and start really asking the big questions around what if, or could we, or what might this look like?
Ross Romano: right. And so back with within the attunement piece, that first one part of what you write about is, is identity and in particular. There's a piece about creating more harmony between one's personal and professional identities and finding out what parts of your personal identity aren't present professionally and so on.
And while that's not. Unique to the education profession. There's certain aspects of it that a particular resonance, I think, with educators. How did you kind of decide to, to focus in on that? And what are some of the elements there that are worth thinking about?
Allison Rodman: So one of the things that I was finding as we were [00:16:00] looking at educators who continue to experience higher and higher levels of burnout is that for many of them some of their energy was getting lost having to filter or code switch or change between some of those personal and professional profiles and in some cases it was because they didn't fully understand who they were and in other cases it was a matter of they were not in a learning community that was the best fit.
for them personally. So helping educators, first and foremost, to really understand themselves as a person and as a learner. It's interesting to me that in so many of the business spaces, we engage in 360 reviews and we take all of these personality indicators and strengths profile assessments.
Yet in a in a profession committed to learning, that's just not a part of our regular practice. So helping to sort of raise the awareness of some of those tools for educators so that they can better understand [00:17:00] themselves as learners and then feel comfortable having the tough conversations so that they can be themselves as much as they possibly can within their school community so that we're modeling that you know, ongoing development of inclusion and a sense of belonging, not just for our students, but for our educators as well.
Ross Romano: Yeah, and you did write about the Enneagram personality assessment and how that might inform individuals, teams colleagues around their, their relative inclinations and strengths and, and collaboration styles. How, how might that come into play or be useful to educator teams and kind of understanding how to be effective as a, as a unit?
Allison Rodman: Certainly. So later in the book, I talk about the importance of mentors, not just mentors in the traditional sense of this person is this at the same grade level as I am, or this person is in the same department [00:18:00] as I am, but instead thinking about the variety of mentor roles that individuals within a school community can, can take on for one another.
And one of the things that I have found for myself professionally is that by understanding who I am as a learner and utilizing thought partners and mentors who have either similar profiles in, in particular cases or very different profiles, I'm able to push myself in, in different ways. So for example, one of my own accountability partners is another professional with the same Enneagram as myself.
And because of that, we understand some of the things that motivate. One another and are able to use that as a lever to not only push ourselves individually, but to be stronger as, as a unit. And I think that individual sense of self awareness, but also then bringing that to the team setting where we can think about the different ways that we partner folks together as mentors or the ways that we construct our teams to be as effective as possible is really, really [00:19:00] important.
Ross Romano: And I think that also, I guess, can bridge a couple of ideas over to perspective and perspective taking which you write about being transformational learning in that piece. Can you define those a little more for listeners? What you mean by perspective, perspective, taking what that would look like how that takes place in the professional setting and, and why it is so transformational.
Allison Rodman: Absolutely. So when you think about perspective within the field of psychology. They talk about a shift in perspective has to be catalyzed by a disorienting experience. So this is why so often we hear folks say post pandemic, Oh, it completely shifted my perspective about things.
Or if someone has a tragedy in their life or is close to someone who has, it often shifts their, their perspective. So this was unique in that We had to think about what does it mean to [00:20:00] intentionally shift perspective without the experience being completely disorienting, right? We don't want things to necessarily be tragic in education, but it's important for us to recognize how ingrained some of our systems are and how In need they are of not just a refresh, but in some cases a complete shift.
So when we talk about perspective in a school based and educational setting, what we're really looking for are individuals to share some of their experiences with student learning, with their own professional learning, and then dig into data together to say, Is there merit here? Is there an opportunity to shift the way that we've thought about how we construct our grading policies, how we design assessments, what our classroom environments look like, what parts of our system continue to serve us well, and where are elements that we might bring some data to the table for one another to really shift that perspective and start asking those questions around [00:21:00] could it look this way, or what would happen if we move things in this direction?
Ross Romano: Yeah, I feel like one of the ways this idea came up recently on this. This podcast is you know, in relation to the statements that schools should be designed around students, around the needs of students as the priority versus around teachers, versus around administrators with the relative priority order diminishing there.
Which I think a lot of people would hear. That doesn't sound controversial. And yet, if you actually step back and look at the perspective, okay, well, how were they designed? How was this, the structure of education design, the school day, the way schools function, like, was it actually designed that way?
Why was it designed how it is? When was it designed? And find that, you know what, there's a lot of things here that we just take for granted [00:22:00] that. Maybe should be rethought differently because they're not necessarily serving any particular purpose and it's useful to saying, okay, well, each individual, maybe it can't have the power to change the entire infrastructure of an entire system.
There's small parts within it. That we might look at and say why is this the way? And is this serving our learners? Is it not? And is there a way to do it differently? And you know, same thing with, Even within the profession, right, and understanding how a variety of professionals handle their roles and, and how, what the norms and expectations are and why those are what they are.
And, and you know, it's, it is a good opportunity to, to gain a new lens on things that previously were they were almost invisible because they were just so static.
Allison Rodman: [00:23:00] Yeah, and I think we see this play out in physical spaces as much as we do some of our programmatic components, right? So, COVID certainly challenged from a programmatic standpoint what teaching and learning look like at all levels. But now that we are fully back in school buildings, and many of our buildings are 50, 60, 70 years old at this point, a lot of districts are you know, asking these same questions around physical spaces too.
And do we continue to build in an industrial age model that was so focused just on efficiency? Or do we utilize some of the research that we've uncovered in the past 20 to 30 years around brain research and really think about what could these, these spaces look like? So when we talk about strengthening capacity for Educators.
Yes, it's about thinking about their student spaces, but it's also thinking about both the culture and the physical spaces that we're designing for educators as well. Are they truly collaborative? Do they [00:24:00] support them being able to connect and share and be in spaces where they're safe and can be vulnerable to talk about new practices in ways that can sometimes be difficult?
Ross Romano: I'm wondering, I mean this may be I don't know if this is a great way of phrasing this, but I'm wondering how do you, how do you view the relationship between individual and organizational and the, the endeavors around continuous learning, professional learning that might take place for an individual and all, but also as compared to what an organization needs to be undertaking.
Allison Rodman: I think this is something that schools and districts particularly are struggling with as we continue to have personalized learning opportunities at so many different levels. So one of the shifts that has been really positive is that technology as well as the Readability or access to [00:25:00] particular resources is so much stronger than it was decades ago where you would just have a single facilitator come in and deliver a one day or a half day workshop to an entire staff.
Now we have a whole host of Virtual courses, online courses, opportunities to connect synchronously and asynchronously, in addition to a variety of on site options. So the opportunity to personalize learning and meet the needs of individual educators is absolutely there, in a way that it has never been before.
But as you noted, that creates this sort of Not conflict, but challenge, if you will, at the organizational level to determine, okay, yes, we want to personalize and we want to make sure that everyone's individual needs are met. But we also want to have a really strong collective culture. So what are the things that we continue to facilitate in a whole group setting?
What are the messages that we continue to communicate holistically [00:26:00] to make sure that even as we're supporting Individual learners in a personalized way. We're continuing to row the boat, so to speak, in the same direction on behalf of our students.
Ross Romano: Yeah. What do you feel educators, I mean this could be of any role, or you could speak to multiple roles whether it's teachers versus administrators, etc. But of this book, what do you think they're going to find most uncomfortable about what you're proposing?
Allison Rodman: It's a great question. I would say that this is not a book about quick fixes, and I am very honest about that in the introduction and I come back to it again in the conclusion. Folks who are looking for like a one day SEL workshop for educators, this is not one and done type of work. This is deep, sustained work that needs to happen at all levels.
If we are truly going to create and reinvent, if you will, a profession that keeps educators in it for the long game. If [00:27:00] we move beyond sort of the pseudo celebrations and the quick recharge opportunities of dress down days and donut days and all of those things and instead ask the tough questions of what is it going to mean to not just build capacity but strengthen it and continue to meet, to meet the demands of educators over time.
The work is deep and it's it's real. Now, having sat in that leader position, I also understand the challenges that come with the limited time to to engage in this type of work. So one of the things that I was incredibly intentional about throughout the book's design was including a wide variety of reflection tools.
tools to guide individual capacity building as well as tools to guide organizational capacity building. And I wanted to make sure that Readers at any level, whether you are an individual teacher, whether you're a team leader or a school or district leader, can quickly access those tools, download them, and have [00:28:00] them ready to go for a professional learning engagement or a staff meeting.
So one of the things integrated throughout the text are chapter or discipline specific QR codes that take you to All of the tools in the book as editable PDFs, as well as a whole host of other tools that I've been continuing to add to as this work continues to shift and evolve. So, while it's a static book in your hand, it's very much a dynamic resource as we continue to engage and grow in this work together.
Ross Romano: You know, is it, is it possible to adequately support the whole child without supporting the whole educator?
Allison Rodman: I don't believe so. One of the things that Castle uncovered in some of their more recent research within the past few years is that when they worked with districts who had been engaged in whole child and SEL work for over a decade, right? So this isn't work that had just kind of come out post [00:29:00] pandemic or was a result of COVID, but these are districts that were deeply embedded in social emotional learning work for students for, for over a decade.
And when they sat down with those district administrators and said, what do you wish you knew? At the beginning, what would have changed your perspective? And almost unanimously, all of these district leaders said, we wish we would have started with the adults first, recognizing them as these model learners for students and understanding the importance of building their capacity as just important as building our students capacity.
Ross Romano: Yeah, I mean, I would think at the very least there must be you know, in organizations where that's, that's not happening, right? There must be a, a lot of dissonance that undermines the goals of, of the social emotional learning program for the kids. When the educators are in the middle of it, feeling just like, well, clearly my needs are, are not being addressed [00:30:00] at all here, or even really considered it's kind of, it puts you in sort of a confused, Headspace with respect to, okay, what are we really believing in here as far as our organizational mission and our values?
Allison Rodman: Absolutely. And you know, it's been interesting engaging in this work with educators at a variety of different levels and to see what some of the big takeaways have have been for them. As I noted earlier, that discipline of alignment has continued to merge, emerge, but also just that understanding that We get to be learners too.
I had a superintendent come up to me after a session a number of months ago and he said, thank you. You were the first person that has made me feel that it's okay to put reflection as an actual time block on my calendar. We talk about reflection with students all the time, yet for someone at the highest level of this district to not feel as though that was worthy of their time because [00:31:00] they were being stretched in so many other directions.
I think really needs to be a center part of the conversation here to say, why is that not the case? And how can we help our leaders and our teachers not just continue to push forward, but also to pause and be as strategic and effective as possible.
Ross Romano: So, so as people start to read this book, what is your, what's your overall goal or the biggest change you'd like to see in, in professional learning and schools?
Allison Rodman: I would love to see the nature of conversations and the way that we structure our time and the way that we collaborate together. begin to shift where individuals are comfortable. You know, you noted earlier, what's going to be the hardest part of this book is you're going to have to have some tough conversations to do the work well.
So a big part of my coaching with teachers and leaders has been providing them with some of the conversation starters, if you will, to begin having. some of those, those tough [00:32:00] conversations to say do we need to have this meeting? Does this particular appointment need to be on our calendar? How can we make this work as a team more effective?
So my hope is that those conversations not only start, but that the work that emerges from them becomes that much more fulfilling and also effective. That individuals are willing to kind of push boundaries and think about what that collaboration time could look like, or. What planning time really looks like?
Is it just about creating the activity for the next day? Or is it stepping back to be able to say, okay, which of these components has resonated most for me as a teacher and also for my students? And how do I bring more of that joy into, into the classroom?
Ross Romano: Excellent. Well, Alison, it's been great to have you on The Authority, and I know this book is brand new, so that's been taking up a lot of your attention lately, but is there anything else you're working on now, or where can listeners learn more?
Allison Rodman: Absolutely. So there's plenty of information about the book as well as some of my other work available [00:33:00] on my website at www the learning loop.com. I have a number of conference engagements scheduled for the fall and winter months, so it'd be great to connect with folks in person. And there will also be a virtual course coming out in partnership with Pennsylvania, A SCD early in 2024.
So keep an, keep an eye out for that one.
Ross Romano: Excellent listeners. Check that all out. We'll put the links below. You can find the book still learning in ascd.org. You can also learn more about it at alice's website, the learning loop.com, or you can also find it wherever you buy your books. So check those out. Those links are there below. Please also do subscribe to the Authority for more author interviews like this one, or visit b podcast.network.
Let's learn about all of our 30 plus shows in education. Alison Bronwyn, thanks so much for being on the authority.
Allison Rodman: Thank you. I appreciate you having me on. [00:34:00]