Professional Learning: A Framework

San Diego Mesa College

Note: The following article is not an official statement of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. The article is intended to engender discussion and consideration by local colleges but should not be seen as the endorsement of any position or practice by the ASCCC.

According to leadership coach Eric Klein, change within an organization requires four conditions that connect the individual and collective aspects for cultivating change. Klein says that change efforts “seamlessly blend system, culture, and individual development into one commitment” (Klein, n.d., p. 3). For instance, much research reveals equity gaps in student success, so a key question for eliminating these gaps is how educational professionals are provided the tools and effective practices to foster change to support students. Alignment between professional learning (PL) and institutional outcomes, assessment of PL programs, and best practices can support change initiatives that lead to successful student outcomes.

Finding a connection within the five areas of institution, program, culture, individuals, and data fosters the conditions for campus learning, growth, and supporting students. Each campus is unique with different challenges, and thus a framework is needed to serve as a lens to identify ways to catalyze change through PL within the campus community.


Professional learning, by contrast with professional development, is focused on a “collaborative venture in which teachers (education professionals) are recognized as learners, leaders, and knowledgeable professionals” (Scherff, 2022). Research reveals that quality PL experiences consist of collaboration, coaching, relevance, and active learning. PL framed by the institution’s goals, standards and assessments, and other PL activities improves student outcomes and helps to retain instructors (Scherff, 2022).

Rostrum Professional Learning Graphic


Building a robust professional learning program can start with assessing or reviewing the institutional goals, strategic goals, mission, or the institution’s ten year plan. Intentionally designed PL activities can provide learning opportunities that are relevant to daily work, are tied to the institution, and improve the teaching and learning environment. For example, at San Diego Mesa College, an institutional goal is to expand the use of innovative and high-quality teaching, learning, and support practices that achieve equitable outcomes and increase student success. The planning committee wanted to design a PL institute that aligned with the institutional goals, engaged faculty in a learning experience that shared culturally responsive pedagogical practices to enhance teaching and learning, and taught practitioners how to perform inquiry into their classroom data. The institutional goals were mapped to the PL activity goals as follows:

Professional Learning Activity:
Course Redesign Institute Goals
Institutional Goals
• Examine and revise the course outline of record (juxtaposed to curriculum) with an equity lens (anti-racist learning objectives, inclusive texts, CRT practices, etc.)
• Analyze and review course success data and
identify equity gaps.
• Construct course materials, active learning
activities, clear learning objectives, and engagement strategies that are connected to culturally relevant pedagogy practices.
Expand the use of innovative and high-quality teaching, learning, and support practices that achieve equitable outcomes and increase student success


Each year, institutions require programs to complete a review of the status, progress, needs, and direction of an academic program. According to the 2009 paper Program Review: Setting a Standard, a review template consists of various components that include student demographics, student achievement data, and student learning outcomes, among other data. The paper describes the process for developing programmatic outcomes: “Some colleges have started with the institutional outcomes and worked down through programs to courses. The top-down approach is organized and forces alignment through the institution” (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, 2009). The process provides faculty with an opportunity to see a connection and identify the relationship between learning outcomes and assessment. Therefore, the program review process articulates a clear vision for student success for classroom and non-classroom areas by aligning courses and student services to the program and institutional outcomes. Annual review of programs can provide insight about the learning experiences of students by embedding PL as a support mechanism for ensuring successful learning.


Another key area to consider in planning is the campus culture. A strong connection exists between organizational culture and performance. Campus culture is the “institution-wide patterns of perceiving, thinking and feeling; shared understandings; collective assumptions; and common interpretive frameworks [that] are the ingredients of institutional culture” (Eckel,, 1999). In higher education, key stakeholders—such as students, boards, senates, administration, faculty, and classified professionals—represent the community that PL will serve. Colleges should engage with the major stakeholders within their campus networks and leverage their knowledge about the inner workings of the campus, leadership on how to sustain a program, and insight about the collective culture. Cultivating that network of key stakeholders will create the conditions for a PL program to flourish.


Data is critical to documenting progress within a program as it relates to student success. Quantitative data can show access, enrollment, course completion, persistence, and transfer as well as other information. PL is a vehicle to provide learning experiences for education professionals to implement practices, strategies, and methods to strengthen program areas that are going well and learn ways to build areas that need improvement. The Chancellor’s Office Vision for Success outlines the outcomes for the community college system. One of the goals is to “reduce equity gaps across all of the above measures through faster improvements among traditionally underrepresented student groups” (Vision for Success, 2022).

An example of designing PL to address equity gaps within instruction involves the Course Redesign Institute (CRI) at San Diego Mesa College. An analysis of the institute conducted between 2016 and 2018 revealed the following:

  • Sixty-three percent of the faculty who attended CRI improved success rates for their redesigned courses during Year 1.
  • The courses with the largest gains after CRI attendance were ARTF108, BIOL205, FREN102, GEOG101, and CISC 181, with 28, 17, 15, 15, and 13 percentage point gains respectively.
  • The ethnic groups with the largest gains were Pacific Islander, African American, Filipino, and Latinx, with sixteen, eight, seven, and four percentage points respectively.

Other variables can of course also impact student success; however, the goal in this case was to provide support to faculty, ways to sustain this PL support, and what evidence the college could gather to determine whether diversity, equity, and inclusion learning experiences narrowed equity gaps.


As one reviews a PL program and assesses its alignment with institutional goals, the annual program review process, and campus culture, one can identify areas that the campus community will need to examine for addressing questions in the annual program review. College campuses can use quantitative and qualitative data to learn about the specialized needs and overall interest of the campus as they relate to PL. For example, some ways to assess campus needs are as follows:

  • Annual surveys with quantitative and qualitative questions.
  • Short surveys about PL sessions attended given at the end of sessions.
  • Pre and post assessment of PL impacts on successful course completion.
  • Informal requests, such as providing participants with a form or document to share ideas or topics of interest.
  • Focus groups.

PL programs should collaborate with their local offices of research or institutional effectiveness to assist with the structure of survey questions and analysis in order to interpret the information and use it to inform PL programming.


Equity is a journey involving self-actualization, well-being, and student empowerment. In the book From Equity Talk to Equity Walk, the authors define equity as “understanding students’ needs and addressing those needs by providing necessary academic and social support services to help level the playing field” (McNair,, 2020, p. 2). Equity can be demonstrated in linking awareness to practice by affirming, validating, and investing in students’ success. A pillar of equity-mindedness is to critically reflect upon one’s role and responsibilities (McNair,, 2020).
Professional learning is a bridge to facilitate change. Colleges can collectively support their communities by contributing, collaborating, and taking action to invest in learning that will lead to reducing equity gaps, affirming students, and seeing tangible student success through course completion.


Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. (2009). Program Review: Setting a Standard.….

Eckel, P., Green, M., Hill, B., & Mallon, W. (1999). On Change III: Taking Charge of Change: A Primer for Colleges and Universities. American Council on Education,

Klein, E. (n.d.). Is Real Change Possible? Retrieved from….

McNair, T., Bensimon, E., & Malcom-Piqueux, L. (2020). From equity talk to equity walk.Jossey-Bass.

Scherff, L. (2022). Distinguishing Professional Learning from Professional Development. Regional Education Laboratory Program.… sp.

Vision for Success. (2022). Foundation for California Community Colleges.