Foundational Practices

The Institute for Learning assists educators at every level to inspire, foster, and sustain high-level instruction for every student. In return, students become effective, enthusiastic, and independent learners. We believe – and educational research confirms – that all students are capable of high achievement if they  are provided with opportunities to engage in cognitively demanding tasks.

The IFL’s professional learning opportunities help educators explore, implement, and refine research-based, high leverage teaching practices, focusing on student engagement and effort, and challenging assumptions of innate aptitude.

Professional Learning

Principles of Learning

Continuous Improvement

Content Focused Coaching

Instructional Leadership

Professional Learning

IFL professional development enhances educators’ daily practice by focusing closely on the work of teaching and learning and ensures efforts are sustainable with ongoing support.

The IFL has a suite of tools for professional learning to help educators develop, strengthen, and support professional learning communities, focus on instructional matters, and engage in cycles of continuous improvement. We work closely with school and district leaders to ensure that instructional content aligns with school and district goals.

  • The IFL offers content-specific professional development for teachers and administrators.
  • The IFL has a suite of content-specific coaching tools and that includes a set of moves for coaches designed to help deepen their planning for and execution of each phase of the coaching cycle.
  • The IFL offers leadership coaching to learn about ways of working and supporting district and building administrators to take on instructional based problems of practice.
  • The IFL’s content-specific feedback tools and protocols assist educators at all levels to focus observational feedback on the instructional core.
  • The IFL’s studying student work protocols help educators analyze and discuss student work to determine what students know and can do, and to determine next steps for instruction.
  • The IFL has an array of tools for instructional leaders that help plan and evaluate initiatives that are squarely focused on the instructional core.

Principles of Learning

The foundation of the work that we do at IFL are the Principles of Learning. They are built on the idea that intelligence is incremental – that students of all ages can become smarter when they are supported to think hard and solve high-level problems. The Principles of learning are a set of characteristics that describe high-quality teaching and learning at all levels. These research-based principles are designed to help educators analyze and improve teaching and learning for all students.

Organizing for Effort

An effort-based school prioritizes the idea that sustained and directed effort can yield high achievement for all students. Rigorous minimum standards are set, and assessments are geared to the standards. All students are taught a rigorous curriculum, and they receive as much time and expert instruction as they need to meet or exceed expectations.

Accountable Talk

Accountable Talk practices ask students to respond to and further develop what others have said. They put forth and demand knowledge that is accurate and relevant to the issue under discussion. Accountable Talk practices require that students use appropriate evidence and follow established norms of good reasoning.

Clear Expectations

If we expect all students to achieve at high levels, then we must define what we expect students to learn and do. With clear and visible learning targets, students can participate in evaluating and setting goals for their own work and effort.

Learning as Apprenticeship

Apprenticeship allows learners to acquire complex interdisciplinary knowledge, practical abilities, and appropriate forms of social behavior. School environments can be organized so that complex thinking is modeled and analyzed, and mentoring and coaching help students undertake extended projects and develop presentations of finished work.

Socializing Intelligence

Intelligent habits of mind are a set of problem-solving and reasoning capabilities learned through daily expectations placed on the learner. By calling on students to use the skills of intelligent thinking to meet high expectations —and by holding them responsible for doing so—educators can “teach” intelligence.

Fair and Credible Evaluations

If we expect students to put forth sustained effort then we must use assessments that they find fair, and that parents, community members, and employers find credible. Fair evaluations are ones that students can prepare for; therefore, tasks and classroom assessments must be aligned to curriculum and standards. Assessments that meet these criteria provide parents, colleges, and employers with credible evaluations.

Academic Rigor in a Thinking Curriculum

Learning and thinking are intimately joined. In an effort-based school, curriculum is organized around major skills that students are expected to know deeply, and teaching must engage students in active thinking about these concepts. In every subject, at every grade level, instruction and learning must include commitment to a high thinking demand, and active use of skills.

Self-Management of Learning

If students are going to be responsible for the quality of their thinking and learning, then they must develop and regularly use an array of self-monitoring and self-management strategies. These metacognitive skills include noticing when one doesn’t understand something and taking steps to remedy the situation, as well as formulating questions and inquiries that let one explore deep levels of meaning.

Recognition of Accomplishment

If we expect students to put forth and sustain high levels of effort, then we must motivate them by recognizing their accomplishments regularly. Clear recognition of authentic accomplishment is a hallmark of an effort-based school. This recognition can take the form of celebrations of work that meets standards or intermediate progress benchmarks en route to the standards.

Content-Focused Coaching

The IFL’s Content-Focused Coaching® (CFC) model maximizes the role of the coach as an instructional support for teachers. Our work positions coaches as learners and instructional resources. Working collaboratively with the IFL, coaches expand their knowledge of best coaching practices and their capacity to collaborate with teachers.

CFC helps coaches:

    • Establish trusting and collaborative relationships with teachers and co-accountability for student learning.
    • Work with teachers to plan, enact, and reflect on rigorous lessons using planning tools and classroom artifacts.

The IFL’s Content-Focused Coaching model has a proven record of improving student achievement and teacher practice. Authored by Institute for Learning fellows, “Content-Focused Coaching for Continuous Improvement in Literacy and Mathematics,”describes the key features and outcomes of CFC. The report discusses CFC research enacted in person and online, and the IFL’s collaboration with the state of Tennessee to scale the coaching model across  the state.

Content-Focused Coaching Online

The Institute for Learning has developed content specific online professional development workshops for CFC Mathematics and CFC English Language Arts.  These workshops help coaches improve their practice and increase the quality of coach-teacher discussions during the coaching cycle.

Coaches participating in the workshop will explore the content-focused coaching cycle and specific coach moves for holding deep and specific discussions and for providing evidence-based feedback.

In addition to the online workshops, we offer real-time professional development related to coaching practices and one-on-one support to help coaches refine their practices. We also offer one-on-one coaching for teachers.

“Professional development I’ve participated in seems like it just scratches the surface on important strategies or techniques. This workshop allowed us to really participate and apply what we were learning, such as a college course would instead of the professional development I’ve taken since leaving the university. The rigor was at a higher level than in-person workshops and there were many aspects which added to the rigor of reading articles, watching the videos, applying and receiving feedback.”

– participant in the Content-Focused Coaching in Mathematics online workshop

Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement is a process in which fellows and district partners collaborate to define a problem of practice, study artifacts to understand the problem’s root cause, develop a theory of action, and then document quick cycles of small tests of change. Through the course of the cycles around small tests of change, teachers and/or administrators collect samples of student work and student feedback to determine the effectiveness of the changes tried. School teams then work to make decisions about adapting, adopting, or abandoning the test of change. Teams then work to use what they have learned to inform the next cycle in an ongoing process. 

We have engaged leaders and practitioners at the state, district, and school level to implement small tests of change around rigorous instruction in literacy and mathematics for every student. We utilize network models and improvement cycles to manage and accelerate improvement across levels within a school system. Employing continuous improvement methods ensures that the research-based practices that we introduce into schools are implemented in ways that lead to sustained student achievement.

Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA)

We have engaged leaders and practitioners at the state, district, and school level to implement rigorous instruction in literacy and mathematics for all students. We utilize network models and Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles to manage and accelerate improvement across levels within a school system. Employing improvement science methods ensures that the research-based practices that we introduce into schools are implemented in ways that lead to sustained student achievement.

IFL projects that have used PDSA cycles and network models include:

    • The Tennessee Math Coaching Project
      A team of IFL fellows, LRDC researchers, and administrators from the Tennessee State Department of Education created a network of elementary and middle school mathematics coaches and worked with them to design a state-wide model for instructional coaching. The IFL trained math coaches across the state to utilize PDSA cycles to adaptively integrate the coaching model into diverse local contexts. This approach helped coaches to overcome typical implementation challenges, such as coping with competing demands for their time.
    • Online Content-Focused Coaching in English Language Arts
      Teachers across multiple schools worked together online to build their content knowledge of reading comprehension and engage in PDSA cycles with a coach to improve their practice through evidence-based reflection on their videoed lessons.
    • iLead Initiative
      Through the University of Pittsburgh’s partnership with the University Prep High School, IFL fellows worked with teachers to utilize PDSA cycles to increase the number of students who are proficient in mathematics and ELA through improving the rigor of their ELA and mathematics classroom practice.
    • Dallas Independent School District/IFL Network for School Improvement
      IFL fellows, LRDC researchers, and professors from the Center for Urban Education are currently partnered with 14 middle and high schools in the Dallas Independent School District to form a network studying literacy achievement in grade 6-9. Through the study of both qualitative and quantitative data, network teachers have learned from students and othe educators about the root causes of low literacy achievement in network schools. Working from what they’ve learned, teachers have been enacting small tests of change around reading and writing. These shifts to instruction have led to over a year’s worth of growth in one academic year reading and writing for every student, with the largest gains made by Black and Emergent Multilingual Students (IFL, 2021). This work is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Instructional Leadership

The IFL also offers coaching support for senior administrators around instructional problems of practice. Our most customized service, this on-site coaching occurs with individuals or small groups. No matter the size of the problem – from a need for talk in pre-K classrooms to revising curriculum, we work with senior leaders to refine their craft and amplify their efforts to be even more organized and effective.

Our coaching helps leaders:

    • develop and articulate a common vision for high quality instruction in the content areas
    • develop and implement system-wide approaches to improve the quality of instruction in the content areas
    • align instructional and assessment initiatives and professional development to the district’s vision of high quality instruction in the content areas
    • collect and use multiple forms of data to inform instructional decisions and policies, develop professional learning systems, and evaluate the effectiveness of instructional and assessment initiatives
    • conduct curriculum and program reviews for alignment to 21st century standards, best practices in the content areas, and the district’s vision of high-quality instruction