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Reciprocal Professional Learning at the International WIDA Symposiu

Reciprocal Professional Learning at the International WIDA Symposium

 By Jon Nordmeyer, WIDA

Too often, professional learning is a one-way street. Even in the most engaging and charismatic presentation, if teachers are passive recipients, the opportunity for active engagement is lost. Fortunately, new formats for reciprocal professional learning can provide opportunities for participant-driven collaboration. One such event, the WIDA Symposium, brings together international educators around the world to exchange ideas about how to build on the assets of English language learners.

New directions in professional learning

In the past decade, new approaches to organic, place-based and reciprocal professional learning have emerged based on what we know about effective adult learning. The National Research Council (2000) observed that “one of the most important tenets of professional learning is that PD models are learner-centered… professional development opportunities are selected or crafted by the learner.” In addition, the Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence (Rueda, 1998) has suggested that effective professional development for teachers of ELLs should:

  1. Facilitate learning and development through joint productive activity among leaders and participants

  2. Promote learners’ expertise in professionally relevant discourse

  3. Contextualize teaching, learning, and joint productive activity in the experiences and skills of participants.

Unconferences and EdCamps are examples of co-constructed learning events that incorporate the needs and contributions of participants. The Edcamps Foundation explains that their vision is “to create an international network of educators dedicated to participant-driven professional learning for themselves and others that accelerates student growth.” Likewise, “unconferences” build an agenda on the spot in order to capitalize on the energy, needs and expertise of participants.

The WIDA Symposium

WIDA, established in 2002 as part of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, designs assessments and curriculum tools to help teachers to understand the academic language ELLs need to be successful in 21st century schools. Many international schools use the WIDA English language development standards and assessments as part of a comprehensive system for serving English language learners. Currently, over 180 international schools are part of the WIDA International School Consortium.

WIDA designed its two-day Symposium in response to international educators who shared that they wanted a way to connect with and learn from WIDA practitioners in other schools. Building on new approaches to professional learning, the Symposium provides a forum for innovation, dialogue and reciprocal professional learning. The Symposium weekend presents an opportunity for WIDA educators to share their knowledge and experience with other international EAL teachers.

2015-6 global learning opportunities

WIDA will co-host Symposium weekends in four international locations during the current school year:

  1. Dubai, UAE (November 6-7)

  2. Budapest, Hungary (January 16-17)

  3. Bangkok, Thailand (February 6-7)

  4. Santiago, Chile (March 19-20)

In the AASSA region, the WIDA Symposium will be hosted by the Nido de Aguilas International School of Chile.

Each WIDA Symposium will feature a unique agenda based on the contributions and needs of participants. Over the weekend, international educators will explore common challenges and use their collective experience to build solutions. They will deepen their understanding, examine new tools, share practical solutions and showcase school-based innovation using WIDA resources. Details and registration information can be found at

Educators’ response to the WIDA Symposium has been excellent, allowing these organic events to quadruple in size since last year. Symposium participants shared about their learning experiences:

  1. I loved the world cafe where we were able to meet with other teachers, speak about concerns and topics of interest, and talk about things that were important to us. I got a lot of ideas and took a lot away from these sessions!

  2. We are really impressed with the idea that we need to move WIDA into the curriculum. While the tools shared to do this are helpful, it was just as valuable to hear the experiences of other schools.

  3. The opportunity to learn more about other schools and their EAL programs was a powerful part of the Symposium weekend.

Teaching can be an isolating profession, and teachers in international schools can feel doubly isolated when disconnected from one’s home country and from other international schools. The WIDA Symposium highlights the fact that that learning from one other is not only powerful but necessary. Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council) has shared this prerequisite for effective professional learning: “Because there are disparate experience levels and use of practice among educators, professional learningcan foster collaborative inquiry and learning that enhances individual and collective performance. This cannot happenunless educators listento one another, respectone another’s experiences and perspectives.” (Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning.) Finally, Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves have connected professional capital and the need for reciprocal professional learning: “Use the group to change the group. And this isn’t just about intraschool collaboration, It’s about interschool and interdistrict collaboration. It’s about the whole profession.”


Bransford, J.D. et al. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. USA: National Academy of Sciences.

Fullan, M. and Hagreaves, A. (2013) The power of professional capital: With an investment in collaboration, teachers become nation builders Journal of staff development, June 2013.

WIDA World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment

About the author: Jon Nordmeyer has been an international educator for 25 years and is currently the Director of International Programs at WIDA. He will be presenting a one-day preconference workshop and two featured sessions at the AASSA Educators Conference in Lima, Peru in April 2016.


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