Chapter 11: Powerful Professional Development


With Powerful Teaching, we have translated the science of learning and made it actionable. We have also provided trustworthy research and strategies from experts each step of the way.

So now, we’re going to stop driving in circles, right? Wrong! We all know that change takes time, energy, and patience. Power Tools and the strategies we provide have a huge impact on student learning in the classroom. But how can we impact learning and education on a larger scale? In particular, how can we transform education policy, educator preparation programs, and leadership with the science of learning?

When it comes to policy, there are no quick fixes. From 2006 to 2012, I (Pooja) served in a variety of roles in education policy at state and national levels. If you take a moment and retrieve, you may remember a handful of policy changes at that time, including Common Core, growth models for teacher evaluations, No Child Left Behind waivers, and Race to the Top, just to name a few. From my teacher preparation days before that, I can’t begin to count the number of “portfolios” I had to put together to demonstrate my expertise as a teacher. And when I observed administrators at my school, I couldn’t help but notice how burnt out they were from discipline issues and budget constraints.

Are Mini-Quizzes and Retrieve-Taking going to ease the burden in those situations? Obviously not. So, what can policy makers, teacher-educators, and leaders do? Demand evidence, of course! But that’s not enough.

When it comes to education policy, policy makers must seek evidence from cognitive science based on the core principles in this book. Time is short and the challenges are many in the policy world. But understanding the fundamentals of retrieval, spacing, interleaving, and feedback would go a long way toward transforming education. Policy makers have a golden opportunity to take the science of learning and unleash it in districts, schools, and classrooms. And unless we begin to make decisions about education differently, we will continue adding money, programs, and computers, hoping for a quick fix.

When it comes to educator preparation, every future teacher must have a deep understanding of desirable difficulties, metacognition, and the critical importance of retrieval. In addition, by incorporating the science of learning into educator preparation programs, colleges and universities can add scientific rigor, encourage tougher standards for certification, enhance decision-making based on student data (rather than simply “the more data, the better”), and ultimately move us toward a higher-quality education system.

When it comes to school and district leaders, principals and superintendents must lead the charge to unleash – and initiate – research on learning in their schools. To truly push the science of learning from the laboratory to the classroom, more research needs to be conducted in partnership with teachers and scientists. Even informal research in the classroom with support from school leaders can make a big difference in instilling an environment that welcomes best practices based on the science of learning.

In each of these cases – policy, educator preparation, and administration – we ask this question:

Will you be the leader that unleashes the science of learning?


You’re welcome to share, but please give the authors of Powerful Teaching (Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. and Patrice M. Bain, Ed.S.) credit for their hard work! Licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 International License.

Pooja K. Agarwal