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How PLCs Use Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ for Meaningful Professional Development

How can professional learning communities experience meaningful professional development while building learner agency?

The notion that learners should not only be recipients of knowledge but also contributors to their educational experiences has led to re-evaluating teaching and learning practices. In my book Agents to Agency, I emphasise this shift, highlighting the need for educational systems to evolve and adapt to better prepare learners for a future that values creativity, critical thinking, and self-directed learning. 

To navigate this transformative landscape, professional learning communities play a pivotal role in fostering an environment that encourages continuous professional development and collaboration among educators. The Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ framework emerges as a guiding light for professional learning communities, providing a structured approach to achieving meaningful professional development that supports learner agency and autonomy.

This framework represents a very simple approach to learning and development, emphasising the importance of setting clear end goals (Destinations), recognising significant achievements along the path (Milestones), and acknowledging the smaller steps taken towards these achievements (Footsteps). By leveraging this framework, professional learning communities can foster a culture of continuous improvement and reflective practice, which is essential for professional growth on an ongoing basis.


Understanding Learner Agency and Autonomy

Learner agency refers to the capacity of learners to act independently within the learning environment, making choices that influence their educational journey. This level of autonomy encourages learners to take charge of their learning process, engaging in self-directed activities that lead to meaningful outcomes. 

The foundation of promoting learner agency and autonomy lies in creating educational experiences that shift the focus from teacher-led instruction to learner-centred exploration. This paradigm shift challenges traditional pedagogical approaches and necessitates a reimagining of the roles of teachers and learners within the classroom.

The Role of Professional Learning Communities

Professional learning communities serve as collaborative networks where educators come together to share knowledge, experiences, and strategies aimed at improving teaching practices and learner outcomes. The strength of professional learning communities lies in their collective expertise and the shared commitment to ongoing professional growth. 

By engaging in reflective dialogue, examining current research, and experimenting with innovative teaching methods, professional learning community members support each other in navigating the complexities of educational transformation. The focus on learner agency and autonomy requires such groups to explore pedagogical approaches that empower learners, making the cultivation of such environments a shared objective.

Navigating the Journey with the Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ Framework

Using the DMF approach eliminates the need for risky long-term planning. By keeping goal-setting simple and manageable in shorter week- or month-long sprints, goals are better able to be reached, adapted, and celebrated throughout the journey.

The Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ framework offers a roadmap for professional learning communities to systematically approach the goal of enhancing learner agency and autonomy. This framework breaks down the journey into manageable components, enabling educators to set clear objectives, identify progress markers, and take deliberate actions towards achieving their goals.

To effectively use this framework, professional learning communities should begin by collaboratively defining their professional development (Destinations). These goals should be ambitious yet achievable, designed to push the boundaries of current practices and encourage innovation. Once Destinations are established, the community can identify Milestones—key indicators of progress that are meaningful and measurable. These Milestones serve as checkpoints, allowing the group to assess their progress, celebrate achievements, and adjust strategies as needed.

The Footsteps represent the daily actions, strategies, and practices that move the community towards its Milestones and ultimate Destinations. The community must recognise and reflect on these Footsteps, as they constitute the bulk of the professional development journey. This reflection not only fosters a sense of accomplishment but also encourages ongoing dialogue about what works, what doesn't, and why.


Destinations represent the overarching goals or endpoints that the Professional learning community aims to achieve in support of learner agency and autonomy. These Destinations are informed by the collective vision of the professional learning community, grounded in the belief that learners should be active participants in their learning journey. Establishing Destinations involves a deep understanding of the principles of learner agency and the pedagogical shifts required to support autonomous learning experiences.


Milestones are significant markers along the journey to achieving the Destinations. They provide points of reflection for the professional learning community, allowing members to assess progress, celebrate achievements, and adjust strategies as needed. Milestones help maintain momentum and focus, ensuring that the community's efforts are aligned with their goals. They represent critical checkpoints where educators can gather evidence of change, reflect on the effectiveness of their approaches, and identify areas for further development.


Footsteps are the actionable steps that members of the professional learning community take to move from their current state towards the established Destinations. These actions can include a variety of activities such as participating in workshops, implementing new teaching strategies, observing peers, engaging in reflective practice, and conducting action research. Footsteps are characterised by their practical nature, offering a concrete path for educators to follow in their professional development journey.


Implementing the Framework: Strategies for Success

To effectively use the Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ framework, professional learning communities should consider the following strategies:

  • Establishing Clear Destinations: Begin by defining clear, measurable goals that articulate the community's vision for promoting learner agency and autonomy. These Destinations should be ambitious yet achievable, inspiring educators to push the boundaries of their teaching practices.

  • Identifying Milestones: Break down the journey into manageable Milestones that signal progress towards the Destinations. Milestones should be specific, observable, and aligned with the professional learning community's objectives. Regularly scheduled meetings to review Milestones can help maintain focus and adjust strategies as needed.

  • Planning Footsteps: Develop a detailed action plan outlining the Footsteps necessary to reach each Milestone. This plan should include timelines, responsibilities, and resources required. Encourage members to share their experiences and learn from each other's Footsteps, fostering a culture of collaboration and mutual support.

  • Monitoring and Adjusting: Continuously monitor progress towards Milestones and adjust Footsteps accordingly. This iterative process allows the professional learning community to respond to challenges, incorporate new insights, and refine their approach to support learner agency and autonomy effectively.

  • Reflecting and Celebrating: Allocate time for reflection and celebration of achievements. Recognising the progress made towards Destinations not only motivates educators but also reinforces the value of their collective efforts in enhancing learner learning experiences.

What the Process Looks Like for a Professional Learning Community

To illustrate the practical application of the Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ framework within a professional learning community setting, let's consider a goal for the group that they have created focusing on improving student literacy rates. 

Destination: The professional learning community might set a Destination goal of increasing reading comprehension scores by 20% over the academic year.

Milestones: Milestones could include interim goals such as:

  • Completing a professional development course on literacy strategies

  • Implementing a new reading intervention program by the semester's end

  • Observing a 10% increase in scores at the midpoint assessment.

Footsteps: Footsteps for this professional learning community would involve:

  • Regular team meetings to discuss progress

  • Sharing effective teaching strategies observed in classrooms

  • Adjusting instruction based on student feedback and assessment data

  • Participating in external professional development opportunities related to literacy. 

By reflecting on these Footsteps, the professional learning community can evaluate what is working, identify areas for adjustment, and continuously move towards their Milestones and ultimate Destination. 

This example highlights how the framework encourages strategic planning, collaboration, and reflection within professional learning communities, leading to meaningful professional development and improved outcomes.


The journey towards fostering learner agency and autonomy is both challenging and rewarding. By adopting the Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ framework, professional learning communities can navigate this journey with complete peace of mind. 

This structured approach enables educators to collaboratively explore innovative teaching practices, share insights, and support each other in their professional growth. Ultimately, the concerted efforts of professional learning communities can lead to transformative educational experiences that empower learners to take ownership of their learning, preparing them for success in an ever-changing world. 

In embracing the framework, educators reaffirm their commitment to creating learning environments that value and promote learner agency and autonomy, paving the way for future generations of independent, lifelong learners.

Change Everything.

Explore this comprehensive guide for the simplest and most powerful goal-setting and strategic planning system you’ll ever use. 

See for yourself—get your PDF copy of Destinations, Milestones, & Footsteps™: Journeying to Success today.