Friday, January 5, 2018

3 Ways Leaders Can Support Ongoing Professional Development

When I was leading an Instructional Technology program, one of the hurdles my team had to overcome was the lack of involvement from our leadership on the professional development we were delivering. In the feedback we would get from teachers we would hear that the learning was good, but that their Principal, AP, Curriculum Director, whom ever, didn’t know what they were learning, or why they were learning it. Even worse, when leadership came to do walkthroughs or evaluations, they didn’t know what to look for to ensure the professional development was effective and implemented correctly.

We can’t just throw learning against the wall and see what sticks.

One of the best ways to judge the effectiveness of professional development by leadership is to conduct regular walkthroughs of classrooms to specifically look for what was learned and how it was implemented by teachers. However, if the leadership doesn’t know what to look for, because they weren’t involved in the professional development, then how can they truly judge the effectiveness? Or worse yet, if they aren’t involved in the professional development planning cycle at all then how do they really know what type of professional learning needs to take place in their building or their district?

The key is for school and district leaders to be involved in the complete process of professional development. At every step of the way these leaders need to come out from behind their desks, open their doors and participate, not only in the student process of learning but in the educator process of learning as well. In order for professional development to be seen as providing a value to the learning all educators must do, school and district leaders must be involved in the cyclical process of learning.

Professional Development should impact every single staff member in a school and district to improve overall learning targets. From the Superintendent on down there has to be not only buy in but involvement from Curriculum Leaders, Technology Leaders, Principals, etc, to ensure that professional development is carried out is a systematic and cyclical way. If we want professional development to be effective then leaders need to be involved so that everyone can continue to hone their craft and develop professionally.

Here are 3 easy ways for Leaders to support ongoing professional development.

Be Involved In Planning-School and District Leaders, at all levels, need to be involved from the very beginning in professional development planning. Ultimately, the Superintendent should know the learning needs of the district and provide a guiding hand in to how ongoing professional development will look each year. This is then replicated at the building level. Taking cues from the Supt., the School Leadership Team needs to be directly involved in the plans for professional learning for their teachers.

This was important when I was working with my schools. I could have easily created a district-wide, technology-learning plan for educators that touched on what I wanted them to learn but we know that learning needs to be individualized and tailored for the learner (In this case, teachers). I needed my principals to meet with me on an ongoing basis to look at where their teachers were and where they needed them to go. What specific needs did the teachers have that my technology program could help them meet? How was the professional development we were going to provide align with their School Improvement Plan and help them meet their overall learning targets?

The bottom line is, school and district leadership needs to be involved from the very beginning of the ongoing professional development planning process to ensure the learning is going in the right direction and stays on track throughout the professional learning cycle.

Be Involved In Learning-The biggest failure by leadership I see in supporting ongoing professional development is the lack of involvement in the actual learning. I saw it all the time when I was leading professional development and still experience it to this day. How can a leader best evaluate the use of technology or a literacy program or implementation of a specific pedagogical technique if they weren’t somehow involved in the same learning the teachers participated in? This doesn’t mean leadership has to learn how to use the Chromebooks or Flipgrid or PBL to the same extent as the teachers but they do need to have an understanding of how they are used and implemented with students so they can identify strengths and gaps.

Teachers also want their leaders to not only be involved in the same ongoing professional development that they are but they want to be led by their leaders as well. I hear this time and time again, school and district leaders are a valuable source of knowledge and experience and staff needs them to take the lead. Time needs to be set aside for them to lead specifically targeted professional development that brings everyone closer to their goals.

The bottom line is, school and district leadership needs to be involved in the participation and delivery of high-quality, ongoing professional development that shows educators their understanding of what they are learning and their capacity to lead these programs.

Be Involved In Reflection-In order to make professional development truly effective there has to be opportunities to reflect and evaluate its overall impact. Those that deliver the professional development need to be open to the comments on feedback forms and evaluations to learn and grow. Equally important is the reflection done by the participants on their own learning during and after the professional development sessions have ended. School and district leaders must lead and participate in these conversations to ensure learning is on track and on target but to also decipher where the learning will go next. These reflections should help determine next steps (either additional resources, or the next aspect of learning) thereby making the the professional learning cyclical.

These conversations might ask questions like:
  • What are our strengths now that we’ve had this learning and are implementing it in the classroom? 
  • What weaknesses do we still have? How do we overcome them? 
  • This professional learning will be successful because...
  • What support do we still need? 

The bottom line is, school and district leadership needs to be involved in the reflection process of professional development to ensure that educators and leaders alike are doing what is best for their students.

There is no doubt the role of school and district leadership is tough. And considering adding “one more thing” might not seem appealing. However, if we want professional development to be ongoing, meaningful and something teachers look forward to then leaders need to be involved in planning, be involved in learning and be involved in reflection.