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Professional development (PD) is one of the most important things that a principal oversees because a school’s success relies on instructional practices. To improve student achievement, educators must focus on integrating their own continuous learning in a sustained and measurable way.
Committing to ongoing training allows administrators and teachers to build proficiency, broaden their knowledge bases, and gain expertise in their fields. It also provides them with a chance to learn new material and stay up to date on research and best practices.
A popular approach to PD is to offer a smorgasbord of topics. Teachers pick a workshop and participate. However, sometimes they return to the classroom and carry on as usual. So, how can administrators encourage teachers to apply their newly gained practical and theoretical knowledge to their instruction?
Think about what PD could look like if it was ongoing instead of “one and done.” In other words, schools pick an area to study in depth and sustain this focus over a lengthy amount of time. Areas of study might include best practices in critical thinking, inquiry-based instruction, data collection to address instructional needs, writing across content areas, behavior management, and more.
Correctly performed PD will not only result in enhanced teaching practices within your school but also visibly improve student achievement outcomes. With these goals in mind, here are some steps you can take to transform PD in your school.
What Is Ongoing Professional Development?
Ongoing PD means focusing on one key instructional area for an entire year. That’s right, an entire year. As the leader of your school, select an area for improvement based on data and research. Then, commit to maintaining focus on the identified area. This level of concentration will allow educators to delve below surface-level knowledge and truly deepen their understanding of research-based best practices.
Ongoing PD also means starting the school year by introducing the area of focus and having teachers commit to two or three days of direct training. You’ll then need to implement a deliberate plan for following up throughout the school year, making sure to provide more training and support during faculty meetings and also incorporate professional learning days, extended planning times, and the like. You can conduct regular check-ins through team meetings, observations (formal and informal), and ongoing conversations with teachers, team leaders, coaches, subject matter experts, or the administrative team.
The bottom line is that you should frequently revisit the focus area and continue to build teacher knowledge and instructional practices over the course of a year or two.
Be the Leader
As the leader, you must clearly articulate your expectations for ongoing PD, teach what it looks like, and describe how improving teaching practices will, in turn, improve student learning. Lead by example. Be present, and actively model and teach your staff the importance of PD.
I’ve seen too many administrators pass on PD to others. I’ve listened to them brag about “leaving it up to the experts” while describing the wide number of choices they gave teachers to individualize their PD. But, these administrators don’t attend teacher training sessions. Don’t do this! It sets the stage for teachers to go in too many directions and weakens the continuity of your instructional program.
Of course, you will always rely on “experts” to help train your staff, but it is imperative that you lead the efforts by being an active participant alongside your teachers. Present yourself as a learner when appropriate, and be transparent about not knowing all the answers. Show them through your actions and not just your words that you recognize the importance of ongoing learning.
Most schools have teachers write goals for professional growth each year. Of the two to three goals a teacher might write, require at least one developmental goal in the area of focus for the year. This sets the stage for accountability and follow-up. I would suggest taking it a step further by informing teachers that you will conduct observations to see progress after implementation. Be sure to use post-observation conversations as an opportunity to discuss progress with individuals, identify observed improvements, and confer about each teacher’s learning needs. These conversations can help maintain the focus and also allow you to see what is working and what needs adjustment.
Stay the Course
Once the school year gets into full swing, it’s easy to get lost in day-to-day happenings. Issues will arise, and demands will distract you and your staff. For this reason, it’s important for you to deliberately schedule follow-up training sessions, meetings, check-ins, and conversations. Make this practice a priority.
It takes more than a year for real change to take place. Plan follow-up specialized learning for the following year. This additional PD doesn’t have to be as intense as the training in the introductory year but should communicate why the previous learning and efforts were important. “Continuous improvement” is a mantra that you want to adopt, repeat, and share.
Through ongoing, high-quality PD, teachers will become better practitioners, students will receive better instruction, and achievement will improve.
For more advice and strategies on providing excellent leadership for your school, check out these PD courses from Advancement Courses:
- Recruiting, Retaining, and Reengaging Excellent Teachers: Some call the teacher attrition rate a crisis, but it doesn’t have to affect your school. Learn step-by-step strategies for attracting and hiring the best teachers, coaching and helping your teachers reach their professional goals, and promoting a healthy, burnout-free culture.
- The Art of Delegation: A School Leader’s Guide: Become a healthier, more successful leader through the power of delegation. Learn when to delegate, what kinds of tasks to delegate, and how to choose and coach the right people to help you lead your school to success.
- Networking to Strengthen School Leaders: School leadership can be a lonely job. Learn how to surround yourself with mentors and collaborators who will challenge, encourage, and inspire you to build a stronger school and a healthier, more passion-fueled career.
- A Year in the Life of a School Leader: A Road Map to Success: Create a plan for a stress-free school year, including how to establish a vision and expectations at the beginning of the year, help teachers stay motivated around the holidays and state testing time, and create data-driven improvement plans over the summer.
- Using Data to Understand Inequities in Schools: Inequities in education are sometimes easy to spot, but more often, inequality is not so apparent. Looking closely at student data points such as demographics, enrollment, attendance, and discipline can often tell a deeper story about inequities that may exist in your school.
- The Seven Domains of Teacher Leadership: Becoming a teacher leader is about much more than taking on a new title. Learn how to make a meaningful impact on your school’s improvement efforts and create a more equitable learning environment for your students.
In addition to these, Advancement Courses offers more than 280 online, self-paced PD courses covering both foundational topics and emerging trends in K–12 education. Courses are available for both graduate and continuing education credit for your salary advancement or recertification needs.
Lisa Sheehan has an undergraduate degree from Bellarmine University in art education and graduate degrees from the University of Louisville – Master of Education and Specialist in Education. Lisa taught art and in the regular classroom before moving into administration for 17 years. During her time as an administrator, Lisa was an instructional coordinator, gifted and talented coordinator, assistant principal, and building principal at Buckner Elementary School, in Oldham County, Kentucky. Lisa has been an adjunct professor for graduate classes at Bellarmine, undergraduate courses at University of Louisville, and served as a KTIP university resource teacher.
This article first appeared on Advancement Courses.