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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

4 Reasons Administrators And Teachers Won’t Attend the Same Professional Development

By Peter DeWitt — May 05, 2016 4 min read
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A few months ago after running a lot of workshops around North America I came to the realization that very few of the workshops involved having administrators and teachers in the same room. It wasn’t that I didn’t want them to be together or that the training wasn’t beneficial for both parties. After all, the trainings usually centered around big initiatives the districts were taking on.

The reason the administrators and teachers didn’t attend the same training is that they didn’t feel they had to. The whole situation inspired me to write a blog about why leaders should attend teacher professional development (PD). When they do, in the times that it has happened when I was the facilitator, everyone left with a unified understanding.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean that they all left on the same page, because as I have heard Andy Hargreaves say a few times, “If everyone is on the same page, no one is reading the whole book.” What it does mean is that teachers can ask questions to administrators that may result in greater clarity, and leaders will learn about the challenges that teachers may face while implementing the initiative.

However, I wouldn’t have been inspired to write the blog if leaders and teachers did attend the same trainings most of the time. If they did, the initiative may actually work a little better, and teachers may feel as though they had a voice in the process rather than feeling that they were forced into it...or coerced into it.

Because of schedules and the importance of each PD session, there are times when leaders and teachers won’t be able to attend together. What I have found through conversation and experience is that there are at least 4 reasons why administrators and teachers won’t attend the same PD. They would prefer to gain the same understanding, but not be in the same room while doing it.

Those 4 reasons are:
Comfort Zone - Teachers may not feel comfortable to talk in front of their school leader. Depending on whether the school leader creates a hostile school environment or one where teachers feel as though they can take risks, the teacher attending the PD with the principal may feel fearful to speak up, because there may be consequences when the teacher gets back to the building. Yes, I have seen instances where leaders send an e-mail to a teacher sitting in the same room, to tell them to refrain from divulging too much information.

Separate Is Easier - Both parties may say they like to have dialogue with one another, when in reality they really just like to provide feedback to the other party and not get it in return. In PD sessions, teachers may ask questions about issues that administrators don’t like to hear about...or vice versa...so it’s easier to keep both parties separated so they can talk about each other when they’re not in the same room. “Teachers don’t like...” or “Administrators don’t understand what...” are things that begin to pop up.

Status - School administrators don’t want to be in the same training with teachers because they don’t feel like they require the same level of training as their teachers. It’s not their job to deliver the curriculum or initiative, and they have better things to do. And there are many times when teachers don’t believe school leaders should be at the same training because they want to be able to talk freely and don’t feel that leaders need to know everything they, as teachers, need to know.

Too Busy - Many times it’s cited that administrators will not attend a training because they are too busy. This is not supposed to negate the idea that leaders are extremely busy, but it is a fact that many administrators don’t attend PD because they believe...or are...too busy. The only issue with the “too busy” scenario is that it will ultimately create more work for the administrator in the long run. If the initiative is so big that all teachers need to be a part of it, and administrators are too busy to be there, then at some point administrators will need to know what they missed.

In the End
If you’re reading this saying, “I’m a leader and I’m always at the PD with my teachers!” then that is awesome. Please know that you are not the norm. Facilitators of workshops should be very thankful when leaders and teachers attend the same workshop because it doesn’t happen often enough.

When leaders and teachers do attend the same PD because it is centered around a new initiative, consultants have to be sensitive to the complicated issues that often revolve around leaders and teachers being in the same room at the same time talking about teaching and learning. Making sure people don’t get defensive and really listening to what the participants are saying is important for any consultant, because they can often work as the mediator between both parties.

It’s important for all of us, regardless of whether we are a consultant, teacher or leader, to understand that when people begin talking about the challenges of trying to follow through on an initiative doesn’t necessarily mean the person bringing up the challenge is “venting” or bringing up “personal issues.” We often approach something new with a deficit model and think about the reasons it may not work.

Those challenges that do come up in conversation are what we all need to address together so we don’t get hit hard by the implementation dip, which is why it’s so important to have everyone in the same room when they come up.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students (2012. Corwin Press), Flipping Leadership Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel (2014. Corwin Press), School Climate Change (2014. ASCD) and the forthcoming Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (2016. Corwin Press). Connect with DeWitt on Twitter.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of the Barrow Boy.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.