Schools face significant changes, and the weight of the changes is too frequently placed unevenly on the shoulders of teachers. Teachers are expected to stand like Atlas holding the full weight of implementing Common Core standards and new assessments.
Yet professional learning for teachers without parallel professional learning for their principals and central office staff is likely to lead to few results for students. Across the nation, teachers are immersed in extensive professional learning about changes in English/language arts and mathematics curriculum, assessments, and instruction to lead students toward achievement of more rigorous college- and career-ready standards. However, far too often their principals and central office staff are not engaged in or even offered professional learning to develop the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and practices they need to support teachers in transforming classroom curriculum and instruction.
Changes of the scope of new standards, assessments, and educator effectiveness systems require extensive, widespread professional learning for every educator who shares responsibility for the success of these new initiatives. When any one educator fails to contribute fully to deep implementation of these initiatives, the burden falls unevenly and the potential for inequity in student learning increases. To be successful, teachers need strong instructional leadership with opportunities to collaborate with peers to develop classroom curriculum and assessments, a school culture that supports continuous improvement, constructive feedback, instructional resources aligned with the new curriculum, and school-day schedules that provide time for professional learning. They need intellectual stimulation, clearly defined expectations and priorities, protection from distractions, and emotional support. They also need to be trusted to solve problems of practice in collaboration with peers and to feel confident that the resources they need to achieve full implementation are easily accessible.
Principals’ work is changing as well as they implement new evaluation systems and support the implementation of new standards. For them to succeed, they need support from central office staff to shift roles from building managers to leaders of student and educator learning. Principals need to know how to use short, daily classroom visits to collect data to monitor instruction and student learning. They need to know how to use the data collected to engage teachers in reflective analyses of their practice and use constructive feedback to leverage continuous improvement. They need to set priorities that place student and teacher learning in the forefront. Principals need to learn how to use data to track achievement and work collaboratively with teachers to address student learning needs. Principals also need to facilitate, lead, and coordinate professional learning and collaboration. Principals need to engage with teacher teams as they plan instruction, develop formative assessments, examine student work and assessment results, and reflect on their practice. Without this type of high-level support from principals, teachers will not have the intensive support they require to achieve success.
For principals to meet higher levels of expectations to serve as leaders of learning, central office staff must prioritize their expectations of principals, develop principals’ capacity, and collect, analyze, and interpret data about school performance and provide intensive support to principals as they are learning how to learn to transition their own practice. Central office staff need to learn how to use data, coach change in principals, and model the salient behaviors of successful school and district leaders. To step into these new roles, central office staff also need professional learning to hone their expertise in data collection and analysis, observation, coaching, and feedback, communication, leadership, and change management.
Change of the magnitude facing America’s schools requires change in the roles and responsibilities of every educator. Providing professional learning for teachers without providing professional learning to support the necessary, concomitant changes for principals and central office staff limits the potential for success, places an undue burden on teachers, and may lead to unexpected resentment among educators. When teachers, principals, and central office staff are all learning together and sharing in collective responsibility for student success, the work is easier and more rewarding; problems of practice are addressed more quickly; and students benefit from the top-level performance of all members of the education workforce.
Senior Adviser, Learning Forward
The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch 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.