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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

Wait! School Leaders Need Professional Development Too?

By Peter DeWitt — May 02, 2013 3 min read
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Professional development isn’t about wallowing in our own self-pity, it’s about establishing and fostering real learning opportunities.

Wait! School leaders don’t know everything? No, they don’t. And the ones who think they do... don’t know everything either. The job of the school leader is changing rapidly. Whether it’s through accountability and mandates or social networking and technology, school leaders have some serious learning to do, especially if their overall goal is to improve the school they lead.

Professional development is not just something teachers need. It’s something school leaders need as well. Many leaders and researchers agree that the job of the school leader balances between manager and educational leader but for those leaders who have not been in the teaching role for a long time, they need to know what to look for in the classroom when they’re trying to improve teaching and learning in their school.

Right there in lies part of the problem. If school leaders only think it is their job to improve teaching and learning, they are mistaken. It is the job of everyone from the teacher’s aide, teaching assistant to the teacher and school leader to improve learning in the school. And yes, it’s the job of the students as well. Educators refer to it as professional learning communities.

Professional Learning for Leaders
Everyone has a hand in making a school a better place. When leaders delve into their own professional learning or PD, they learn what is needed to make sure this type of improvement happens. School leaders need PD that focuses on teaching and learning, evidence-based observations, building communities within schools and using technology to improve the school culture. All of these lead schools to improvements in one way shape or form.

I’m not referring to improvement in test scores! I’m referring to the improvement in the learning environment and that takes a great deal of collaborative learning with staff, but it also takes a great deal of collaborative learning with other administrators. Veteran administrators as well as novice ones need to take the time to get together to talk about how to improve schools.

Most of this collaborative learning cannot happen by listening to one speaker on a stage in front of a crowd talking about the newest fad or our biggest problems. Those kind of conferences only allow the attendees to understand that other educators understand their pain. Professional development isn’t about wallowing in our own self-pity, it’s about establishing and fostering real learning opportunities. Professional learning means taking the time for administrators to get together and talk about what works and doesn’t work in their buildings.

Our Best People Are Right Here!
School leaders believe they hired the best teachers for the job, so the best professional development for teachers is when they are encouraged to get together and share best practices. That philosophy is at the core of Edcamps. Teachers get together and share their most innovative ideas. The information they learn is more likely to get transferred to the classroom because each colleague can share with one another...or lean on each other when they need help. The same goes for school leaders!

Schools have to believe that they hired the best school leaders to run their school buildings. If they don’t, then they should not have hired the leader in the first place. Those school leaders running each school have the knowledge and skill set to create their own high quality professional development. Through those collective conversations with others, they can come up with ideas to use in their buildings, and take the time to talk with one another about what works and what doesn’t. The overall goal, of course, is to improve teaching and learning in the school.

Ways to offer PD to School Leaders:
Send out an article or blog before each meeting - It’s very popular to try to do a book club, which is really a great idea. However, many administrators will tell you they don’t have time to read the chapters. Try sending out a blog or article that focuses on the area you want to cover. Typically they are shorter than a chapter and can offer as much good advice. Discuss them at the meeting.
A focused agenda - Faculty meetings have long been criticized for just being a list of topics to discuss that could have been sent out through e-mail. Sometimes administration agendas fall under the same criticisms. Add one curriculum items to each agenda.
Survey administrators - If you have a large administrative staff, survey them to ask what they would like to focus on during an admin meeting. K-12 administration teams may seem like they would have diverse needs, but sometimes they need the same thing.

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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.