Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

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

Why Leaders Should Attend Teacher Trainings

By Peter DeWitt — January 17, 2016 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

We find the time to commit to the things we want to and make excuses not to commit to the things we don’t.

Have you ever been a part of a district initiative, sat in the training, and wondered why administrators weren’t there? As an administrator, have you ever sat in a training and wished that your teachers were there so you could have an authentic and real-time conversation about how to move forward?

Recently I was running a workshop in Idaho Falls with a group that I worked with before and respect very much. We communicate through e-mail, have sporadic phone calls to catch-up, and going there feels like going to see friends, which makes the workshop experience, and the dialogue that comes with it, that much deeper.

When we get together for workshops and trainings we should always want to go as deeply as we can. We need collaboration to do that.

Instructional coaches as well as leaders attended the training. Everyone, coaches and leaders in the same room. No, that doesn’t always happen when I’m giving workshops. Sometimes it’s just teachers...just instructional coaches or...just school leaders, but not very often do we all share the same room.

Therein lies the first issue...

When schools implement programs or frameworks (they are 2 different things) leaders and teachers don’t often share the same room, which means that they don’t get the same message, and don’t get the immediate opportunity to share concerns or become a think-tank to create innovative ideas to make the program or framework...work.

This creates a situation where leaders or teachers have to be reactive rather than proactive, because depending on the situation they have to go back to a faculty and run through the same steps. When questions come up, the facilitator isn’t there to help work through it. It becomes peace meal.

For example, a district that goes through the process of instructional coaching sends coaches to get trained without the leaders present in the room. The coaches being trained have to go back to the leaders and explain what coaching is, rather than having the opportunity to go through the training with the leader in the room so they can form a partnership of understanding that will lead to healthier and more positive results as they move forward.

Clearly, we still make it work, but it is lacking an important piece of the puzzle, and that is the administrative perspective.

Why Are We Segmented?
Why do we do this? Why do we spend a great deal of money on programs and frameworks and then approach the trainings in a way that is segmented? Sometimes it’s due to coverage or money. Other times it’s due to the idea that districts have separate trainings, where teachers get to hang with other teachers and leaders get to hang with other leaders.

Isn’t it about collaboration?

This provides comfort but it doesn’t always provide deep conversations and action steps to move forward, because the teachers being trained separately begin thinking about how they have to ask the leader (who isn’t present) for permission to move forward, so they never get to a clear action step. They feel like they have to go back to the building to ask for permission before they can take the action step, which depending on the leader could lead to more questions, a lack of movement or chaos.

The other problem with that type of training is that it contributes to the dysfunctional relationship between both stakeholders. It’s no secret that in many districts, there are teachers who do not trust leaders, and in those districts leaders talk negatively about teachers. There are leaders who don’t make the commitment to be at the training because they “don’t have the time.” We find the time to commit to the things we want to and make excuses not to commit to the things we don’t. If this is an initiative that is important, shouldn’t everyone make time?

In order to get passed that stuff (keeping it clean here) we have to think differently about the way that we go through trainings. We have to create trainings where leaders and teachers can work in partnership with each other; instead of training them separately where they have to be more reactive when they end up getting together...if they ever take the time to get together in the first place.

Collaboration, right?

Big programs and frameworks should take planning. School districts shouldn’t jump into them so quickly. Before grabbing the next shiny thing that comes our way, we should be having conversations with the consultant or workshop facilitator to find out why this program or framework is different? How can this help create better results than what we are already doing? If the consultant or facilitator can’t answer that, then the district should reflect on what they are doing...and perhaps move on from this shiny new toy.

In order for anything to be implemented successfully leaders and teachers need to share the same room. Clearly, this will be dependent on the program or framework. For example, when it comes to instructional coaching only coaches and leaders need to be there. Not every teacher needs to be in the room for an instructional coaching training. The coach and leader can go back to their own buildings and work in partnership to explain what instructional coaching is to staff.

If there are bigger programs being implemented then districts can create fairly-based and authentically placed stakeholder groups where there are leaders and teachers. Fairly based and authentically placed means that diverse stakeholders are chosen and not just the obligatory teachers who are going to agree with the leader’s decision and cheerlead while they’re doing it.

In the End
I was thankful to be in Idaho Falls because the people are awesome, and they work very hard and have authentic conversations. They want to get better. They want student growth to increase. And the conversations coaches were able to have with the building leaders who were in there were very important. They clarified issues, asked great questions, found out they didn’t need permission, and had authentic dialogue about how to move forward.

That kind of synergy can happen where teachers and leaders aren’t being trained together, but the results may not be the same because at some point they have to communicate, and what was once synergetic may get lost in translation. The type of synergy that creates a situation where everyone wants to move forward, takes having leaders and coaches in the same room at the same time learning next to one another.

Connect with Peter on Twitter

Commons photo courtesy of Kaboompics.

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.