School Climate & Safety Opinion

Professional Development 2.0

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — January 07, 2016 5 min read
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We welcome guest blogger Lisa Meade, a forward thinking middle school principal in upstate New York.

Bringing the use of technology forward, embedded into teaching and learning, is the responsibility of school leaders. The words “professional development” create a picture of Superintendent Conference Days or trips to conferences. Without the leaders’ attention, support, and modeling, pockets of use and resistance will remain within the school leaving uneven opportunities for use by students. Resulting changes may be seen in cases of individual efforts. Yet unless truly led by the school or district leaders changes remain spotty. This is not the outcome we want. Professional development must become more intrinsic to the system.

Development requires purposeful thought by the lead learner in understanding the needs of an entire organization. Professional development as we knew it, can’t survive as a choice from a menu or stand alone activity that may not even impact classroom instruction or the culture that exists in the building. Leaders can not delegate the responsibility of leading the professional development plan or its implementation. Leveling up professional development requires deliberate action, planning and inclusion of teacher voice.

Holding the value and leading the learning may be the principal’s responsibility, but including the teachers in the decision process, their voices heard and included, is essential in distributing leadership and bringing more folks on board.

Understanding The New Context
In our roles as leaders and learners, continuing to model and seek quality professional development is important. In seeking professional development that matters, there are multiple avenues we can take. This kind of approach requires modeling on the part of administrators and teacher leaders alike. Lead learners can demonstrate the commitment to professional learning.

It will likely take some time to get professional development redefined. Today’s leaders can use ideas from each other to redesign current professional delivery models. We can move from waiting to have professional development “done” to us and instead create a culture that is more organic by never missing the opportunity to be and do better, and learn from each other in all of the ways possible for professional development, new and old.

Principals as Lead Learners
As building principals work to cultivate these conditions, while learning beside the teachers, the best plan is to gradually share the autonomy and authority of learning with the teachers. The tipping point occurs when the principal assumes the role of lead learner. Jennifer Ross-Steimle, principal of Corinth Elementary School in Corinth, NY, shares:

I am trying to model professional development in a way that I have never done before. Either through twitter, articles online, Pinterest even. Also, EdWeek has some great online programs too. I am trying to model the use of this information in staff meetings and other meetings. I don’t think that it’s absolutely effective yet. But, I do think I have (at least) 20% that are buying in. Those are the ones with whom I am building capacity.

The key to the journey is developing a culture in which efforts are directed to cultivate a collective commitment to growth. A culture in which risk taking is encouraged and supported is key. A celebration of successes with failures viewed as opportunities from which to learn are essential. Here are just a few alternatives to try.

You’ve likely heard of an edcamp as an unconference for educators (and others). They take place on a Saturday, on a conference day, or during the summer. Session topics are generated organically by the participants. Some principals are taking this to a different level by bringing the edcamp model into their own school and meetings!

Voxer is a free, real time, walkie-talkie app that allows you to have audio conversations with individuals or groups. Participants can listen to the voxes from each other and contribute to a conversation. The power of this option is that it requires no travel or actual schedule.

Vicki Day, Principal of East Side Elementary School in Gouverneur, NY, sees building capacity in staff to become lead learners as a priority. She has used Schoology as a platform to share ideas within her building and to lead virtual discussions. Vicki explains:

I am of the belief that to build capacity with our staff, we have to have trust. We as leaders need to step back, become a part of the learning along with our staff, and let the staff rise up and teach us. They have developed the expertise, so why not utilize that expertise? We need to foster that - that is our job as leaders as it will foster strong relationships as well as a strong teaching core. The belief is nurturing the professional capital and capacity of the staff. It is a belief that we are a team - we have the answers among the core of the group.

These examples offer only a few possibilities for leaders. The power isn’t in the number of examples that are chosen but rather in the actions that are deliberately employed by the leader in her continuous modeling of professional learning, planning, reflection, and growth. Professional development is the root of continuous improvement. Beliefs must be deeply rooted in the certainty that all teachers and administrators need the structure and space to turn over old mindsets (Brennan). We must use strategies that lead to higher levels of group engagement towards improved collective thinking and relational trust. I agree with Brennan as he urges school leaders to rethink professional development as Learning Laboratories that support strong peer networks that transform culture through ongoing collaboration, perspective building, and risk-taking. Don’t you?

About Lisa Meade
Lisa Meade is a Mom and Middle School Principal in Corinth, NY. She is also the 2015 NYS Middle School Principal of the Year for SAANYS/NASSP and a fellow in the New York Educator Voice Fellowship program.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.