Professional Development Opinion

Self-Directed Professional Development for Leaders

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — March 12, 2015 6 min read
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The amazing talent and energy of teachers and school leaders in continuing the education of the changing population of students with changing information, standards, and curriculum is being depleted and needs sustenance. We have arrived at an important crossroads. But the question is how are we going to manage all the new information and capacities that the 21st century has brought us while operating within a structure that is held in place by laws, regulations, and union contracts? The structure of schools must change.

School change cannot take place within the boundaries of the class schedule, school day and year and the four walls of a school building. Change cannot take place by simply changing the questions on a test or making the test weigh heavily within an accountability system. The architecture of the system, itself, must become flexible. Can we envision a system in which the local needs dictate the length of class sessions, the school day and year, the way subjects are organized and taught, and the manner in which external partnerships contribute to the education of teachers and their students? The design of the schools needs to be dictated by what we know about children’s learning and organization capacity enhancements; then goals for the design of the instruction, and partnerships follow. The changes local school districts will be making require new learning, ongoing, daily, mindset changing learning.

Leading the Change
The role of the 21st century leader is complex, gathering the voices of all constituencies, listening deeply to the beliefs and opinions of the community, and building the vision and the plan to achieve it. Becoming the lead learner in the organization is essential. The change process unveils places where knowledge and skills need attention. New ways of doing things always requires new information and new learning.

The Leader as Self-Directed Lead Learner
Even with little funding, the work of experts, authors, and bloggers can be accessed and facilitated in EdCamps, Google Hangouts, flipped meetings and other creative digital and face-to-face opportunities for faculties and leadership. What follows is a very partial list, a group to begin with, of experts impacting the field with information and direction in a variety of areas.

Grant Wiggins has been calling for authentic learning and authentic assessment for decades now.

Mitch Resnick at MIT calls for equal access to the advantages of technology and coding as a means of learning, beginning with the youngest learners, through programming with Scratch.

John Hattie whose extensive meta-analysis of quantitative measures of how different factors contribute to educational outcomes has analyzed data that reveals what behaviors truly make a difference in teaching and learning.

John Bransford and his colleagues’ offer research on the learning process and how culture impacts how people see and absorb knowledge.

The 21st century educational system cannot claim to be on track without at least knowing about the thinking of these experts and others.

The graduates in the 21st century need to be thinkers, problem solvers, and have a different and deeper understanding of the concepts that underlie science, technology, engineering and math. That said, there are other experts that come to mind:

Tony Wagner, Harvard Professor and author of Creating Innovators (2012).

Chris Dede, Harvard Professor and author of Digital Teaching Platforms: Customizing Classroom Learning for Each Student (2012).

Gary Stager, expert and advocate for computer programming, robotics and learning-by-doing in classrooms and co-author of the book Invent to Learn (2013).

Sylvia Martinez works in schools to bring the power of authentic learning into classrooms, particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) subjects and is co-author of Invent to Learn with Gary Stager.

David E. Drew, professor at Claremont (CA) Graduate University and author of STEM the Tide: Reforming Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education in America (2011).

There are other experts in quality assessment, reading and writing across curricula, school culture, questioning, flipped learning, flipped faculty meetings, safe school environments, inter- and trans-disciplinary, collaborative teaching and learning, partnerships with business, real world learning, the list is endless. There are those who are dedicated to teaching teachers more about their subjects and how to teach them to students, leading mindfulness training in schools, empowering more students, teachers, and parents to be engaged in the decision making processes in schools.

Then there are authors and bloggers whose accessibility and prolific digital presence generously presents thinking that can serve as beginning places for new thinking and planning. Peter DeWitt, Brad Currie, Spike Cook, William Brennan, Larry Ferlazzo, Starr Sackstein, Mark Barnes, Tony Sinanis, who have their own blogs, or blog for EdWeek. As a matter of fact, all the blogs found on EdWeek offer insight, guidance, and different ways of looking at education today.

The work awaiting educators’ attention is not solely an intellectual one. There is the concomitant need to be a whole person. The person who leads is asked for endless information, for decisions guided by insight, fairness, and compassion, for actions replete with endurance, energy and inspiration, and for integrity always and for personal wellness to support the rest. But, these later aspects are seldom attended as parts of leader PD. It is as if they come naturally and never slump in fatigue or dilemma. But, truthfully, we need to shore up on these over and over. So, we include recommendations on the list of people to read those who attend to inner lives.

Gregg Levoy, author of Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion (2014). His work on discovering passion for your life offers stories and experiences that reveal a path that can awaken a new kind of energy that will invigorate your work. (Gregg Levoy is authoring a guest post on Leadership360, Sunday, March 15th).

Parker Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal and author of The Courage to Teach (2007). Parker Palmer’s work takes the reader, whether teacher or leader into an exploration of open heartedness and the inner landscape of an educator’s life.

Chris Kukk, developed Educating through the Connected Five Cs: Creativity, Compassion, Courage, Concept and Constraint, calls for revival “on all levels requiring critical thinking as well as oral communication and writing skills that educate for the purpose of fostering innovation.”

Professor Joseph Murphy at Vanderbilt University has most recently authored The Architecture of School Improvement (2013). A leading researcher in educational leadership, in this work he infuses experiences and humor as he writes about the challenges of school improvement.

All can serve as keys to preparing yourself for the important conversations required as the educational environment is learning and changing to meet the needs of today’s learners.

These thought leaders can be accessed through the purchase of a book, the following of a blog, the reading of a webpage, the following of a twitter chat. The next steps are a local decision, and are not involved with money at all. How these new ideas are implemented is in the hands of each leader. The more information, clarity and passion that teachers and leaders develop, the more likely today’s educational change will be successfully led by insightful, focused, informed, and open hearted educators. Who wouldn’t want that?

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