As a classroom teacher, it can sometimes feel as if district administrators belong to an exclusive club in which they are secretly made aware of all the organization’s inner workings while everyone else is left in the dark. Sometimes this exclusive club might meet for closed-door professional development sessions, and the specific details of what they learn usually turn out to be a bit fuzzy for those not present. Yes, attendees are supposed to pass along the information to their teachers, the ones who interact with students on a daily basis. However, sometimes the facts get awfully distorted as they make their way through multiple channels, eventually reaching the intended audience (if the audience is reached at all).
To help in avoiding this conundrum, session facilitators should embed into administrator professional development explicit procedures for the learning to reach teachers and ultimately affect students in the most positive ways possible. Here are five options that leaders can consider when paving this smooth path along which information can travel:
- Set time aside for action plans: If you are facilitating a session, set aside some time towards the end for participants to complete an action plan template that details how information will be relayed to their teachers. The creation of the template should be a collaborative process to help in ensuring that it is a usable document that can help in improving instruction, as opposed to one more accountability measure that is a waste of time. The templates could be completed and filled out in Google Drive, so all stakeholders can access the information whenever necessary. Also, if you are running a meeting and you plan on having participants fill out the template, let them know ahead of time. This way they can learn “with the end in mind.”
- Open up the door to teachers: I have no doubts that teachers should be provided with opportunities to join these sessions, as they are the ones who are in the trenches with students on a daily basis. With the information going right to the source, it mitigates the chance that anything will be misconstrued or lost. The number of teachers who attend might vary depending on district size, and over time the numbers could be spread proportionately amongst all of the schools in the organization. (When choosing teachers, you could also take into account the needs and/or sizes of each building.) Administrators should do their best to select teacher leaders without making others feel like they are playing favorites. These teachers can then help to promote change, either formally (e.g., structured professional development sessions) or informally (e.g., hallway conversations). According to Todd Whitaker, “When we draw on the role models in our own school, the chances of expanding acceptance and implementation grow exponentially.”
- Make small conversations: Once participants return to their home schools the last thing they should do is hoard what they have learned, holding onto information as if it is top secret and classified. Through small conversations, administrators can divulge what took place to staff members, how it might impact future building-based events and practice, suggestions for teachers who might want to do some research on their own, etc. While having these talks, principals should be cognizant of confidentiality, while also making sure to provide teachers with information that is both consistent and accurate. Through a brief email, an administrator can let his staff know when he is about to attend a meeting. This way, teachers will be more likely to ask for details once he has returned.
- Faculty meetings: This point is probably the one that is the most obvious, but it should not go unmentioned. Faculty meetings give principals opportunities to provide all teachers with a consistent message in a face-to-face setting. Furthermore, when appropriate, principals can enlist teachers to assist and/or lead in the delivering of these messages. The question is, how much control does central administration want over these faculty meetings? Are they going to trust the principals to return to their schools and deliver the correct messages, or are they going to script for principals each and every aspect of these meetings? Either way, the aforementioned action plan can help in the relaying of this information.
- Flipped professional development: Flipped professional development (as well as a flipped classroom) can take many shapes and forms. For administrator professional development, all key resources can be uploaded to a learning management system (Moodle, Edmodo, Schoology, etc.) prior to the actual professional development taking place. Facilitators can ask participants to view the items beforehand so they come to the session better prepared. In order to be more respectful of participants’ time, facilitators can instead have them focus on one or two select resources through the lens of a few guiding questions, which can then help in driving discussion during the face-to-face session. Now, how do these efforts benefit the teachers? Even though they will not be able to participate, teachers can be copied on these emails to promote (1) transparency from central office and (2) teacher awareness in regards to the learning that is taking place. At the very least, teachers can simply be sent a link to the resources following each session.
Enhanced classroom instruction and student learning should be the primary goals of any professional development experience. While it is beneficial to train administrators who can then turnkey the information to their staffs, there is also tremendous value in making sure that the learning directly reaches those who are in front of students each and every day. After all, we do not want administrator professional development sessions to turn into those old games of telephone, when the intended message was entirely unrecognizable by the time it reached the end of the line.
What unique professional development opportunities have you experienced or witnessed?
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