Wednesday, July 1, 2015

My New Philosophy of Professional Development

My mindset around professional development continues to change and evolve the more I read, research, and learn.  I’m excited to see how my philosophy of professional growth is shifting and I’m excited to learn how I can best integrate this as a shift in practice as an elementary school principal. The last bit of excitement is the realization of the power of teams and collaboration as essential components of accelerated school growth.

When I started my first year as principal I spent a considerable amount of time planning the perfect professional development.  I knew exactly what our staff needed, despite having never met them.  I spent hours crafting a PowerPoint presentation to deliver 'to them' containing the next best fix to public education. The staff sat and listened - for six hours - while I delivered their professional learning. They sat politely, mostly listened, and returned to their classes for the beginning of a new school year. Unfortunately, the time I spent planning had zero impact on the teaching that year and more importantly, had no impact on our students.  The presentation I had developed lacked relevance, collaboration, and ownership from a majority of the intended participants. 

I used to think I needed to plan all professional learning opportunities for the building to which I was assigned, but now I realize that our staff knows best their individual paths for learning.  In order to facilitate meaningful professional development, a school leader must provide time and demonstrate trust to allow a group of educators to craft outstanding learning opportunities. This will enable them to grow and ultimately to improve their impact on students.

Our school improvement efforts last year became very focused where teams were working together learning to continually improve our instruction.  We didn’t attempt to ‘fix’ anyone or anything, we simply took an area of instruction (mini lessons) which we all felt was important for our teaching, learned about effective characteristics of these lessons, recorded ourselves teaching these lessons, talked about what worked during these lessons, and continually self-evaluated our progress.  Every person in our building, whether it be classroom teacher, administrator, speech and language pathologist, or special educator worked and learned together to improve upon our craft.  It was exciting for us to realize, although we all were teaching mini lessons, we were doing it very differently.

In his article What Works Best in Education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise (https://www.pearson.com/hattie/distractions.html), John Hattie describes a learning community that is based on developing expertise. He calls for an environment which strives to have teachers learning and sharing how to continually become more expert in their practice. He addresses a myth that all teachers are equally effective in meeting student needs, and expresses the need for us as educators to confront this myth in a professional way. This environment, he writes, allows teachers to work together to question their effectiveness, evaluate their impact on their students, and work together so all staff can learn to have a high impact on student achievement.  To achieve this environment requires sustained and meaningful professional development.

This is the type of professional development that I have come to appreciate for myself as I use social media to extend and expand upon my learning.  I learn best when I am invested in a topic, when the topic is relevant to me, and when the topic can make me better at what I do each day. I learn better and improve upon my work as a principal by having a say in the areas that I feel I need to be further developed. I can accomplish my goals when I have the opportunity to set my plan of improvement. I also learn best collaborating with others, having the opportunity to try out what I'm learning, get actionable feedback, and then try it out again.  

This is the type of professional development that our teachers also want, need, and deserve. It's their actions and ability to develop expertise is what will dramatically improve our schools and best support students.  My goal for our school's professional development is to establish a learning environment where teachers are empowered to participate in their learning paths, collaborate with others to improve upon their expertise, and be able to see the positive impact of their learning on our students.

What are your thoughts? What strategies or philosophies of professional development have you found most effective? Continue the conversation by reaching me @davidjhuber on Twitter.