The crisp autumn air arrived just in time for the start of the second quarter of the academic year as first-year teacher, Ben, arrived at work at 7:30 am to ready his classroom for a day that promised a safety drill, preparation for student-led conferences, and a PTO Fundraising assembly. Ben was exhausted. The shine of the new year had worn off and Ben was in survival mode juggling learning a new curriculum, completing end-of-quarter grading reports, preparing for his first-ever set of student-led conferences, and working to complete his licensure classes by taking evening courses twice a week at the local university.
Ben’s school leadership team was also new. The two assistant principals on the team for the past three years were promoted to principal in other schools within the school division over the summer. This is the first time in three years Ben’s principal had two new and beginning assistant principals on the leadership team. In addition to building a new leadership team, Ben’s school had eleven beginning educators, three new paraprofessionals, and an all-new front office staff. The school improvement team identified attendance, the implementation of a new reading program, and increased family engagement as the three school-wide goals for the year.
You may have finished reading the brief vignette and thought, “That sounds just like my school.”
School leaders across the nation are faced with the challenge of cultivating and sustaining professional learning opportunities for all staff members while working to create rich, relevant, and timely learning aligned to school improvement goals and personalized professional growth.
With all the challenges school leaders face, what strategies might be implemented to cultivate a culture of continuous professional learning for all staff members? A series of three questions and considerations to help in creating and sustaining opportunities for professional learning follows.
1. How can I create flexible, anytime, anywhere offerings meeting my staff where they are?
Ben is a provisionally licensed educator working on his full certification while teaching full time. His school leaders have to work to ensure they’re providing him flexibility in how he participates and engages in professional learning if it is beyond his contract commitments. Ben is an avid listener of podcasts on his way to work each day. Providing Ben with podcasts tied to the school improvement plan goals and his professional learning plan will enable Ben to develop as an educator at a time and in a way that works for him.
Teachers and support staff are entering the profession through a diverse set of preparation pathways. It is key to ensure we know, understand, and create learning opportunities taking into consideration the many demands on time. Creating flexible ways to deliver professional learning is a consideration that will provide more options and increase participation and overall engagement. School leaders might choose to offer hybrid learning settings with the option to be in-person or join on a virtual video conferencing platform, create lunch and learn opportunities, devote a section of staff meetings to differentiated learning, or provide small bites of learning in newsletters, in coaching cycles, or during post-observation conferences. You might consider analyzing the current time you have with staff and conduct a needs assessment to determine if the time could be used in a different way to provide learning opportunities to staff. Often, you’ll find a small change can make a large difference over time.
2. How might I leverage the stakeholders of my school community?
First-time educator, Ben worked as an associate at a local technology business before accepting his first teaching position. He is an expert in using a graphic design platform his school district has available for all teachers and students. Empowering Ben to create ten-minute video snippets and including one in each week of the school-wide staff newsletter is a way for Ben to share his talents and provide staff with anytime, anywhere professional learning.
Tap into the strengths and interests of your school community including teachers, paraprofessionals, nutrition staff, bus drivers, custodial staff, families, and community business/organizations. Send out a survey or provide a forum for all stakeholders to offer up their interests, strengths, passions, and areas of expertise. Many of the offerings provided may be job-embedded. A bus driver and teacher may be able to collaboratively discuss management strategies while waiting for students to board the bus or a teacher may be able to ride along during the afternoon bus run. Leveraging the human capital of your school community can help distribute the planning and creation of learning while showcasing the strengths of the stakeholders.
3. How might I create a professional learning plan for the year to proactively and intentionally align and plan learning?
In creating the professional learning plan for the school year, Ben’s administrators were able to create differentiated experiences for the beginning staff members while factoring in the additional outside coursework many new staff were juggling. During Ben’s beginning teacher induction, his administration provided him with a year-long professional learning plan giving him a clear road map of the learning and support he should expect throughout the year.
Let’s face it. A large portion of the professional learning we provide to educators is mandated, decided upon the month before the day or event, or a one-and-done type learning experience. When working with your school improvement team over the summer, create a professional learning plan directly aligned to the goals of the school and the needs of the school staff. This will give you time to leverage your community’s strengths and expertise and create an environment of continuous learning and improvement.
Creating diverse opportunities for professional learning is a challenge ripe for opportunities of innovation. Personalized, flexible, aligned learning creates authentic and intentional opportunities of growth for educators that in turn honors their time and brilliance within. Intentionally working to collaboratively craft flexible learning experiences, leveraging the strengths of the school community, and working to create differentiated, aligned learning plans provide school leaders with a starting point to transform the challenges they face into opportunities all while empowering their educators.
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