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February 1, 2022

Ongoing Professional Development – A Better Way

Professional development (PD) is one of the most important things that a principal oversees because a school’s success relies on instructional practices. To improve student achievement, educators must focus on integrating their own continuous learning in a sustained and measurable way.

Committing to ongoing training allows administrators and teachers to build proficiency,  broaden their knowledge bases, and gain expertise in their fields. It also provides them with a chance to learn new material and stay up to date on research and best practices.

A popular approach to PD is to offer a smorgasbord of topics. Teachers pick a workshop and participate. However, sometimes they return to the classroom and carry on as usual. So, how can administrators encourage teachers to apply their newly gained practical and theoretical knowledge to their instruction?  

Think about what PD could look like if it was ongoing instead of “one and done.” In other words, schools pick an area to study in depth and sustain this focus over a lengthy amount of time. Areas of study might include best practices in critical thinking, inquiry-based instruction, data collection to address instructional needs, writing across content areas, behavior management, and more.

Correctly performed PD will not only result in enhanced teaching practices within your school but also visibly improve student achievement outcomes. With these goals in mind, here are some steps you can take to transform PD in your school.

What Is Ongoing Professional Development?

Ongoing PD means focusing on one key instructional area for an entire year. That’s right, an entire year. As the leader of your school, select an area for improvement based on data and research. Then, commit to maintaining focus on the identified area. This level of concentration will allow educators to delve below surface-level knowledge and truly deepen their understanding of research-based best practices.

Ongoing PD also means starting the school year by introducing the area of focus and having teachers commit to two or three days of direct training. You’ll then need to implement a deliberate plan for following up throughout the school year, making sure to provide more training and support during faculty meetings and also incorporate professional learning days, extended planning times, and the like. You can conduct regular check-ins through team meetings, observations (formal and informal), and ongoing conversations with teachers, team leaders, coaches, subject matter experts, or the administrative team.

The bottom line is that you should frequently revisit the focus area and continue to build teacher knowledge and instructional practices over the course of a year or two.

Be the Leader

As the leader, you must clearly articulate your expectations for ongoing PD, teach what it looks like, and describe how improving teaching practices will, in turn, improve student learning. Lead by example. Be present, and actively model and teach your staff the importance of PD.  

I’ve seen too many administrators pass on PD to others. I’ve listened to them brag about “leaving it up to the experts” while describing the wide number of choices they gave teachers to individualize their PD. But, these administrators don’t attend teacher training sessions. Don’t do this! It sets the stage for teachers to go in too many directions and weakens the continuity of your instructional program.

Of course, you will always rely on “experts” to help train your staff, but it is imperative that you lead the efforts by being an active participant alongside your teachers. Present yourself as a learner when appropriate, and be transparent about not knowing all the answers. Show them through your actions and not just your words that you recognize the importance of ongoing learning.

Accountability

Most schools have teachers write goals for professional growth each year. Of the two to three goals a teacher might write, require at least one developmental goal in the area of focus for the year. This sets the stage for accountability and follow-up. I would suggest taking it a step further by informing teachers that you will conduct observations to see progress after implementation. Be sure to use post-observation conversations as an opportunity to discuss progress with individuals, identify observed improvements, and confer about each teacher’s learning needs. These conversations can help maintain the focus and also allow you to see what is working and what needs adjustment.

Stay the Course

Once the school year gets into full swing, it’s easy to get lost in day-to-day happenings. Issues will arise, and demands will distract you and your staff. For this reason, it’s important for you to deliberately schedule follow-up training sessions, meetings, check-ins, and conversations. Make this practice a priority.

It takes more than a year for real change to take place. Plan follow-up specialized learning for the following year. This additional PD doesn’t have to be as intense as the training in the introductory year but should communicate why the previous learning and efforts were important. “Continuous improvement” is a mantra that you want to adopt, repeat, and share.

Through ongoing, high-quality PD, teachers will become better practitioners, students will receive better instruction, and achievement will improve.

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