I’d like you to answer the following question: Has your professional development experience been one where you’ve felt valued, respected and can utilize what was learned in a quick, effective, and timely manner?
Now close your eyes and think deeply about your answer. I did! Most of the time, the results could have been better. It’s not hard to guess that you may have had similar experiences.
I focus on three core considerations that will make professional development something for you to be excited about. To be clear, there are more than three keys to successful professional growth. But for the scope of this article, I’ve focused on three that are generally easily attainable and will help transform your learning community.
I have found that the term professional development can be misused. In many of my experiences as a presenter, I consistently strive for professional learning as a goal. Yes, the development of specific skills sounds excellent. Still, as is often the case, professional development/learning usually has new information or new topics. Staff might need more background knowledge when this occurs, so professional learning may often seem more worthwhile regarding usage and clarity.
Professional learning is when staff can implement valuable ideas, and strategies or become inspired by what’s being explored. As educators, learning is a core tenet we value for students. It should be no different in our own lives. Whether presenter or observer, consider professional learning the ultimate goal as you move forward. Now on to the three key considerations when creating a successful, engaging program.
1. Ask, and you shall receive.
Professionals in any area want to feel valued for their talents. When you survey staff about their interests and needs, you immediately create a positive; we want your input narrative. Also, the responses you’ll receive are things you might have yet to consider. A team approach works better than going it alone. One critical caveat about asking for feedback: be clear and even explain to those whose opinions you want that while you want them to share their ideas, sometimes it’s impossible to cover every topic. I mention this valuable tip solely for this reason. If you always ask for assistance but never take it, be prepared for it to lose its value in the future. Again, people want to be heard but also want their ideas utilized.
These four questions should provide meaningful guidance and clarity for leadership and staff who embark on growing an educational community.
- What would you like to learn?
- How might this process help you be more effective in your role?
- What would give you enjoyment?
- Why is our learning together crucial for you, your colleagues, and your students?
2. Be committed to excellence
Professional development takes time and effort. The wheel of rehashing old ideas is well-known in education. As a person dedicated to wellness, I always relate professional learning to how wellness grows and changes over time. At 57, the information available to me is vast, but more importantly, my commitment to excellence has never wavered. This must be the case in any professional learning community. It’s okay to make changes if something isn’t working. But if this is a consistent theme, staff will never truly grow. They will also become frustrated that some “great new idea” takes hold every year or two.
One key I’ve witnessed in successful professional development programs is when leaders and staff are prepared and willing to invest personally and professionally in their ideas. They understand the importance of setting aside time to learn and practice new skills. Some great examples are when new technology comes to our school or if the curriculum is being updated. These are situations when giving up too quickly will foster frustration among faculty. To keep staff motivated, I use the acronym R.E.A.L. to help staff understand the importance of staying the course to succeed:
Any hope of long-lasting success must have realistic goals, staff who are accountable for their growth, are enthusiastic about the process and accept/embrace that what they are learning will carry value into their jobs.
3. Give a choice, please.
Over the past few years, education has seen a considerable shift in how students can control their learning. Because of technological innovations and our research, data shows the importance of giving choices in what and how learning occurs. The days of every student having to do the same thing, at the same pace, in the same way, have passed. For staff, no matter their role, this should be the same when considering your professional learning programming. As an example, my school has over 120 staff members. To think that each one needs or wants the same thing is counterproductive to building a solid professional learning community.
When giving choices, there must be specific vital metrics for staff to keep things consistent and fair. But please avoid overcomplicating every last minute that professionals must complete. This kind of thinking micro-manages the trust we have in each other. Providing options to professionals is far better; it’s also common sense. Finally, offering a choice to staff adds an empowering voice frequently missing in many schools. Here are a few examples that you might consider.
- Offering a variety of options for professional learning. These could be around a specific learning objective or, even better, giving teachers the autonomy to choose.
- Just as we want students to collaborate with others, the same hold should hold for staff. Having colleagues work together on a common goal provides meaningful growth, and makes the process more collegial.
- Have options for in-school, virtual, or hybrid models of learning. Also, being flexible with time constraints can produce better work and a less stressful experience.
Staff who feel their voices heard and respected will be more motivated to be intrinsically driven, which is what we should want for the success of all students and educators. By giving staff flexibility in what they learn, how they learn it, and why it’s important, you create a sense of ownership around “I want to do this” rather than “I have to do it.” Common sense should tell us that adults, no matter their role in school, will be excited to learn and develop their talents when wanting to be their best isn’t forced upon them.
As I mentioned, many ways exist to build a solid, thriving professional development/learning community. As a resource, please see the attached links for guidance. Thank you again for your commitment to students and their families. Educators change the world for the better each day.
About the Author
Craig Shapiro is a health and physical education teacher, SEL liaison, and wellness coach passionate about helping educators succeed. He is the author of Dream Big: Stories and Strategies for a Successful Classroom. Connect with Craig, @Shapiro_WTHS.