For the most part, professional development has been focused on teachers, as they are most often the ones on the front lines dealing directly with students and have the most impact. But doesn’t it stand to reason that the more equipped admins are to deal with their day-to-day job that it would translate to better-equipped teachers? After all, teachers love working for an administration that supports them, has a clear vision, and is inspiring. So let's talk more about the best approaches to awesome professional development for administrators.
Professional development for admins is out there, but research into its effectiveness is inconclusive. In fact, most of it studies teacher effectiveness due to teacher-centered professional development. Moreover, studies are geared toward professional development which is offered by admins to teachers, not PD sought out individually by teachers themselves such as online development through Twitter and other social media outlets.
No matter what the research says, our goal in this post is to give you some ideas for how to best move forward with your own PD as an administrator.
A Glowing Example
Paula M. Evans and Nancy Mohr offer professional development for administrators through their department at Annenberg Institute for School Reform. They began with these questions:
- Can principals’ professional development truly improve practice?
- Can we encourage new behaviors that allow principals to make a genuine difference in their schools?
- Can we support principals as they strive to be grounded, focused, bold, and unafraid?
What they developed was a professional development program for admins that not only inspired them during the event but fostered continued growth long after attendees left the workshop. Principals from across the country commit to a year of development. They are gathered 4 times a year in groups no larger than 35 with regular communication between meetings. As one could deduce, participants get to know each other and form solid networks of supportive professionals.
What’s their secret? First, the entire premise is on administrators as learners. Then they go into Seven Core Beliefs:
- Principals’ learning is personal and yet takes place most effectively while working in groups.
- Principals foster more powerful faculty and student learning by focusing on their own learning.
- While we honor principals’ thinking and voices, we want to push principals to move beyond their assumptions.
- Focused reflection takes time away from “doing the work,” and yet it is essential.
- It takes strong leadership in order to have truly democratic learning.
- Rigorous planning is necessary for flexible and responsive implementation.
- New learning depends on protected dissonance.
Now let’s unpack these one by one.
Professional Development for Administrators: The 7 Core Beliefs
Principals’ learning is personal and yet takes place most effectively while working in groups.
Principals are invited to become part of one of many small groups that meet regularly for discussions and seminars. Additionally, participants get to know each other by communicating regularly throughout the year via email or phone.
Principals foster more powerful faculty and student learning by focusing on their own learning.
The focus of these sessions is always to better the principal. The trust is there that the improvement will trickle down to the teachers and ultimately the students. By becoming better leaders, principals will instill these values in their home schools by example. Surprisingly, this is accomplished by allowing principals to examine students’ work. To find oneself within the work of students makes profound connections with who the principals are and who they want to be.
While we honor principals’ thinking and voices, we want to push principals to move beyond their assumptions.
Too often principals fall into patterns that are unhealthy for their team. By getting them to study texts that challenge their thinking, and talking about them within their close knit groups, principals begin to open their minds and see different viewpoints.
Focused reflection takes time away from “doing the work,” and yet it is essential.
Time for reflection is what many of us, principals included, neglect. Yet it is so important for digesting new insights and other viewpoints. Principals are encouraged to bring up dilemmas or questions that they are having or have had that they had not handled well. By bringing it up, they are able to reflect on how they would have handled it differently. By practicing these kinds of scenarios out of context, they are more apt to solve issues appropriately within context, the next time it comes around.
It takes strong leadership in order to have truly democratic learning.
By listening carefully and then taking the group’s needs in mind, they can come up with solutions that are good for the whole. Understanding, intellectual debate and dialogue, and planning for success are all keys to democratic learning and components of strong leadership.
Rigorous planning is necessary for flexible and responsive implementation.
No good comes if principals are enthralled with the professional development process but fail to bring it back to their home schools. By hashing and rehashing scenarios, forming a plan of action, principals go home with a plan that is more likely to succeed.
New learning depends on protected dissonance.
Protected dissonance means that principals are accepted and encouraged to be themselves and have their voice. A climate of respect is established right away to ensure a feeling of safety but the excitement in the dialogue.
All leaders take risks and all leaders are willing to learn.
If you are an administrator in your own right, surely you have your own set of frustrations and setbacks, and you want tools to equip you to be better at what you do. We hope we were able to shine a decent spotlight on the best principles for professional development for administrators, and hopefully provide a springboard to developing other opportunities for PD in your own corner.