Considering one or two ideas from the National Standards of Staff Development and the challenges related to structuring and staff development, how do you envision effective staff development will occur when you are Principal / Vice-Principal?
Traditional opportunities for the professional development of educators (usually in the form of workshops, seminars and training courses) have taken the form of after school in-services (most voluntary in nature) and those occurring during the school day in both small and large venues (i.e. at another school or at a large conference centre). Most of what is learned at these sessions tends to be theoretical and informative in nature and, although could be interactive, tends to include a lot of sit-and-get experiences. Ultimately, once concluded, the teacher is left to go back to their schools and make sense of the information , most times alone, and apply contextually to the learning experiences of their students. This can be a time consuming and often intimidating endeavour. In fact, the information received at these sessions does not often precipitate real educational or instructional change. The reason for this is that the understanding of a tool or an idea does not equate to knowledge of how to implement or use it in a real world / contextual situation. Ultimately, and using the language of how we evaluate students, knowledge of a topic, tool, or idea does not mean you can apply it. You may understand it. You may be able to talk about and explain it. But can you do it? Can you adapt, modify, and assess its value and merit? The latter is the true challenge behind instructional change – the change of teaching practice. To truly apply, design, experiment, and evaluate the merits of a new idea and / or tool, one needs to work collaboratively with a team of like-minded individuals that are also working to implement the same new idea or tool. In this way, the learners are a team – co-learning with each other and with the students – adapting and modifying en route to the creation of an ultimate learning environment for our students. New tools – especially in today’s 21st Century Learning environment – necessitates a change in practice. Take the following cartoon as an example:
The advent of new tools has been an ongoing process for hundreds of years. As the cartoon above illustrates, educators have seen the blackboard, the photocopier, the computer, and the Internet find their way into classrooms around the world. All of these technological innovations have brought with them possibilities for change but, unfortunately, change has often not occurred. This is because “[e]ven under the best circumstances, pressure for change, no matter what its source, may produce feelings of anxiety, fear, and anger.” (OPC PQP II Binder, Module 7, pg. 68 – “Learning”) *Note: The NSDC Standards for Staff Development have changed since the publication of the Principal Qualifications Part II binder and the current list can be found here http://www.learningforward.org Through my experience, I have also noticed that “[t]eachers have a real fear of redoing all of the work they have spent so much time and effort on developing in the past. “ (“5 Concerns About Changing Teacher Practice (and what we can do…)” http://www.mrkeenan.com/?p=496) Ultimately, to ensure the best yield for student achievement and student learning from teacher learning, the learning needs of the teacher(s) needs to be tied to the specific needs of the students. In this way, the learning is purposeful and goal driven. The learning also has to be a communal, not an individual effort, and should be driven by relevant and associated data, empirical or perceptual, that identifies a gap and a need. With a need or gap as the focus, and a team working together for a common goal, professional learning can inform and precipitate instructional change for the benefit of all students and to ensure “…high levels of learning for all students”. (OPC PQP II Binder, Module 7, pg. 65 – “Learning Communities”)
The Instructional Core as outline in the School Effectiveness Framework identifies this reality. When looking at the far right side of the Instructional Core, one can see that the “Instructional Task” in the core includes teacher, student, and curriculum as the focus. The traditional PD opportunities outlined above focused on the needs (perceived or real) of the teacher first and foremost, with the students and the curriculum resting around the periphery. Ultimately, since a teacher’s job is to meet the curriculum, the PD of the teacher focused primarily on teacher and curriculum and not so much on the collective and individual needs of the students. For teacher professional development to be purposeful and effective, it needs to be solidly based in the needs of the students first and foremost. The needs of the students informs the needs and the PD of the teacher. In this way, a class profile can help the teacher plan for learning using a universal design approach – understanding the individual learning styles and needs of each students and planning to meet those needs accordingly. “ It provides strategies for tapping the unique learning strengths of each student. In addition, it helps teachers to use knowledge of their students’ interest and backgrounds to assist them in planning meaningful, relevant lessons.” (OPC PQP II Binder, Module 7, pg. 69 – “Equity”) The curriculum is the framework through which all of this takes place.
At its most effective, groups of teachers work together (either in grade or subject teams) to plan and assess based on the needs of their individual students. They plan and learn together, assessing the needs of students, and adjusting accordingly. As critical learning partners, they have support in themselves, in the same building, and at the ready, and they “…operate with a commitment to the norms of continuous improvements and experimentation” and they “…take collective responsibility for the learning of all students represented by team members.” (OPC PQP II Binder, Module 7, pg. 65 – “Learning Communities”)
The Instructional Core
So what does this all look like in a school, and how is the Principal as the instructional leader at the heart of it all? “Ambitious learning goals for students and educators require significant changes in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and leadership practices.” (OPC PQP II Binder, Module 7, pg. 65 – “Leadership”) In order to best support teachers and to promote high expectations and levels of achievement for all students, administrators need to learn alongside the teachers and become as proficient in the new ideas and tools as they are. In order to fully understand initiatives, and to promote them, administrators need to fully comprehend why they are using them. For example, prior to purchasing Smart Boards for a school, I firmly believe that the principal should engage in professional learning to truly understand how to use them, what they can and cannot do and what results using one could yield. Further, hanging one on a teacher’s wall demands training for it. It is not fair to provide the tool but not the necessary time for learning. Similarly, if promoting social networking / blogging in a school, the instructional leader needs to understand how to use and implement such a tool. That being said, this is not to say that the principal needs to understand the tools before advocating for their implementation. They should, however, be co-learning and willing to “…participate in learning communities…and model career long learning by making their learning visible to others.” (OPC PQP II Binder, Module 7, pg. 66 – “Leadership”)
Also, rather than sending teachers out of the building for individual learning opportunities, the principal should consider the importance of job-embedded learning, at the point of instruction with the teachers involved so as to avoid constant external learning that “…occurs away from the school [and]…serves as a centrifugal force that leads to fragmentation and incoherent improvement efforts.” (OPC PQP II Binder, Module 7, pg. 66 – “Resources”; See also “Job Embedded Professional Development http://www.tqsource.org/publications/JEPD%20Issue%20Brief.pdf)
To achieve this, board consultants, special assignment teachers and facilitators can be invited to work with teachers during TLCP (Teacher Learning Critical Pathway) planning with a particular learning goal and end in mind. In this more focused, collaborative circumstance, the teachers / administrators involved in the planning have a common goal and end in mind and can understand collectively what they need to learn to meet the learning needs of the students. In this way, professional development is purposeful and goal driven and has team support daily within the building “that [can]…meet on a regular basis, preferably several times a week, for the purposes of learning, joint lesson planning, and problem solving.” (OPC PQP II Binder, Module 7, pg. 65 – “Learning Communities”)
I also see professional development in my building being differentiated and suited to the individual needs of the teachers in the same way as learning experiences need to be designed for the individual needs of their students, both collectively and indivisaully. Far too often, staff meetings and opportunities for development are delivered in one way only and do not take the individual learning needs of each educator into consideration. I find it hypocritical to promote something for students but not promote the same for educators. “It is important that the learning methods used in professional development mirror as closely as possible the methods teachers are expected to use with their students.” (OPC PQP II Binder, Module 7, pg. 68 – “Learning”) We talk about “Knowing Our Students” but we must not forget that “Knowing Our Staff” is equally as important and, as leaders, we must respect that “…people have different learning styles and strengths [and that]…professional development must include opportunities to see, hear, and do various actions in relation to the content.” (OPC PQP II Binder, Module 7, pg. 68 – “Learning”) As someone that has always explored and expressed the powers of technology to support differentiation and multiple windows for learning, we must not forget that technology as the power to “…bring the world of learning to educators rather than requiring educators to go to their learning.” (“Implementing the Standards for Staff Development”, pg. 7 – http://www.nsdc.org/news/authors/e-learning.pdf) Webinars, conferences, videos, podcasts, and the like can be consumed individually and collectively to increase opportunities, times, places, and designs for learning. “Time for learning is flexible and available to learners twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week (24/7). Learning occurs anywhere access is available and when the learning is desired. Learning opportunities are available worldwide; and the learning experiences [are] customizable and supports “just-in-time” learning.” (“Implementing the Standards for Staff Development”, pg. 2 – http://www.nsdc.org/news/authors/e-learning.pdf) Valuable, and expensive, time and resources do not need to be spent when free and readily accessible information is available. As an example, prior to calling a consultant, opportunities for teachers to self-serve their development on learning a tool can be provided. Then, when board supports are called in, time can be more productively spent planning and developing rich learning taks for students rather than extending an after-school approach that we know doesn’t work into a pseudo job embedded experience that yields the same result.
Only by fully understanding the aforementioned approach to staff development in the 21st Century will resources truly be utilized to the most optimal degree as possible and, as a result, students will receive greater and more dynamic opportunities to succeed and to reach their full potential.
Staff Development Standards
This is the document provided in the Ontario Principal’s Council binder for the Principal’s Qualification Program Part II. These standards have since been revised so I provide it here for reference. Some pages are a bit blurry, I took pictures of them with the CamScanner app on my iPhone that converts photos to PDFs (pretty neat).