Tag Archives: principals

Perking up PD

This week in the Teacher’s Edition (the U.S. Dept of Education weekly update), I saw a quote pertaining to the topic of PD.  It said, “Just as teachers personalize learning for our students, principals and coaches need to identify what teachers need… [and where] they want to grow.” (Teacher, Ohio). 

In addition, in a recent post on Connected Principals from jjohnson, this appeared:

“What I am learning about professional development is:
1. It must include differentiation for staff
2. It must include deep reflection”

When I was preparing to be a principal long ago, I remember talking about providing relevant PD, but I never expected what the term “relevant” would really mean.  I’ve seen the following over the years that I would consider to be good practices in differentiating PD.  Consider the list below as some ideas. 

– time of day: At one of the schools where I was an administrator, we offered many faculty meetings and other PD session in the morning AND after school.  Many of our dedicated staff had young children to drop off in the AM or older children participating in activities after school, and the flexibility was really appreciated by many.

– topic: many school leaders I know have created questionairres for staff around the PD they a) want, and b) need.

– intensity: there are many inservice teachers who would report having a “brush up” in classroom management techniques.  However, there may be teachers on the staff who need a more intense and immediate PD session or two.

– encourage the development of PLNs on twitter and other social media.



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Communication Essentials

Although it was only about 12-14 years ago that I was taking coursework to prepare to be a principal, the methods of communication were really limited compared to now, so it was more simple to talk about which medium was appropriate for which type of communication.

1) Most of the information – mailings, newletters, etc.  It was “innovative” then for teachers and administrators to create “Good News” only newletters and press releases, on paper of course.

2) phone calls…. lots and lots of phone calls.

3) emails, only occasionally, for in-house communication or with a couple tech-savvy parents who communicated that way.

I definitely was NOT prepared back then for the different levels of communication and the much more complex decision-making that needs to take place around what type of communication to use for each task.  School leaders now still need to disseminate crucial information and highlight the positives of the school. We can do that through websites, blogs, wiki’s, facebook pages, twitter accounts, instagram, etc.

Ultimately, though, technology can never replace the relationships we are building, but it certainly enhances them when the right tool is used for the right reason and for the right audience.  When you build a relationship with individuals, a school leader begins to understand the best ways to communicate different types of information to parents and the community.

On a more individual level, if there were a concern about a student, for me, that still comes back to the tried/true method of face-to-face meetings and phone calls.  However, I certainly had one parent in particular whom I can remember only wanted me to email him, because his work took him out of the country so often.  I always honored the requests of my audiences whenever possible.

The bottom line is that with all the  tools at our disposal for communicating with individuals and communities, school leaders need to pick the methods that work for their individuals and communities.  Sometimes this is a trial-and-error process.  However, matching the mode of communication with the audience and task is essential for a school leader.

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Being a Respected Instructional Leader

Credibility as an instructional leader is paramount.  While I don’t discourage professionals who’ve held non-instructional positions in schools from beginning principal preparation programs, I am very clear with them that they will have to work harder to build that credibility amoung teachers.  Let’s face it: if you haven’t been there, done that, then you don’t have the credibility.

Even sometimes when you have been a very respected teacher in one setting, if you become a school leader, you have a lot of work to do in building that credibility as an instructional leader.  I wasn’t prepared during my own principal preparation for how much I would really be challenged by some veteran teachers to prove myself as a good teacher.

Context is important here too.  I had my first assistant principal position, at a high school, when I was 30 years old, AND I had to work very hard to make myself appear even that old due to my baby face.  Top that off with being a new entitity in a large county school district, and there you have the recipe for some initial complications.  The next part of the context that’s important was that at the time, this district was starting to look at the correlation (or lackthereof) between course grades and standardized test scores.  In addition, there was concern at the state level where I was working about the perceived overinflation of teacher evaluation scores.  Sound familiar??  This was almost 10 years ago.

As someone who worked very hard as a teacher to always make sure my students were engaged in meaningful work, I ended up having some interesting evaluations of teachers that first semester as an assistant principal.  I distinctly remember having one of my reports challenged to the building principal, as this teacher had never earned anything but the highest ratings on the observation tool of the time.  (A student was sleeping in class and remained so for quite some time without intervention or concern expressed by the teacher).  I certainly wasn’t wrong in my assessment of the various instructional concerns revolving around that incident, but over time and context (I ended up as a school leader in the building where I once served as a teacher, and that was a lot easier as far as the credibility piece), but I learned what might be valuable tips by trial and error.

1) When given the opportunity to plan and implement professional development, do it.  And don’t just deliver a lecture every time.  Be the example of good instruction, every single time.

2) Outside of formal observations, get into classrooms.  Often.  Follow-up with the teachers about what you saw.  It demonstrates engagement in their practice and in pedagogy in general.  Even better, you can participate like the students.  I used to visit a Math teacher and take her tests, challenging the students to beat my score.  These are great opportunities to continue to have on-going conversations with teachers AND students about what’s going on in class.

3) Most of all, remember that no matter which observation/evaluation tool is used, the same clinical observation steps continue to apply.

– Talk to the teacher before the lesson.  Find out what’s been troubling them in the classroom.  Offer to observe for that in addition to “filling out the form.”

– Observe.  My opinion is that it shouldn’t need to be announced.  (I realize the new evaluation systems across the country make this a concern for some).  Take good notes, especially watching THE STUDENTS.  Are they actively involved in learning activities?  What evidence tells you this?  Talk to a couple students about what their learning.

-Talk to the teacher after the lesson.  Ask their reflection on the lesson (often they will identify their areas of “growth” before you have to do so).  Offer your praise where appropriate.  Discuss areas of growth and how you as a leader can offer support, guidance, and perhaps thoughts from when you taught.

My experience was that over time, through doing some of the things I mentioned above helped me build credibility as an instructional leader.

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