When I prepared to be a principal, I learned in coursework that it was the leader’s job to design PD that was meaningful, engaging, and most of all, worthwhile. I wasn’t prepared for, though, how difficult of a task that actually was, due partly to some extreme cynicism on the part of teachers. I’ll tell later how I overcame that, but first, I will recount a couple examples of poor PD which have attributed to teachers’ cynicism and seeming apathy when it comes to PD.
– Outside consultants…… need I say more? In all honesty, when I was a teacher, PD was a perfect time to get grading oe lesson planning done. Why? Because the outside consultants that I experienced had a great power point (or back in the day, overheads) telling teachers some way in which we could improve our teaching by actively engaging students around reading strategies, incorporating math into all curricular areas, etc. But their presentations were FAR from engaging, nor was there application of how these could look in MY classroom or any follow-up.
– This one is even worse. I entered a large district as a first year HS assistant principal. As one of the many administrators in the district, I was charged with assisting (i.e. providing PD sessions) for teachers around modifying their instruction to match a new block schedule format (I can still hear the groans). I had taaught in this format and worked hard to engage the teachers in my activities, and yes, the district was providing training along with a new set of expectations which frankly doesn’t even happen some of the time. However, I found out during these sessions (as I experienced a little bit of resistance to the PD) from my participants that the year prior to my arrival, the district had conducted some formal focus group PD sessions which were set up to get teachers’ feedback on a few different schedule formats. However the perception of the teachers as a whole was that the district administration already knew what schedule format to which they were moving before conducting these session, so the session seemed inauthentic and therefor a complete waste of time to the teachers.
Therefore, one of the first important lessons I learned for creating meaningful PD is if the teachers aren’t going to have a say in either the PD that’s offered or some other change happening, don’t create false pretenses to act like their input is important and could impact the decision. The second lesson is to make PD meaningful and make it so that good teaching strategies are modeled during the sessions.
However, the most important thing I did learn over the years about PD in schools is that it must be organic, meaning it must arise from within the professionals who are partipating in it. If the admin aren’t conducting it, they should be participating in it along with the teachers. We always need to be open to “outside-of-the-box” formats of professional development as well – book studies, lesson studies, differentiated supervision, etc.
Ultimately, though, like almost everything in education, creating meaningful PD comes back to the building administrators developing trusting relationships with the teachers so that 1) the school leaders already know from talking to the teachers and being in their classrooms what support they need, 2) the teachers feel comfortable telling a school leader where he or she needs some support, and 3) the school leaders can conduct effective needs assessment that involves looking at student data holistically along with teaching performance data AND asking teachers in writing what is needed to help them continue to grow as educators.