When I began teaching in the mid-90s, professional development was something I expected should come from my district, and it did. I worked with some outstanding building and district administrators who planned evidence-based and relevant professional learning opportunities for us. I can’t say with certainty that I took advantage of every opportunity offered, but I got my fair share.
When I was trained as a Critical Friends Group facilitator in 1998, I had a shift in thinking: I started to take ownership of my professional growth. I recognized that not all teachers I worked with were given the same opportunities as I. was asked to facilitate meetings, lead a session during an in-service day, or participate on a building level committee. I was able to take input from my CFG and create meeting agendas based on our needs rather than some prescribed, one-size fits all, professional development. I appreciated the autonomy my group was given to engage in learning that was relevant to us.
Five years into my principalship, I had another shift in thinking as I became a connected educator. I expanded my PLN to include others outside my district, I started blogging, I participated in and facilitated Twitter chats and book studies on Voxer, I listened to webinars, and I asked more reflective questions. I shared what I learned with my staff in a variety of different ways.
I strived to create a professional learning culture and adopted three strategies to support staff learning that I gleaned from some outstanding principals like Cheri Dunlap and Mark White (@MarkWhite55):
1. Empower teachers to attend and present at local, state, and national conferences. When I observed an innovative idea or outstanding teaching and learning, I invited the teachers to share their experience with others at a local, state, or national conference. I encouraged them to submit a proposal because I was proud of their work and wanted to reward them with a trip to a conference where they could share their expertise and connect with other like-minded professionals.
2. Identify those who are modeling best/next practices and create space for them to share with the staff. What better way to build capacity around instructional practices than to create the conditions for staff to hear from their peers? Use a process to allow for reflection, feedback, and for discussions about next steps.
3. Identify and pay relevant speakers to help ignite or support professional learning. Sometimes it’s a good thing for teachers to hear another voice; another expert in the field who has successfully modeled or thoroughly researched different ways to accomplish a task. Making this investment shows your level of commitment, support for your staff, and reinforces expectations.
As you bring this school year to a close, start thinking about how you will support learning in the fall. Consider trying one of the strategies mentioned above and be sure to explain to your staff what you hope to accomplish. I guarantee you’ll have a great deal of support!