The preparation for professional development (PD) is usually a challenge for school leaders. While professional development activities may be diverse in nature, they have some common and interconnected ideas. When planning PD, you can view these constructs through four lenses: student learning, change, visions, and relevance.
Student learning should be the primary emphasis for initiating professional development; keeping a vivid focus on learning prepares the school as an organization in establishing a safe, orderly, and supportive learning environment for the students.
Professional development should equip.
Generally, a school’s mission revolves around student learning; highlighting this notion through PD could help teachers make the necessary adjustments to meet each learner’s specific needs and identify the best instructional strategies available. Having varied instructional strategies in a teacher’s toolkit positively impacts student engagement and achievement.
Professional development should stimulate.
PD should deepen teachers’ knowledge of the content they teach and allow them to thoroughly understand the curriculum in a way that promotes students’ deeper understanding as well—it should stimulate teacher efficacy, spark curiosity, and heighten motivation in the teaching and learning process.
Professional development should empower.
PD that offers teachers the skills to make the connections between their methodologies and their relational impact on their students is a morale booster. Teachers may have different approaches to making connections with their students, but the emphasis must be on student learning rather than student performance. Learning is based on effort, while performance is based on the outcome.
Change is two-dimensional: individual and organizational. Staff development is essential in the productivity and efficiency of the organization. It helps employees feel good about themselves as part of the organization and as competent individuals. Individual change can be attained when mutual respect and trust exist between the leaders and followers.
Professional development is a change agent.
An employee training program should be designed to improve both staff members’ and the organization’s ability to properly respond to the changing demands of their shared work environment. PD on change is not just talking about change—it should be a change agent on how to prepare and experience change, which could be uncomfortable at times. Teachers should be able to understand the reasons for change and gain perspectives on how their responses can help or hinder change. Practical training on how to respond to change will encourage teachers to consider how to think about change, recognize the contexts or bases used for change, and approach different types of changes within the school.
Professional development is a mindset for change.
Organizational change does not happen in isolation, but it is systematic and procedural; thus, any professional learning must relate to the teachers within the school system first, and the change itself comes second. In Achieving Your Vision of Professional Development: How to Assess Your Needs and Get What You Want, David Collins outlines that PD teaches new knowledge (a change in what one knows), helps one to acquire a new skill (a change in what one can do), or develops one to have new attitudes or values (a change in what one believes). Undoubtedly, professional development should challenge one’s belief system through opportunities designed to experience new perspectives or introduce new resources that generate a wealth of ideas for collaboration among educators. PD aiming to change the school paradigm should be goal-oriented, long term, based on research, collaborative, well-funded, and supported.
Professional development is practicing for change.
To direct and sustain change is to practice change. One way to practice change is through teacher empowerment—allowing teachers to explore their own practices and determine their areas for improvement through collaboration, peer observation, mentoring, and dialogues. Alternatively, practice change by establishing a culture of accountability via performance feedback and coaching. Set the expectation that teachers will use what they have learned in PD activities.
Research and literature have emphasized the vital role that visions play in the organizational structure of the school. PD on the school’s direction should focus on its core values to attain the school’s desirable future.
Professional development keeps the vision tangible.
One role of PD is keeping the school’s established vision tangible—transforming the intangible vision into frameworks or agendas that are applicable and practical. So, this means turning the vision’s conceptual values into actual programs that can be performed in a certain way, making it real and authentic. For instance, the vision of Bibb County School District in Macon, GA, is that each student will demonstrate strength of character and will be college or career ready. To make this tangible, the system invested in districtwide ongoing professional learning on the “Leader in Me” initiative that integrates several leadership, social-emotional learning, and educational models.
Professional development articulates the vision.
Poorly articulated vision can be problematic for school leaders—that is why PD is essential in addressing this issue, as well as in encouraging participative goal-setting that reflects high ideals. Professional development must bring about incremental changes so that the school vision will not stagnate but remain credible, attractive, and fulfilling for the entire school community. School visions should be consistently articulated, realized, and strengthened through professional learning, helping teachers understand their school leaders’ expectations. This helps reconcile the school vision with their own professional and personal goals.
The relevance of professional development is another construct that must not be overlooked. Professional development is relevant to student learning, organizational change, and school vision. Hence, professional development must be relevant to itself and to its purpose.
Professional development supports growth.
PD should promote and support growth among educators—activities should be well thought out and relevant to teachers (and their respective programs) and should be tiered and personalized, providing a variety of options to supplement specific needs for growth. Like students, teachers learn not only through formal education but also by engaging in daily work activities and authentic opportunities; likewise, knowledge increases with experience.
Professional development facilitates professional learning communities.
PD programs that transform a school system into a community of lifelong learners are highly functional, intentional, and relevant. Teachers who are constantly seeking to better themselves are likely involved in leading professional learning communities and study groups. Building the capacity of teacher leaders helps other teachers find support and role models; they develop commitment and collective competency. Furthermore, the professional learning community promotes collegiality and camaraderie, providing valuable time for teachers to reflect on the training, discuss it with one another, and take ownership to enhance student learning. PD should organize teachers into relevant work-based learning groups that can analyze data and curricula.
Professional development promotes job security.
PD that strengthens job security presents more relevance. Teachers who are supported develop confidence in their skills and become satisfied with the school’s climate and culture; hence, they are most likely to remain in the school system. Teachers spend an increasingly large portion of their day engaged in the teaching and learning process. It is indeed rightful to turn their daily endeavors into job-embedded training that helps them continually improve. Correspondingly, many teacher certification programs require participation in professional development.
Learning is better together because growth accelerates in groups. Professional development is a fulcrum that balances the interconnected “old school” focus of student learning, change, visions, and relevance. PD facilitates the educational organization in identifying the best practices and strategies available to enhance student learning, developing teachers in their own expertise.
Change is innovation that can be communicated and practiced through professional development. Visions should be clarified and articulated to become realistic and tangible. As educators grow professionally, they need to be empowered and feel secure as part of the school system. Although professional development contributes to job security, it only becomes relevant when it is ongoing, useful, meaningful, and collegial. Rewinding the focus, professional development serves as a pillar for equity and quality in education.
Barbara P. Bazor, EdD, is one of the assistant principals for the Bibb County School District in Macon, GA. She was named Top Five for the Assistant Principal of the Year 2020 by the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals.