Leaders of Professional Development: Moving towards a process rather than event

[Note to readers: This column is part of an ongoing series for Iowa ASCD’s The Source e-newsletter.]

Leaders of Professional Development: Moving towards a process rather than event

What does it mean to be a curriculum lead?  This is the fourth column in a series for Iowa administrators, teacher leaders and anyone else interested in enhancing curriculum leadership.  So far, we’ve discussed the work of curriculum, instruction, and assessment; data analysis; and processes.  This week, we’ll be taking a closer look at what it means to be a leader of professional development.  Future columns will consider the remaining facets of curriculum leadership: relationship building, performance, operations, and change.

According to the functions of our work, “Curriculum leads model, expect, monitor, and evaluate continuous learning of all students and staff members.”  Modeling matters!  Central office administrators ought to be modeling curriculum leadership with principals through frequent and collaborative classroom walkthroughs.  Principals and instructional coaches, too, should carve out time to model curriculum leadership by being in classrooms and providing feedback to teachers.  Most importantly, these walkthroughs should inform upcoming professional learning.  In my experience as a district administrator, a team of principals, teacher leaders, and central office personnel visited classrooms at least twice per year.  The most impactful observations were purposefully scheduled one month prior to a full day of professional learning, for the purpose of influencing the details of the professional development day.  Similarly, PLC or data team leaders might visit colleague’s classrooms a week prior to an upcoming common formative assessment, in order to better understand the different pedagogical approaches taking place across a grade level or content area.

Our role as curriculum leaders is also to monitor and evaluate the impact of professional learning.  As I travel the state visiting with current and future school leaders, I often hear about professional learning as an event rather than a process.  Events look something like this: Group of staff attend Mr. Big-Name-Speaker at regional workshop or district brings in Ms. Book-Author to do a workshop for all teachers.  Following the professional learning event, those with positional authority do not articulate any expectations or timeline.  In other words, it’s up to individual teacher discretion to determine the next steps and impact, if any, the professional learning time will have on students in the classroom.  Furthermore, with such a scattering of professional learning, teachers may be wondering where they should be prioritizing their time in order to work towards district goals.  Meanwhile, the district has invested taxpayer funds and staff have depleted their limited time away from students which may or may not yield any long-term improvement.  As such, curriculum leaders owe it to our colleagues to assist in identifying at least one new learning/behavior resulting from professional learning opportunities, and provide ongoing support for this new idea to enhance student success.  In buildings and districts with a strong vision for professional learning as a process, every opportunity for new staff learning is carefully planned, building upon the previous learning opportunity, student learning needs, and district goals.  A quick and efficient approach might be sending a professional learning follow-up survey soliciting participant perspectives such as their biggest take away, lingering questions, and suggestions for needed implementation supports.  When a leadership team summarizes this feedback, sends it to staff, and carefully plans the next professional learning supports using this information, not only will teachers appreciate their voices being heard, but also see curriculum leaders making plans to connect new learning with previous learning.

In closing, curriculum leaders who value improving professional learning in a school district invest their time to ensure it is a process rather than event.  This function requires leaders visit classrooms and systemically follow-up on each staff professional learning opportunity in order to purposefully model and monitor continuous improvement.

Resources to further learning as a leader of professional development:

  • The Principal as Curriculum Leader, 4th edition, by Allan A. Glatthorn, Jerry M. Jailall, and Julie K. Jailall (2017, Corwin)
  • Evaluating Professional Development, by Thomas R. Guskey (2000, Corwin)
  • Professional Development That Sticks: How do I create meaningful learning experiences for educators?, by Fred Ende (2016, ASCD).

One thought on “Leaders of Professional Development: Moving towards a process rather than event

  1. Hey Pal,

    I really dug this bit — and you are right: All professional development experiences need to be planned with intentionality if they are going to have any real impact on the growth of a district.

    I’m not sure that intentionality happens in all places. I know that I’ve done a bunch of professional development over the years in places where I was convinced that the experience was going to be a “one and done” experience for everyone involved. I’ve even worked in places where I was pretty convinced the only reason I was there was that the district had dollars to spend before a deadline.

    As a presenter, that’s discouraging because I always want to see work continue long after I leave.

    But as a teacher, that’s frustrating because I know how limited time and budgets really are in districts. If dollars and time are wasted, that bugs me times about a million.

    Anyway — thanks for encouraging people to be deliberate about their PD investments and energies!

    Rock on,

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