Time is a valued commodity for teachers, which is why incorporating meaningful professional development or opportunities to collaborate with content or grade level peers into a teacher’s day is critical.
There are three components, that when implemented with fidelity, can positively impact professional development:
A collaborative work environment
Protected time during the school day
Administrative support throughout the change process
Collaborative Work Environment
As a classroom teacher who has had an opportunity to work in a variety of environments, administrators who encouraged teachers to collaborate with others were the most effective in growing the capacity of educators. Meeting together wasn’t just an item on the checklist to be fulfilled; it was encouraged, celebrated, and attended. Administrators were part of the team working alongside teachers in making academic decisions for students. In many situations, administrators allowed teachers to become leaders in these conversations instead of facilitating the sessions themselves. This small act provided ownership and showed a deep level of support from administrative leaders. Ornstein and Hunkins (2017) state that “curriculum leaders…must accept that people are the key to successful curriculum activity.” They must also “promote in teachers and in students their voice, their agency” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2017, pg. 250). By creating the workspace that encourages this type of work, teachers rise to the occasion.
Having protected time during the day encourages teachers to attend or participate in school-based professional development, such as Professional Learning Communities (PLC). Scheduling time for professional development and protecting it are two different things. This time should not be used for other operational meetings, conferences, or school business, but solely for providing opportunities for teachers to engage in authentic learning. Using the time for other tasks devalues the purpose. Administrators who protect and honor school day professional development time create environments that honor teacher time.
Administrative Support throughout the Change Process
Often when the school or district adopts new initiatives, teachers are left to navigate changes in instruction on their own. Administrators and other school leaders who are present during the entire change process send a message of support to teachers. Administrators who work alongside teachers to plan and implement instructional changes send a message to teachers that the work they are doing is valued. Administrators support the change process by conducting classroom observations and providing meaningful feedback that will assist classroom teachers in refining their craft, co-teaching lessons, and attending PLC sessions as a colleague, not an administrator. There is often a perceived divide between teacher and administrator. Working in the trenches of the classroom alongside teachers to facilitate new initiatives has benefits for both the teacher and the administrator. Teachers view the administrator as a team player, and administrators remain relevant in best practices.
But, what do you do if you feel these three components do not exist? How do you navigate advocating for your professional needs?
Never underestimate the power of a small act. If your environment isn’t positive, begin to initiate small changes yourself, write an encouraging note, share articles about your content area, best practices, or effective professional development with colleagues and administrators. Sharing professional tools will communicate your commitment to refining your craft, and someone will want to know more.
Transparency with your leadership team can be a valuable tool. Sharing your thoughts about professional development currently being delivered is valuable feedback to any administrator. Be honest about what you need to grow as a practitioner and what you hope to experience. Often, your administrator will have ideas that will help or even offer to provide the type of professional development you need.
Approach your administrator and offer to volunteer to facilitate a session with your team or a small group. It isn’t always an unwilling administrator that is blocking the way; sometimes, it is an administrator who has no experience with professional development such as PLCs and having a member of the staff volunteer to begin this work is a welcome relief. As the facilitator, communicating the purpose and goals of the professional development with your administrator creates a shared vision of what you want to accomplish. Not only will your needs be met as a professional, but the needs of many of your colleagues could potentially be met by choosing to step up and lead.
PLCs don’t have to be contained within the walls of your school. If the task is daunting and you experience more roadblocks than inroads, seek out a group of individuals outside of your school community to partner with on refining your practice. Utilizing social media to engage with other educators can be a powerful tool. Posing questions to one another and sharing current research through discussions can provide new perspectives and insights and empower your learning.
Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. (2017). Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues.