PD for Teachers: How Principals Can Play a Meaningful Role
What we know about effective professional development for school leaders is much the same for teachers: it’s important to provide job-embedded development opportunities that give teachers a chance to utilize what they’ve learned in their daily work. That, plus an element of accountability helps teachers stay motivated and build confidence.
We also know that when teachers are provided with the meaningful, intentional, and targeted PD they’re looking for, it’s one more way for school leaders to ensure teachers feel supported and more likely to stay in the classroom. Teacher PD can be an important retention strategy in light of the teacher shortages and turnovers many of you continue to deal with this school year.
We all have stories of professional development that’s worked—and plenty of stories of what happened when it didn’t go quite as planned. It’s part of the reason why as school leaders, planning teacher professional development may seem like a delicate dance. How do you ensure their PD opportunities are impactful and effective?
Keeping those needs in mind, here are three considerations as you’re working with your teachers to shape their PD plans throughout the year.
Give teachers autonomy over their PD
Having a degree of autonomy is important for teachers. They know their classrooms and students better than anyone else. They want to be able to make certain decisions about what’s best for their students based on what they know. The freedom for teachers to direct their own course is especially important when it comes to their own professional development, where what they learn has both the ability to make a difference for their students and encourage their own creativity and innovation.
We know teacher PD is less effective when it’s a one-size-fits-all, “sit-and-get” approach, but we also know that it’s tough (and in some cases, downright impossible!) to create individual professional development plans for each of your teachers. Some prefer online learning while others want a professional learning community. Here are some ways to meet in the middle.
- Ask about personal goals: When you meet with your teachers to map out their PD goals, ask what they may want to achieve through the lens of student learning AND what they’d like to enhance or move forward with their own careers. Brainstorm together on how those needs might be able to be met.
- Take a pulse on special projects or initiatives: Are there teachers in your school who are interested in taking the reins on an initiative that would bolster the school community as a whole, such as helping the school be a better community partner, or working to strengthen relationships with parents and families? If so, consider the pathways for this kind of work and if an opportunity exists.
- Check-in mid-year to revisit goals and priorities: What teachers need may shift as they spend more time with students. Make a plan to check in with your teachers midway through the school year. What have they identified as the biggest priority for their own development that can help their class throughout the rest of the year?
The freedom for teachers to direct their own course is especially important when it comes to their own professional development, where what they learn has both the ability to make a difference for their students and encourage their own creativity and innovation.
Prioritize PD that helps teachers build relationships with students
Teacher-student relationships matter. While it’s important for teachers to be able to be social with their students, what’s really needed is something much deeper—for teachers to be able to engage with students around their interests, what they’re curious about, and what’s on their minds. When we increase student engagement in classrooms, it can lead to higher student achievement, better attendance, and lower school dropout rates.
Building better student-teacher relationships can be fostered by finding the right professional development opportunities, and this can begin with seeking out more ways for teachers to sharpen their own social-emotional skills. Creating more ways for teachers to practice the five core SEL competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making, and relationship skills can not only help them manage their own emotions but also understand those of their students.
Building better student-teacher relationships can be fostered by finding the right professional development opportunities, and this can begin with seeking out more ways for teachers to sharpen their own social-emotional skills.
While there are a variety of embedded SEL programs and trainings that can help teachers build relationships with their students, it’s also important that teachers be able to collaborate with their peers on SEL strategies that are working for them—and have the time to work on building these relationships over the course of the school year. Simple things, like giving students a bit of choice in the classroom, or offering more spaces for student voice, can improve teachers’ relationships with their students and create more positive, engaging classrooms and school culture—and often, these strategies come from teachers exchanging ideas with their peers.
Offer leadership development opportunities
We’ve talked before about the importance of distributed leadership—the shared approach where decision-making is spread from one person (typically you!) to your team. Distributed leadership gives you the opportunity to elevate voices that may not always have the chance to be heard and it engages your team in collectively problem-solving for your school’s challenges and advancing your school’s priorities. As you’re considering distributing leadership, it’s important to balance the leadership qualities your teachers bring to the table with how you can best pair them with your students’ needs.
New Leaders alum Beulah McLoyd did exactly this when she was looking to create a partnership with her instructional leadership team (ILT). She knew she was surrounded by great educators, and she wanted to call on their capabilities and commitment. At the beginning of the school year, she worked with each teacher on her team to sketch out their strengths and goals. When an English teacher told her she felt inspired to go into school leadership, McLoyd thought about the expertise the teacher brought to her practice. She also thought about the standards of engagement and mastery she wanted students to meet. She decided to ask the teacher to serve as English department chair.
“With my support, she led her colleagues in setting learning goals for our students, solving problems, and evaluating growth. She gained valuable leadership experience, which informed her progress through residency and toward a principal role,” McLoyd says.
As you’re considering distributing leadership, it’s important to balance the leadership qualities your teachers bring to the table and how you can best pair them with your students’ needs.
The key to meaningful PD: Give it time
Change doesn’t happen overnight, and this is especially true of professional development programs. This is why job-embedded teacher professional development and the mechanisms for review and accountability are so important—when teachers see the impact of their professional growth on their students, they’re more eager to continue to refine their practices long-term. When they see the impact for themselves, they feel more valued. And that value means the whole school community benefits too.