(Originally posted at Education, Leadership and 21st Century Pedagogy.)
By Pam Gildersleeve-Hernandez
“There’s got to be a better way to do professional development of teachers than to talk down to them and bore them to death.” -Peggy McIntosh, Founder SEEDS Project
District offices have traditionally dedicated personnel resources with previous classroom experience to spearheading teacher PD and continue to be a valuable resource. With the advent of social media, however, and the creation of online Professional Learning Networks as well as Edchats via Twitter, educators have been able to engage in more personalized professional development. Teachers are becoming more empowered to take ownership of their learning and to engage in leadership that supports the professional development of colleagues in the field.
As instruction models begin to adapt to 21st Century Literacies and more online and blended courses become available to take and to teach, the teacher’s role in the professional development process is also adapting. In order to take advantage of the best of both worlds and as many resources as possible, there is wisdom in a model of PD in which teachers and management collaborate to define, plan and lead staff development meetings and trainings. This is a statement that can make some administrators nervous. As teachers, we’ve all sat in staff meetings or department meetings with colleagues who haven’t pulled their weight, focused more on complaining than collaborating or just simply weren’t engaged. These educators really make up a very small percentage of the profession, but they can take a lot of energy and focus away from the magic that can happen when teachers define, plan and lead school-wide PD.
There can be a be a feeling of security for administration is defining, leading and planning school-wide professional development. If student progress isn’t adequate at a site, the ultimate accountability falls on the principal. Keeping this in mind, the principal is charged with ensuring that there is a well trained staff implementing the agreed upon curriculum and strategies in each classroom on their campus. This level of responsibility demands that there be a high level of trust and confidence in a site’s teaching staff to allow for shared ownership of the professional development program.
Not every administrator is gifted in planning staff development or knowing how to differentiate training for different subject matters, experience, ability and interest. As a result, projects such as SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) have formed. In her foreword to the article “Peer Led Professional Development for Equity and Diversity: a report for teachers and administrators based on findings from the SEED Project,” project founder Peggy McIntosh writes“I founded the SEED Project because I believed, “There’s got to be a better way to do professional development of teachers than to talk down to them and bore them to death. I identified with the teacher who had leaned over to a colleague during a required faculty development session and said, ‘I hope I die during a professional development day. The transition will be so imperceptible.” This sentiment and the work accomplished through SEED highlight the need for increased teacher input and leadership in the professional development process.
But should the process be the sole responsibility of the teacher? As Tracey Thomas, a principal in Baltimore says in the online article “Teachers Teachers Teaching Teachers: Professional Development That Works,” “”Teacher-led professional development fosters accountability, collegiality, professionalism, and pride. Teachers feel appreciated and respected for their contributions and knowledge, and they become confident and more competent in their own teaching practice.” Nevertheless, it just wouldn’t be feasible for teachers to bear the full responsibility of designing and leading a comprehensive professional development program in addition to their classroom duties.
The site administrator continues to play a crucial leadership role in the collaborative setting of the vision for the school. In addition, the principal sets the tone and the expectations of the site and has the responsibility of being a good steward of the school’s finances. Teachers in the SEED project acknowledged the importance of the role administrative support was to their participation in the project, giving as one example, administrators participating in SEED seminars. Where a principal or administrator spends their time tells what they value.