Professional Development Isn’t Just for Teachers

Administrators need to learn how to lead schools into the future by empowering everyone in the building.

When it comes to professional development, most of us think about the tools and techniques needed to train teachers. However, professional development for administrators is just as important, if not more so. Instead of learning about the ins and outs of teaching roles, administrators would benefit from professional development focused on changing human behaviors and transforming organizational culture.

A principal’s ability to lead change is critical. That change must be modeled and championed at the principal level. An example of poor leadership that comes to mind is the principal who directs a staff meeting, then passes out printed versions of the meeting agenda and notes after the meeting is over. The move doesn’t make good, common sense to anyone involved, and it doesn’t advance anyone’s agenda.

Principals and other school leaders must understand how to create the conditions necessary for empowering teachers to take risks and to view failure as an opportunity to grow.

School districts also must ensure that a clearly articulated and unified vision for the role of technology is communicated to educators. Here are three topics that administrators should address to bridge the disconnect between themselves and teachers:

  1. Are teachers required to integrate technology during classroom observations/evaluations? Administrators usually answer no when I ask them this question. They expect to see good teaching and learning during classroom time. Teachers, on the other hand, say “Absolutely! This is a one-to-one program, and I am supposed to use technology as much as possible.”
  2. When we say “paperless classroom,” what is the actual goal? Is it to eliminate paper and save money, or to increase efficiency and communication between teachers and students? At no point was “paperless business” or “paperless hospital” a thing, and it shouldn’t be one in K–12 education, either. The benefits of a paperless classroom have nothing to do with removing paper and everything to do with efficiency and cost savings.
  3. How should a district define student engagement, and can it be observed? The type of engagement we should be striving for in education, the type that leads to deep and powerful learning, doesn’t happen simply because technology is present, and it can’t be observed either.

Have you ever walked into a classroom with an administrator while students are working on devices? Start the countdown timer until the word “engagement” comes out of one of their mouths. Then walk over and ask a student what they’ve been doing. I’m pretty sure you’re going to find out that they’ve spent the last 45 minutes looking for the perfect picture to insert into their slide deck. Engagement? Really?

There are far more important factors to consider, such as the purpose for, or nature of, the work the students are doing. For example, relevancy and authenticity will trump the presence of technology every time. We should ask ourselves, do the students have autonomy and agency of the learning that is taking place? Are they doing the work to get a grade, or because they’re intrinsically motivated by a greater cause? Furthermore, what role does technology play? Is it being used to do old things in new ways, or is it providing opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist?

Administrators have a huge role in answering all of these questions. A good place to start is with a solid professional development program that includes them.

This article is part of the "Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology" series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology
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Jul 07 2016