Administrators Need Professional Development Too

I somewhat facetiously say, “Schools with bad teachers have bad administrators.”

To generalize in such a way is obviously unfair; however, I do believe that good administrators try to improve poorly performing teachers or get rid of them. In my time I have not seen a situation where a bad teacher in my building–including an alcoholic who did not show up to work regularly while others covered for him–was put through due process and terminated.

Often I hear how bad teachers are ruining schools and education, but rarely do I hear the same rhetoric aimed at the leaders in schools. When have you heard a call from the state or federal level for “highly qualified” principals?

Professional development has been eliminated in my state for teachers, which probably hurts new teachers more than experienced ones (as one astute blogger noted), but administrators need it too.

A study published in Education Week concluded that “high student achievement is linked to ‘collective leadership.’” This type of leadership and decision-making includes educators, principals, and the public. Additionally,:

Elementary school principals demonstrated more of these instructional leadership behaviors than their peers at secondary schools, Mr. Pauly said. Secondary school principals said that they delegated instructional leadership to department chairs…

The researchers noted that the study “makes it completely plain all of these school improvement efforts have to have a focus on the leadership of the school.” With this I agree wholeheartedly. Having the greatest teachers in the district makes no difference when they aren’t allowed to teach in the way they know best. I agree with Dr. Diane Ravitch that “master teachers” should become principals, not just those climbing the ladder. But, teachers also need to help in this endeavor, too, as noted above.

Now many principals wish to do a great job–just like teachers–but may not have the knowledge or tools to do so. To illustrate this further:

Professional development for principals is fragmented, the study said. “The whole notion is, you need to have professional development as you do for teachers—it’s ongoing and it’s iterative,” Ms. Wahlstrom said. Day-long seminars are not the answer, she said. Principals are finding professional development through associations and other sources, but “the districts themselves don’t have any coordinated plans to assess where principals are and to meet their needs.”

Moreover, the study’s results revealed that “data-driven decision-making” is more of a buzzword than a practice. Effective principals “were able to use data and show teachers how to use the information” and “provide structured opportunities (collegial groups and time for data use), sessions for data-use training and assistance, access to expertise, and follow-up actions.”

I know my school often touts itself as data-driven, but in reality the departments seem to use the data with more purpose and allow that data to guide their decisions in the classroom (especially now that we have implemented the DuFours’ PLC process). I definitely get a sense that preconceived conclusions are held by leadership and then the data is interpreted to fit those conclusions. We’ve recently seen systems put into place that are debunked by numerous studies and organizations but put into place seemingly to create an appearance of change.

Personally, I feel some of this is not evil in intent or any sort of desire to do harm, but it may be that the pressure placed on districts and schools based on impossible goals and the threat of job loss for not meeting these insurmountable goals are causing change for the sake of change.

Maybe this is where the professional development and leadership by committee comes into play. If decisions were made by analyzing data collectively and continually monitoring progress and assessing effectiveness, schools would improve more rapidly and consistently. Faculty and the public would have buy-in and principals would not be alone when a schools’ efforts and effectiveness are assessed.

Of course, it may also require money that isn’t sustainable.

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2 thoughts on “Administrators Need Professional Development Too

  1. Justin Tarte

    Hey doc,

    I would agree with you. All educators need professional development (administrators included). I am currently a teacher and I had the opportunity to spend several days working with and shadowing my building administrators. I found this experience to be profound because I was able to understand what their average day was like. In turn, it gave me a better appreciation for their time and their thought process when dealing with issues. I would love to see an educational system that overlaps professional development with transparency, allowing teachers and administrators to work together toward a common goal, rather than them and us. I just started my first blog and I would appreciate any feedback or advice since you seem to be well-versed in the “blog world.”

    Justin Tarte
    http://justintarte.blogspot.com/

    Reply

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