Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Improving Professional Development

It is that time of year again. Getting ready for a new school year means inservice days and professional development. My experience as a teacher was that my district would bring in presenters at the beginning of the year or each semester and that might be the only PD we got all year. Or they would provide PD throughout the year, but the topics would be so disjointed that they did not make a great deal of sense. Here is a little graphic for improving your Professional Development

1. Needs Assessment - Don't provide Professional Development for PD's sake. Look at all of the data you can get your hands on and look at where your strengths and weaknesses lie. If the teachers have great relationships with students, don't bring in a speaker about building relationships. If your math scores are amazing, don't concentrate your PD time and money on improving math scores. Look for areas that your schools are not performing as well as you hoped. What is the age of the staff? What years of experience do they have? What are test scores like? Are there changes the staff needs to prepare for? Do they need to use more technology? Make this assessment as broad as possible and don't forget to include surveys to your stakeholders: staff, students, parents, administrators, etc.

2. Find a focus & create a plan - Based on what you see in the needs assessment, decide on what to concentrate on for the year. If one big weakness sticks out, then put all of your efforts into improving in that area. When several weaknesses show up you should prioritize them based on the mission and goals of your district. It is better to focus on 1-3 areas to improve upon instead of trying to improve in many areas at once.

As you create your plan for Professional Development you need to consider not just bringing in a presenter before school starts, but also include book studies, follow-up sessions, weekly newsletters, faculty meetings, and other smaller opportunities throughout the year to address the need. Concentrate all your efforts on that one goal throughout the year.

3. Implement the plan - Once you have your plan created then put it into action. Set expectations and hold folks accountable. The only way to make change is to follow the plan. It is no different from teaching students. Communicate the objectives, expectations and get all stakeholders on board for improving the weaknesses in your schools.

4. Follow up & feedback - There is a poem by Robert Burns which contains the line "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." This quote is the basis of the brilliant John Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men (my favorite novel from English III). Take this quote to heart. Regardless of how well you plan and execute your PD, sometimes it does not work. Be willing to change course midstream and tweak the plan if the original one is not working. If your goal is to see improvement in some facet of your schools and the original plan is not working, don't stick with that plan. Make changes based on whatever new information you have gathered. Look at progress on a 6-9 week basis. Look at benchmarks or other often collected data. Make needed shifts in thinking to help redirect the district to the desired outcome.

5. Assess Outcomes - Did you affect change? At the end of the year, can you see improvement in the area(s) you chose as your focus?  Maybe you didn't see as much change as you would like so you need to continue to focus on this weakness for another year. Possibly you see the change you want and you can move on to another area. Always check to see how effective the implementation of the plan was so you can use that information for planning the following year even if you focus on a new topic.

This is a simple flow chart that works in many situations. Teacher use it for their classroom objectives. Librarians use it for improving their library services. Districts should use it for improving their professional development to get the best outcomes possible.

Welcome back and have a happy 2013-14 school year!