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Professional Growth

5 Critical Steps to Providing Meaningful Professional Development

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Guest post by Jennifer Wise, Instructional Services Specialist and Title III Coordinator, Lexington School District Two

As educators seek to refine practices and improve student achievement, it is important for educational leaders to provide access to high-quality professional development that offers a timely response to needs. Whether that professional development addresses the unique needs presented by the COVID-19 pandemic or broader trends developing in education, each learning opportunity demands thoughtful consideration to ensure it is the most appropriate option to support teacher growth.

Leaders should analyze situations, collaborate with key stakeholders, and evaluate anticipated results. Just as it is crucial for teachers in the classroom to engage in self-reflective practice, it is also important for those who organize professional development. The key question to answer: do the offerings provided truly meet the needs of teachers and staff?

Below are five vital steps our team takes to ensure professional development meets the needs of our entire school community: teachers, staff, and students alike.

1. Brainstorm

When our team begins to plan for upcoming professional development opportunities, we always begin with a brainstorming session. No one person holds the key. Instead, we bring in building- and district-level administrators and instructional leaders. It is important to have representation at varied levels from those serving in both administrative and content roles. During our time together, we speak honestly about our needs and work to narrow our focus, recognizing that having too broad of a target can result in a lack of depth. Our goal is to strengthen student performance through instructional change, and that requires intentionality.

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2. Set Goals

Once we have determined the focus of our time, we begin to discuss desired outcomes. We ask ourselves, “What actionable change can we expect to see? And what is the timeline for realizing that change?”. We want to ensure we do not overwhelm our teachers, while ensuring we do act with the sense of urgency increased student learning deserves.

These initial planning sessions generally take upward of three hours, but everyone agrees the time is very well spent. As a leadership team, we ensure we have a common vision and that we are each able to effectively communicate that vision to others.

3. Map out logistics

When we reach the point where our focus and desired outcomes are established, we begin to discuss the logistics. We deliberate on the questions of when, how, and by whom. These questions demand much more attention than simply comparing agendas. We want to ensure the opportunities we provide are offered at the most appropriate time and that the time allocated allows educators to truly engage with the content while not being so lengthy that it results in a loss of focus.

Another question we consider is how and/or where to hold our sessions. This year, most of our offerings have taken place virtually. We have become masters of virtual platforms, implementing features that have truly revolutionized what we can offer. At other points in time, we have considered which building(s) will provide the greatest support. Should we have teams meet by schools, have two schools paired, have all grade levels together? All of these are options we have considered and successfully implemented. The key is knowing which is best for the given time and topic.

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4. Identify presenters

Similarly, we consider who will present the information. We have partnered with organizations who specialize in targeted areas; however, with a desire to build internal capacity, we do aim to provide offerings internally as often as possible. We recognize this can serve as a valuable experience in professional growth for both the facilitators and the participants. Administrators, coaches, and teachers each serve in facilitator roles at various times. We learn and grow together all with the goal of improving educational opportunities for the students in our care.

5. Debrief

Lastly, and so importantly, we debrief on the offerings provided. After each major professional development activity, we bring our stakeholder groups back together for feedback. What worked well? Where could we improve? Everything is an exercise in growth. We must put pride aside and realize we can and will continue to improve the practices of all involved if we are willing — and we are. We often encourage our students to be lifelong learners. Through professional development and reflective practice, we are living that out every day, and I am thankful for the opportunity.