3 Reasons Why Your Professional Development Plans Are Falling Short

professional development

By Mike Reading

There are three reasons why your professional development (PD) plans are falling short of your expectations:

  1. Your vision is not clear.
  2. You have not understood your culture.
  3. You have provided just-in-case not just-in-time training.

I am yet to come across a school where the leadership team is 100 percent happy with its PD outcomes. Often, a principal will say something to the effect, “We have pockets of excellence, and then some teachers who just get on with it, while others are actively resisting the change we are making.”

When we break down that statement, we discover that the real issue is not the difference in rates of adoption or levels of competency; after all, every teacher knows that you cannot have a cohort who all achieve the same result. The issue is that the staff as a whole are not moving towards a common goal.

Imagine for a minute that your vision as a school is to climb Mount Everest. You work hard to develop your skills and fitness, you undertake research, develop a strategy, hire a guide. The time comes to set off to make your vision a reality. Of the 50 staff, three decide to stay behind and 10 find Nepal such an interesting place that they decide to stay there and develop their understanding of the culture.

That is okay though, the majority are still with you. You head off for base camp and get set up. During the night, 12 teachers have a meeting to discuss logistics and realise that they are out of their depth and would prefer to stay in their comfort zone. They will start off next week when they have had time to adjust to all the changes.

Now of the 50, 25 are still with you – not bad on average. You set off up the hill. The journey is amazing and you reach the campsite and rest for the next day. Day breaks and nine staff are struck down with altitude sickness. They have gone as far as they can.

What do you do? Do you forge ahead or all retreat to base camp and try again? You decide to forge ahead. Over the next week, numbers continue to decline, with only three people reaching the summit. As a leader, are you happy with that outcome? What is more important, that everyone reaches the summit or that somebody does?

Most leaders would say that the group reaching the goal (or at least progressing towards the goal) is more important than a select few making it. After all, as John Maxwell says, “If you think you are a leader and no one is following you, you’re simply taking a walk.”

If your desire is to ensure that there is a sense that everyone is progressing together, your PD plans must have these three essential elements.

Firstly, you must have a clear vision that is understood by all staff.
Of the three, this is the most important. Again, I am yet to find a school that has a clearly defined vision that the staff can articulate. When we survey staff and leadership as part of our eReadyTM Certified School Program, we commonly find one of the following two scenarios:

1. The school has a well-documented vision, but it is several pages long and impossible to articulate. If your vison cannot be written in one or two sentences, it is too long. More detail does not necessarily equate to a greater understanding. In fact, the opposite can be true. When considering this, it is important to understand that the vision should not contain any contextual information or anything regarding the strategy.

2. The vision is too generic. If your vision is too broad, energy is dissipated and your staff will be developed in different directions. It is not that these directions are wrong, they may even be required, it is that they are misaligned with your overall vision.

When developing your vision, you must always consider the question, “How will we measure this?” If you cannot measure your progress, it is not specific enough.

Once you have a clearly articulated vision, your school is then able to develop a set of goals and strategies that will enable you to realise your vision. It is not until you have been through this process that you can begin to organise your staff development. For example, you want to organise some Google training for your staff. You can show people how to create a document and share that document. Heck, you can even get really funky and show how to do fun stuff like embed drawings that can be moved around in a sorting activity. But if your vision as a school is to make learning visible, how has this PD helped move you towards that goal?

Secondly, you need to understand your culture.
Culture can be defined as that is just what we do around here. It is the WE in that statement that is so important. If you want your staff to progress towards a common goal, you need all staff to be involved, even if it is to a varying degree.

You know you have a culture developed when you act without thinking. It is just what we do. The trick is to have a culture that supports your vision rather than works against it.

Culture does not develop overnight; in fact, it takes three to five years to develop a strong culture in your school. So, for you to have a culture that supports your vision, you need to be working now so that you will be ready for the change you desire in five years.

This is particularly important for schools looking to implement the digital technologies curriculum. This curriculum will demand more of schools than assigning the role to a key staff member and buying a few resources. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and digital technologies require a whole new way of thinking and teaching. Your school needs to be developing a supportive culture now to be ready for a 2020 implementation.

Lastly, you need to provide just-in-time training.
The least effective form of PD is to gather your teachers into one room and throw as much at them as you can in that day so they have all the information they need. This type of session is very common when providing technology training. We call it just-in-case training, because we demonstrate lots of tools and tips, just in case it is of interest or useful. Unfortunately, the education system we work within often demands that we operate this way, so how do we make our staff development days more effective? Hint: initially, it is not to provide lots of electives.

Your staff development days should be used to develop a fundamental understanding and common workflows. These days are great for developing the WE. Again, the focus is not to provide a lot of information, rather just what is needed to take your next step – together.

Only once you have established a strong foundation where everyone is on the same page and has a similar workflow should you branch out and develop specialisations through electives. Just to be clear, these electives should not be interest-based, but rather provide the information that a teacher needs right now to develop the next level of confidence and competence needed to help them reach the vision.

Everest is in front of you. It is not a race, but you do need to take the next step – together.  What will it be? Develop your vision, unpack your culture, or ensure you have a strong foundation of practice and thinking across all staff?

Mike Reading is the Director and Lead Trainer at Using Technology Better, Australia and New Zealand’s only Google, Microsoft and Apple Professional Development partner company. For more information about the services and support, visit usingtechnologybetter.com or send them an email at support@usingtechnologybetter.com


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