Designing Professional Development/Leadership
School leaders and Professional Development
Importance of Leadership
Donaldson stated that a school leader should mobilize “people to adapt their practices and beliefs so that every child’s learning and growth are optimized (2006, p. 6).” Researchers found that effective leaders encourage their staff members to think, believe, and behave in ways that fulfill the needs of the entire organization, not just the needs of the individual. (Fullan, 2000; Donaldson, 2006) A school leader will help his school adapt to its ever-changing function within society (Donaldson, 2006). Leadership is acknowledged as one of the most important influences on a school’s ability to improve teaching practices (Anderson & Dexter, 2005) and school capacity (Youngs & King, 2002). In order to effect change and improve both teacher performance and student achievement, school administrators must understand every facet of their role as an institutional leader.
The role of leaders in a school
School administrators have five facets to their role as leader. According to the ISTE (2009), the National Educational Technology Standards for Administrators (NETS-A) states that administrators primary role should be to provide “visionary leadership.” Principals should inspire teachers, students, and the stakeholders within the community with a shared vision of meaningful change (ISTE, 2009). ISTE (2009) further states that school leaders should lead the development and implementation of this shared vision and advocate on local, state, and national levels for funding to support the implementation of the vision. According to NETS-A (ISTE, 2009), an administrator’s second role includes creating, promoting, and sustaining “a dynamic, digital-age learning culture that provides a rigorous, relevant, and engaging education for all students.” NETS-A third role (ISTE, 2009) for administrators is to promote an environment in which professional learning and innovation are encouraged and rewarded. Students should be learning through lessons infused with instructional technologies. NETS-A (ISTE, 2009) fourth role states that school leaders should be responsible for systemic improvement. In this role, the administrator would recruit and retain highly competent teachers, collect and analyze data to improve instruction and learning, and maintain a robust infrastructure for technology (ISTE, 2009). NETS-A (ISTE, 2009) final role requires administrators to provide equitable access to technology for all learners and establish safe and legal use of digital information and technology.
The effects of leadership and professional development on school capacity
A school’s capacity for learning is determined by several factors. One factors that affects school capacity is teacher competence (Youngs & King, 2002). Teachers should have a deep understanding of their content area, be able to effectively convey material to students, and promote higher-level thinking skills. According to Youngs & King, school capacity is also affected by the schoolwide professional community, which is “characterized by (a) shared goals for student learning; (b) meaningful collaboration among faculty members; (c) in-depth inquiry into assumptions, evidence, and alternative solutions to problems; and (d) opportunities for teachers to exert influence over their work (2002, p. 646).” Program coherence is another important influence on school capacity (Youngs & King, 2002). Student and staff programs should have clear learning objectives. These programs need to be properly coordinated and should be sustained over time. A fourth factor affecting school capacity is the availability of technical resources (Youngs and King, 2002). Technical resources are also required in order to sustain or improve student achievement. The authors further state the final factor influencing capacity is principal leadership.
Leadership maybe the most important factor in determining school capacity. Principals have the authority to influence every aspect of a school’s capacity for learning. Depending on the quality of leadership, an administrator could affect each of these areas either negatively or positively (Youngs & King, 2002). Principals can sustain high levels of capacity by establishing trust and employing effective professional development.
According to Youngs and King (2002) professional development should connect a school’s faculty to external expertise, as well as help the staff generate internal reform. Effective professional development will be aligned with the institution’s goals and curriculum. Teachers should have some ownership of the direction of professional development and the institution’s shared vision for the future. School leaders must insist professional development focuses on helping students achieve academic excellence. Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin (1995) found that professional development should be a knowledge sharing event. Teachers should share what they know, discuss what they want to learn, and connect new concepts and strategies to their own unique contexts (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin. 1995). School leaders can facilitate this process through four methods: (1) providing teachers with blocks of time to work and learn collaboratively; (2) developing strategies for team planning, sharing, learning, and evaluating; (3) allowing access to successful models of practice; and (4)encouraging teachers to reflect upon their practices. According to Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin (1995), administrators should focus on the two cornerstones of curriculum policy reform: the classroom should be a learner-centered environment and teachers should be viewed as being life-long learners. Administrators must realize that professional development must be flexible and meet the needs of teachers. Teachers must be at the center of the change. Principals should recongnize that structures effective for one school may not work in another school due to contextual differences. According to Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin (1995), professional development should rely on the World Wide Web for providing ongoing and multiple opportunities for debate and critical relfection.
Leadership and Technology Training
According to the Anderson and Dexter (2005), U.S school districts spent more than $6 billion dollars on educational technology in 2002-2003. This vast expenditure shows that leaders believe that technology will enhance learning and improve a teacher’s ability to prepare students for the future. However, according to Schrum (1999), many traditional models of staff development do not take into account the significant differences between technology staff development and other types of staff development. Administrators can provide more effective technology staff development by ensuring their staff has adequate exposure to training lessons, instructional software and hardware (Schrum, 1999). Schrum stated that school leaders should also make sure educators are provided assistance with reconceptualizing the ways in which they teach material. When designing technology staff development, it is important to consider learning-style differences. Schrum (1999) stated school leaders should provide authentic reasons for learning new skills. The author further stated that administrators should consider providing their staff with “just in time” training instead of “just in case” training.
Assessing the Effects of Professional development
School leaders should understand that there is no explicit formula for generating effective professional development (Guskey, 2003). As a result, school leaders should use a variety of indicators to assess the effectiveness of professional development programs. Guskey (2003) stated that administrators should gather and analyze data from report cards, standardized exams, portfolio evaluations. The author further indicated that school leaders should keep a track of behavioral indicators, such as student attitudes, homework completion rates, study habits, and the number of disciplinary violations. Effective professional development will also have an impact on school wide indicators. Some of the school wide indicators that need to be examined are attendance rates, dropout statistics, participation in extra-curricular activities, and enrollment in Advanced Placement classes (Guskey, 2003).
It is important for administrators to realize that there aren’t any simple answers to questions about the effectiveness of professional development. There are a number of factors, such as differences in communities, cultures, socio-economic status, teacher turnover, and student turnover, that affect the whether or not a program will be successful. Due to these powerful contextual influences, broad-brush policies and guidelines for best practice may never be appropriate or accurate (Guskey, 2003).
The characteristics that influence the effectiveness of professional development are clearly multiple and complex. However, school leaders can institute effective professional development by carfeully examining the contextual elements of their school and relying on research-based decision making.
- Donaldson Jr, G. A. (2006). Cultivating leadership in schools: Connecting people, purpose, and practice. (2nd ed.) Teachers College Press: Williston, VT
- Fullan, M. (2000). The jossey-bass reader on educational leadership (1st ed.) Jossey-Bass Inc Pub.
- Anderson, R. E., & Dexter, S. (2005). School technology leadership: An empirical investigation of prevalence and effect. Educational Administration Quarterly, 41(1), 49.
- Youngs, P., & King, M. B. (2002). Principal leadership for professional development to build school capacity. Educational Administration Quarterly, 38(5), 643.
- http://www.iste.org/standards/nets-for-administrators.aspx accessed November 20, 2010
- Darling-Hammond, L., & McLaughlin, M. W. (1995). Policies that support professional development in an era of reform. Phi Delta Kappan, 76(8)
- Schrum, L. (1999). Technology professional development for teachers. Educational Technology Research and Development, 47(4), 83-90.
- Guskey, T. R. (2003). Analyzing lists of the characteristics of effective professional development to promote visionary leadership. NASSP Bulletin, 87(637), 4.