Best Practices in Professional Learning: Admin as Building Tech Leaders

A New Generation

I heard this week that the PEW Research Center identified a generational shift for those born after 1996. They are now known as the post-millennial generation while awaiting an official name, (Dimok, 2018). It is interesting that the movement of education mirrors life and society. Just as we have moved into a new name for the latest generation of young people in America, the United States in December, 2015, moved from No Child Left Behind to a new revitalization of the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965, called Every Student Succeeds Act. From what I understand about ESSA so far, I see that there is a shift from accountability in NCLB to thinking about the child as a complete learner, and beginning to re-think the parameters used to measure schools and including growth as a valuable indicator of progress, (ESSA Implementation, 2018). I found this video helpful to get an overview of where the state of Washington is going during the rest of the 2017-2018 school year.

For this module, we started off with a guiding question. What role should administrators play in professional learning programs and how do we advocate for their involvement and adequate professional learning support for technology-based learning initiatives? I decided to ask a question that would allow me to reflect on my own experiences. I’m thinking about an entire school community and how a principal can shape that community. So I’m wondering; How can administrators work under district constraints and plan and advocate for PD that is best for their schools? What happens when administrators are involved in learning?  This idea is related to what I have been investigating for some of this quarter and in previous quarters. I have been thinking about administrators,what a collaborative staff and school looks like and how an administrator can craft and support that environment. It is not directly related to technology professional development, but I am going to try to weave it into my post in a meaningful way. I do want to consider and keep in mind that I am not an administrator, however, I have been fortunate to work with some very dedicated and effective administrators and I would like to talk about some of what I have seen in their work.

The Changing Role of Administrators

As I read about how an administrator supports their staff. I found some ideas that I had maybe been familiar with but hadn’t yet read about in literature. These ideas certainly relate to some of the work I have seen my past administrators engage in and they help me to see the shift that has happened since before 2008. The book Creation of a Professional Learning Community for School Leaders: Insights on the Change Process from the Lens of the School Leader, shares that previously administrators were managers. One administrator from New York put it this way:

Before, you ran your school, you carried your budget, you hardly ever saw anyone. Now, suddenly it’s different thinking, a different conversation. We are all learners. We are all to be involved in learning. It is not just about being an administrator, it’s about being instructional leaders, (Humada-Ludeke, 2013).

That quote captures the essential shift in my opinion and in my findings,

for administrators, “it’s about being instructional leaders,” (Humada-Ludeke, 2013).

Being an instructional leader must take a lot of hard work and focused planning. I know administrators have an insane amount of work to do with evaluations, student behavior, school management, parent and family relations, staff dynamics not to mention guiding the learning of an entire school. So know this is not a simple shift but I think it is probably one of the most important things an administrator can do well.

Another idea that I want to highlight is collaborative leadership. It reminds me of distributed leadership from my module 2 post. The Office of Educational Technology NETP Leadership section uses collaborative leadership to describe how leaders support learning, gather input from diverse stakeholders, communicate clear learning goals, and create a culture of trust and collaboration, (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). I have no doubt that collaborative leadership leads to an increase in buy-in which I will discuss again later in this post.

What Might an Engaged Administrator Do?

An engaged administrator keeps those tenets as a central part of their practice in a school. One of my previous administrators seemed to have this kind of laser focus. She knew that collaboration among staff was of the utmost importance. She kept coming back to a system that built collaboration, the grade level PLC. The leadership team remained focus on this goal of building a PLC that was focused on data in spite of the other mandates that came from the district level. That helped my team and our school to build a culture of collaboration. She also talked with us regularly about life which helped build a strong community among the staff.

Finally, one more way administrators can show they are engaged that is more directly related to my question and this module is to be a part of encouraging technology best practices through PD. I think an administrator could do some of this work on their own. Instead I think administrators can highlight and encourage staff members to share technology best practices that they are seeing in their time in classrooms. Another way to integrate technology into professional development is to learn to use a tool from staff members before demonstrating using it in PD or asking a staff member to demonstrate their work. My past principal was masterful in that way, she was always sharing best practices through technology by either learning herself or encouraging other teachers to demonstrate. Being closely involved with the PD happening in schools and best practices should lead administrators to engaging in best practices of technology integration.

Getting Started with Tech Integration in PD

So what might an administrator do if they don’t feel a strong urge to engage with technology? The first idea is to set up a team. In his article about helping administrators become technology leaders Morrison (2006), suggests an administrator establish a team of teachers from all grade levels interested in technology best practices and integration. I think having those teachers be a part of the building leadership team is a great way to ensure there is a voice advocating for technology in PD and instruction. Another way for administrators to get another perspective would be to stop by some PLC meetings. Administrators could spend PD planning time investigating the best practice of instruction with technology. As I found in my last post, about Local PLCs and Global PLNs, Twitter chats are a great way to participate in a discussion where you can learn a lot from educators locally and globally. Sometimes a little exploration goes a long way in fueling interest. If the focus is on the best professional development for your staff, planning and delivering the best professional development you are able, technology integration can naturally fit into that process.

Final Thoughts

Vancouver Public Schools has started to follow an interesting model of professional development and technology integration. They started with providing focused professional development for administrators. It might be something for other districts to consider to get all staff and buildings onto the same page. This model would allow administrators to use coaching support and would increase understanding of how instructional technology coaches can support them and their staff.

 

Building a community of learners is key in the classroom and it is also very important in a staff. To do that administrators really do need to be instructional leaders. However, just because they are instructional leaders doesn’t mean they can’t have help from others. There are supports they can put in place as I’ve described above that would help administrators advocate for their buildings through professional learning. In addition to the above ideas, I think Lewis (2015), offers great advice to administrators on how to engage and understand the needs of their teachers:

  • Offer teachers choice

Personalizing the learning gives teachers that choice and will likely increase buy-in.

  • Observe in order to differentiate

Decide what your staff needs to meet their needs. Once again meeting their individualized needs will lead to an increase in buy-in.

  • Be clear and transparent about why something can’t be done

Share the wider lense with staff when they suggest ideas that won’t work right now. Let teachers know where the district is going and where there suggestions would fit in. Also don’t forget about their suggestion. Keeping those ideas in some kind of shared document that staff can view just to keep the conversation going would let them know you are coming back to their ideas.

I think that as the culture in the school changes maybe looking out to other schools or groups of teachers around a school district for professional learning might be possible and become more common. Bishop, Lumpe, Henrikson & Crane (2016) indeed found that as one of the side effects of the transformation of professional learning in section 3.4. They also found a general positive perception of professional learning which would be a significant outcome in most buildings.

I’m still left wondering about some common questions that I wasn’t able to answer in this post.

      1. What is the best way to prepare new staff members for the team and collaborative culture? How can they be welcomed in a meaningful way?
      2. What does district wide implementation of professional development add or take away from this model?

To close, I should clarify that once again I’m an observer. I think I’ve worked with and seen effective principals and I’ve tried to share what I’ve noticed that they did. Also much of the literature I’ve come across supports a gradual shift. Ultimately an administrator has to work to make learning relevant for their staff and that is no small commitment. If they do I believe that they would notice a change in engagement, teaching and learning.

Resources

Bishop, D, Lumpe, A., Henrikson, R, & Crane, C. (2016). Transforming Professional Learning in Washington State – Project Evaluation Report. Seattle Pacific University: Seattle, WA. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from http://www.k12.wa.us/CurriculumInstruct/WA-TPL/pubdocs/2016-WA-TPL-Evaluation-Report.pdf

Dimock, M. (2018, March 1). Defining generations: Where Millennials end and post-Millennials begin. Retrieved March 5, 2018, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/01/defining-generations-where-millennials-end-and-post-millennials-begin/

Every Student Succeeds Act Implementation. (February 28, 2018). Retrieved March 5, 2018, from http://www.k12.wa.us/esea/essa/default.aspx

Humada-Ludeke, A. (2013). Creation of a Professional Learning Community for School Leaders: Insights on the Change Process from the Lens of the School Leader. Rotterdam, NETHERLANDS: Sense Publishers. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/spu/detail.action?docID=3034878

Lewis, V. (2015, October 25). Why Most Professional Development Stinks—and How You Can Make It Better – EdSurge News. Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-10-25-why-most-professional-development-stinks-and-how-you-can-make-it-better

Morrision, B. (2006, October 31). 6 Strategies to Help Principals Become Technology Leaders. Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2006/10/6-strategies-help-principals-become-technology-leaders  

Office of Educational Technology. (2016, April 26). Sustaining a Culture of Learning for Educators. Retrieved March 5, 2018, from https://medium.com/@OfficeofEdTech/sustaining-a-culture-of-learning-for-educators-93363c2ecbea

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education: 2017 National Education Technology Plan Update, Washington, D.C., 2017. Retrieved from https://tech.ed.gov/netp/ 

One thought on “Best Practices in Professional Learning: Admin as Building Tech Leaders”

  1. I really like your intentional focus on administrators taking on roles as instructional leaders. The vision of administrators and their roles in schools should also be made apparent to staff. For example, looking at our staffing budget for next year, we learned we will be getting another administrator and there is a need for a counselor or behaviour specialist. Our principal addressed questions regarding the admin’s role and said discipline should not be the focus of an administrator. So here lies the opportunity for instructional leadership and opportunities to support professional growth of staff while being actively engaged throughout the building rather than just in the office. So much of this lies at the district level for also promoting and recognizing schools that have effective leadership and value teacher input.

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