“Professional development should be something done by teachers, not done to them.”
First, it’s about culture.
What is our company/school culture around development? When I say culture, I share Kent Peterson’s definition where “culture is the accumulation of many individuals’ values and norms. It is a consensus about what’s important. It’s the group’s expectations, not just an individual’s expectations. It’s the way everyone does business.” I got this great quote from an article on the National Staff Development Council’s website (www.nsdc.org). In it Joan Richardson takes a fascinating look at Shared Culture and it’s powerful role in school and teacher development.
So skipping back to Peterson’s definition of culture, how does the company/school I belong to COLLECTIVELY view PD? Do our people value it? I value it. I strongly believe in professional development, but I am a single individual. I am not the culture.
As I think about our teachers, and as I prepare our professional development program for 2006, this thought about culture really has me thinking. As a company, according to our mission statement and value system, we do value PD. It’s one of the things that the company says is important. I wonder where our teachers are on that one though. Applying Peterson’s definition into the question, is PD collectively important to our teaching staff?
Reflecting on last year’s PD work, I would say for the vast majority that PD is seen as important. They acknowledge that good teachers never stop learning. But I have a sneaky suspicion that for most, our “culture of Professional Development” only goes as far as an acknowledgement. Good intentioned, but skin deep.
An acknowledgement is not culture. I think it’s a step in the right direction, but not culture. Not yet. In 2006, I see a great need to foster and encourage a deeper “buy-in” to professional development by our teachers. It will be a year, I hope, of influencing and creating a culture around collaboration and professional learning.
As I think this out, and that’s exactly what I’m doing here - thinking outloud - I am reminded again and again that this is not a “clickable” thing. It won’t be instant. Richardson really hits that home when she quotes Joan Vydra, a principal in suburban Chicago.
“Shaping a culture takes time. Anything that is top-down will last only as long as the leader stays in that office. Then those ideas will evaporate and everything will go right back to the way it was.”
Love it: Sustained and Passionate professional development is culture, not RULE driven. If it’s not, it simply won’t work. It will be temporary at best, and shallow.
So, if my assesment of our teachers is right, that professional develoment is acknowledged to be important, how can we begin moving from acknowledgement to culture?
Firstly, I openly acknowledge that I’m not even pretending to be an expert on such things. But I do have some ideas, and desperatly hope for suggestions from you.
Richarson quotes Kent Peterson’s story about a principal’s strategy towards recognizing “cultural moments.”
Peterson recalled one principal who recognized that he did not intuitively know when a “cultural moment” was presenting itself. So, using a 3x5 index card, he wrote down five elements of the school culture that he wanted to improve. He stuck the card in his shirt pocket and pulled it out throughout his day as a way to remind himself of questions he could ask.
“You can find ways to encourage yourself to be more conscious of this. Eventually, it becomes internalized,” Peterson said.
I identify very well with Kent Peterson’s principal. I don’t think I’m good at noticing those key moments when you can shape or influence culture. If it’s not intuitive, the good news is that this type of awareness can be learned. That will be what I begin to really work and focus on: developing that kind of awareness and asking the right questions.
I also really liked Peterson’s second story of a principal who incorporated cultural influence into day to day activities - that perhaps on the surface didn’t look like an oppportunity to find and exploit “cultural moments.”
Peterson also recalled shadowing a principal who found ways to blend administrative tasks with opportunities to influence attitudes in his building. This principal had to provide central office with the total number of ceiling tiles in his building. Rather than assign that task to a maintenance employee, the principal assumed the job himself. The principal’s arrival in each classroom was, of course, a big event to both students and teachers. In each classroom, he asked what students were learning that day and asked to see student work–then he counted the ceiling tiles. He had taken responsibility for a mundane task because it allowed him to connect with every classroom in the building and to send a message about the importance of students’ work. (Richardson, 2001 Line 17)
Developing culture is about becoming aware of “cultural moments” but it’s also very much about being intentional around finding and/or creating them.
So, the floor is open. Any thoughts?
National Staff Development Council - www.nsdc.org
There’s a tonn of stuff here around professional development, don’t get lost!