Shared Leadership Boosts Professional Learning
Shared leadership offers high impact, especially when the model deployed is part of a professional development initiative. A leader can create opportunities for staff learning by collaboratively making a plan, procuring funding, and carving out time in order for professional development (PD) to occur. But in order for the adult learning to make a difference for students in the classroom, multiple leaders must focus on the new learning together.
Here are a few strategies that will cultivate a culture of learning using a true shared leadership model:
Reinforce New Learning
To infuse new learning into the professional culture, all leaders must champion and intentionally reinforce it for at least three to six months. Why that time frame? It takes at least 21 days to form or change a habit, so leadership should take specific reinforcement actions to help the new learning stick. Recommended actions include:
- Engage the central office staff. Ask them to visit the school and interact with educators to help reinforce new learning. Provide them with key concepts to reinforce during their visits and staff interactions. Also update them on the progress of implementation to show how vital their reinforcement is.
- Make a team. Identify other leaders in your school, such as assistant principals, grade-level team leaders, school counselors, union or association leaders, key support staff, and specialists to help with a focused, ongoing support process as a team. Meet with this team regularly to bring the new PD learning into daily conversations. For example, ask each of them to open discussion about what they have learned before or after meetings as informal check-ins.
Having a large team focus on reinforcement will help uncover any implementation “grumbles.” The earlier in the implementation process these are discovered, the less consternation there will be.
- Acknowledge PD in action. Have the leadership team make a habit of acknowledging other staff members when they discuss, reference, and/or implement elements of the new learning.
- Engage the support staff. Many professional development initiatives overlook the support staff, and yet they often make up half of the adults on campus. Support staff have a tremendous impact on student learning and school climate; they should be included in reinforcement and follow through activities.
- Share knowledge. Create an interactive bulletin board in the lounge or office that allows staff to ask or respond to implementation questions, and publish the responses in the all-staff bulletin. You can also share ways in which others are implementing new PD concepts in the bulletin.
- Share experiences. Ask a staff member or team to present the struggles and joys they have experienced in implementing the new learning as part of staff and team meetings.
- Discuss online. Invite a staff member or team to start a chat on an online forum such as Padlet and invite others to join in the discussion by sharing posts, links, documents, videos, and photos. Ask the leadership team to chime in on the dialogue.
- Check in. Casually check in with your leadership team on a consistent basis regarding the above strategies, and celebrate how its collective focus is elevating professional dialogue and development.
Get Creative With Time
Schedules drive a lot of what can and can’t be accomplished when it comes to professional development. Embedding learning into the workday can be powerful, but schools don’t have endless amounts of money or time. You’ll have to find clever ways for the leadership team to cover classes so that an entire grade-level team can learn together.
Asking the leadership team to cover for support staff during the workday is more difficult, but you might want to investigate whether staff from the central office can help out. For hourly staff, explore flexible schedules with human resources; they might be able to leave early one or two days during the week so they can stay late for PD on another day. Or perhaps you can arrange to pay support staff to attend after-hours PD.
Optional learning opportunities expand the culture of learning rapidly. A coffeetime book club, a lunch-and learn session, or an optional afterschool meeting are all effective ways to introduce new learning opportunities. Staff members can also lead these activities, sharing in leadership. Again, reinforce learning through communications, action planning, and participation.
Ask for Feedback
A sure way to engage staff in a schoolwide focus on new PD learning is to invite everyone to participate in 10-minute debriefings throughout initial implementation. Ask participants to discuss what’s working, what isn’t working yet, and what can be done to mitigate the bumps in the process. This demonstrates that the leaders of the PD are learners, too, and prioritizes collective learning through transparency. If meetings aren’t practical, ask staff to complete short surveys.
It can be emotionally challenging for the leadership team to ask staff for feedback, especially after a significant investment in PD. But once leaders start the process, staff members will raise key points about implementation. That will pave the way to deeper understanding and improve long-term implementation of new skills. Be sure to share what was discussed or learned and what actions might or might not be taken as a result of the feedback garnered in debriefs or surveys.
Cultivating a culture of learning requires a diverse leadership team to engage others inside and outside schools to consistently and intentionally follow through on new learning. Members think of creative ways to schedule professional learning for all staff members, invite everyone who interacts with staff to join in the process, and provide multiple opportunities for staff to provide open and honest feedback. Together, a leadership team can elevate professional learning by diving into details that no single leader could accomplish on their own.
Amy N. Spangler is an independent educational consultant and a former principal.