At the beginning of the year, I moved into a new school building that had already established a strong culture. As an advocate of change and moving forward, I also believe in sitting back and soaking in what strengths already exist. What I realized quickly within my new school, was strength was of an abundance and I definitely wanted to capitalize on that. Although I knew there was tremendous strength within the building it was essential that I try to align these strengths and take a more team approach to building the on this collective.
Reading through the previous school education plan along with our annual results, I used data to determine what could be areas of focus for our school. Based on areas needed for growth and school division priorities, I came up with three areas that we could work on as school to propose to staff. These were in the area of critical thinking, special needs education, and technology integration. After discussing this with staff and telling them how I came to these conclusions, I also asked them if they felt comfortable using these three. After discussion, the entire staff decided these three would be good PLUS they wanted to add citizenship and social responsibility (character education).
The basis of the plan was this; all staff would join one of the teams based on either it was their strength area or an area of interest. They were encouraged to NOT go to an area that they felt was a weakness as they might become disengaged. This was not about building upon the weakness of each staff member but instead focusing on their STRENGTH. This is a way of not only engaging people in their own learning, but giving a great chance to use their strength to help them build upon the school culture.
Once the teams were formed, staff had PD days to plan with their respective teams. This was a way for each team of experts to define the goals for the school in that area, along with the measures. A few days were allocated for discussion and preparation. After this, each team would present to the entire school on one of our professional development days. At the end of the year, teams will summarize their work and present their finding to staff.
Here are the reasons that we chose to do this professional development plan within the school:
1. Develop leadership capacity in the building. – Any great leader knows that after he/she leaves the building, that all systems will still be in place. By developing MANY leaders in these areas, there were now several people that you could go to for help, as opposed to one source of knowledge.
2. Build upon the strengths of our staff. – This is an essential practice that many leaders ignore. Instead of trying to be “good” at everything, I really want people to be GREAT at something that adds value to our school. This not only builds confidence but it also helps with engagement of staff as they are working with material that they are comfortable with.
3. Use money saved from bringing in “experts” for other PD and resources. – Instead of outsourcing “experts” for outrageous amounts of money, I quickly realized that we had many experts within our own building. Although the knowledge of one presenter can be great, I believe that the knowledge of a team of experts will outweigh it. Saving this money gave us the opportunity to invest in resources for the classroom.
4. Having experts within the building that understand the school. – When an expert comes into the building with a source of knowledge, they are missing the knowledge that is essential to the building; an understanding of your school culture and dynamics. Our staff knew exactly what was needed because they are in the school. We could definitely have a “garden variety” presenter that has great knowledge, but not the specific knowledge needed for our school.
As the year is coming to a close, I am proud to say that this has been a highly successful endeavour for our school. Staff was thoroughly engaged in not only their presentations, but also the presentations of their colleagues. It was meaningful and relevant to what they were doing in school. The comfort level to not only ask questions during presentations but throughout the year has been wonderful.
To make this work effectively, it is important that staff are involved in the process and the goals. It was important that I was able to answer why I felt certain areas were important, but I also had to be flexible to changing the plan as well based on the collective vision of the staff. The power of teams within our school has helped tremendously and I could not be happier on the success of this program within it’s first year. I look forward to building upon it with my school team next year.
Here is a pdf of the school plan if you would like to read more – Forest Green/Connections for Learning Professional Development Plan