By Ellen Eisenberg

By Ellen Eisenberg, Executive Director of The Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In my previous blog, I wrote about administrators and teachers participating in the same professional development sessions. Since that time, I’ve had several conversations (about 12) with teachers, coaches, and administrators asking them their views about sharing their learnings while attending the same sessions.

The views expressed were very interesting. Out of 5 administrators, 4 indicated that they were more comfortable learning about what was shared after the sessions rather than learning with their coaches or teachers at the same sessions. They felt that their presence might hinder the learning because the teachers or coaches might not ask important questions for fear of appearing needy or unqualified for their jobs. One administrator was shocked that I asked her the question. She felt it was very important to show her staff the importance she placed on a shared vision for continuous learning.

Of the 7 teachers/coaches to whom I posed the question, 2 were also uncomfortable with having their administrators present during the same professional development session. They felt that their administrators might think less of their performance if they asked questions. However, these same two teachers were comfortable if their school administrators were present during a session where information was shared by their district administrators because those sessions were more “information dumping” sessions than sessions that required some “product.” Also interesting was that these two teachers would have no qualms if administrators other than their own attended the same professional development sessions as they did.

The 5 remaining teachers/coaches shared a much more collaborative approach to joint participation. They felt that their administrators would want to share in their learning and they would welcome their participation. They thought that was one way to ensure that they were all on the same page and the expectations from those sessions were heard by all. Only one of the 5 teachers said that he could see both sides of the issue and felt that the decision about sharing the learning should be determined by the content, e.g., talking about something specifically addressing school climate should be a joint session but that talking about effective lesson design should be targeted to teachers only to remove the feeling of any potential inadequacy. 

What are the advantages or disadvantages of teachers and administrators attending the same professional development sessions?
Peter DeWitt’s opinion about why administrators and teachers don’t (or won’t) attend the same professional development sessions (Education Week blog May 5) really hit home. So many times, it feels like the professional development is provided because the staff “needs” it but those that lead do not. That is, the leaders can tell us what to do because we need it but not engage in the learning with us because that might be “beneath” their status in schools. After all, isn’t a leader supposed to know everything there is about teaching and learning? How can a leader work side-by-side with teachers and admit that the information shared is either new or not easily understood?

That’s funny… I always thought that learning next to my neighbor was a very effective way to ensure that we all heard the same message and that the ensuing conversations about what we heard and how we would use it was the real learning. I never thought that professional development was “leveled” according to the job title that was held. If so, collaboration and engaging in professional dialogue would definitely be out of the question!

One of the critical attributes of effective school environments is that administrators support the notion of ongoing learning and continual improvement. This cannot happen if the administrators do not think attending the professional development and learning with the staff are important. Or, that professional development is important enough to ensure that all teachers have the opportunity to learn and practice together. It’s all about the partnerships and the effectiveness of team learning, team work, and team conversations.

How do the administrators in your school promote and practice the notion that all staff, including themselves, have ample opportunities to learn together?