For effective professional development at all levels of leadership, a 70-20-10 model, prioritizing on-the-job learning, followed by coaching and mentoring, with formal training bringing up the rear is the best approach, experts say.
“Formal learning has a place, but that shouldn't be the lead.” said Gina Ikemoto, founder of Education Research and Development.
At a principal training session during the 2017 National Principals Conference in Philadelphia, Ikemoto explained that job-related training consists of increasing responsibilities and providing individuals with projects which stretch outside of their normal comfort zone, which then promotes growth.
“As a person who’s going to lead your school, you have to be willing to come out of your comfort zone,” said Douglas Taylor Elementary School Principal William Truesdale in a separate presentation.
Not only that, but to ensure meaningful training sessions, as opposed to cumbersome requirements which principals may resent because of the time they’re being required to spend away from their schools, formal, job-related learning experiences need to be tied to feedback and observation.
“Our goal-setting process used to feel very [compliance-based],” said Hillsborough (FL) County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Educational Leadership and Professional Development Tricia McManus. “It’s compliance if you make it compliance, it’s meaningful if you make it meaningful.”
“We’ve had to make a huge shift in our system, and a lot of it is about this initial conversation” around doing an “assessment of your school and school needs, but also an assessment of what skills the leader needs to develop,” she said.
Training for Climate
As critical as fostering specific skills is for professional development is, building school culture is of equal importance.
The important elements of effective school culture, according to officials at the National Association of Elementary School Principals, include strong communications skills; modeling and promoting ethical behavior; thinking and acting globally and inclusively to develop an environment which is a microcosm of the world; developing results-oriented practices and processes; practicing student-centered decision-making; ensuring equity; and fostering and nurturing wellness and safety.
“We talked a lot about the hows and the whats [of leadership training] all the time, but we looked at the whys,” said Lesher Middle School Principal and the National Association of Secondary School Principals 2017 Principal of the Year Tom Dodd. “We really had to change our culture and start loving kids, having fun.”
“Culture eats structure for lunch,” Dodd said, emphasizing that an ethic of caring is greater than an ethic of justice, and adding that sometimes it’s as simple as “caring a little bit more and working a little bit harder.”
Mikel Royal, Director of Leadership Pathways and Project Director of the Principal Pipeline Initiative (PPI) for Denver Public Schools, discussed the importance of supporting the entire leadership trajectory, from teacher to teacher leader to assistant principal to principal to principal supervisor.
“We knew that we needed to distribute leadership,” she said. “The principal really needs a team to work with, and that allows others to really build up their capacity.”
“The strength of a school is in direct [relation] to adult relationships” in the school, Dodd said.