How to simplify professional development

Professional development can be a hard process to simplify without sacrificing quality. Dr Joe Thurbon, Chief Technology Officer at Educator Impact tells The Educator how schools can have their cake and eat it too.

PD is clearly an important area for principals, but it can sometimes be complex and time-consuming. In what ways can PD be simplified?

It’s important to make sure that the right data is in the hands of the right people at the right times. When teachers collect feedback to inform their development, and when school leaders collect feedback from teachers to inform their own activity, things start to get simpler because people are more engaged. Teachers are motivated to participate because they’ve been involved from the outset. Likewise, principals are comfortable knowing that their investments have an evidentiary basis. Making it easy to collect data is a great place to start simplifying things.
E.I offers online professional development for principals. What are some of the benefits of this, as opposed to face-to-face?
It’s all about access. EI is designed to be available to schools anytime and anywhere, on their own terms and timeframes - so we become very convenient for schools to use within their broader PD framework. One unexpected benefit we have noticed has been that the less we are involved in person, the more ownership schools demonstrate in the process, driving engagement internally.
Making PD scalable can be a challenge. In what ways can this area be navigated?
Technology is a great enabler, but we’ve seen it become a real problem for principals who try to do it themselves. We’ve seen schools succeed by partnering with groups that have specialist expertise. The other big challenge at scale is to make sure staff personally tune into the PD program, and three things are key to ensure that engagement. First, ensure people see value from their effort as early as possible, because delays make people feel that their effort is wasted. Staff also feel more engaged if they’re in control of their feedback and data. Finally, staff need to be connected to their peers throughout the process.
When it comes to principals seeking better PD, are there any particular areas they tend to focus on more than others?
For many schools the focus is very much on ‘what are we going to do to improve student outcomes?’ Research has clearly shown the biggest impact on student outcomes to be teacher effectiveness, and the biggest impact on teacher effectiveness comes from feedback from students. So a common focus of many principals is ensuring that feedback is engrained in their school culture.