We must leverage every advantage to increase student learning, especially now. And, there is an action we can take that has twice the impact on student learning compared to most routine administrative tasks. Research by John Hattie, internationally respected researcher and author of Visible Learning reveals that when superintendents and principals promote and actively participate in teacher learning and development, the impact on student learning grows well beyond a year’s growth in a year.
We sometimes assume that the learning and development in which teachers engage is only relevant to their work and role, and not worth our time and engagement. However, it happens that the message we send when we actively promote professional learning and make attendance at and participation in these activities a priority is very impactful. Teachers see the activity as a high priority and take their learning more seriously. To be clear, attendance is not “popping in” for the beginning and leaving when the activity is underway. And, participation is not engaging in unrelated activities on the phone or computer during the activity. Our full attention and authentic participation in discussion and reflection makes a big difference in whether the investment we have made for teacher growth and learning will pay off.
Promoting and attending professional development activities may seem like a small thing. Yet, it can have a huge impact on teachers and their practice. Here are some simple but powerful ways you can make sure students’ learning grows well beyond a year’s growth this year.
- Talk often about the importance of professional learning and why it matters. Emphasizing the importance of teacher learning draws attention to the activity. Reinforcing why it matters adds depth and significance to the message.
- Attend professional development sessions, participate, and take notes. Spend some time in online courses your district is offering then talk with people about what you learn. Demonstrating the importance and usefulness of learning to you presents an influential model. Discussing what you learn also adds credibility to your knowledge and learning commitment.
- Ask teachers what is helpful and what they find challenging about what they are learning. Encouraging staff to reflect on what they have learned helps them to integrate the experience. Inquiring about what they find challenging opens the door to further conversation and can offer hints to learning needs that remain unmet.
- If you are having online or virtual meetings, devote some portion of the time to timely, focused, relevant professional learning. A key insight, exposure to a crucial piece of research, or a best practice shared regularly can make a big difference over time.
- Use your observation of teachers to reinforce what they have learned and explore with them what additional learning might be useful. These can be excellent opportunities to demonstrate that you notice emerging practices and provide feedback. They can also offer insights regarding future learning needs to be met.
The COVID-19 crisis has tested our leadership in many ways, but never more than in the area of student learning. The true secret to leading in the year ahead will be finding ways to prioritize your time and attention to capture opportunities. And the opportunity before us—which is within our control—is to use our position to promote teacher learning, and as a result student learning and growth. We can do this. What’s more, we must.
For more information on professional learning resources for your teachers that incorporate the tools you need to actively participate and engage with them in discussion, we recommend two programs: