For most school staff, May is the busiest month of the year. In the midst of the last-mnute dash to complete curriculums, administer exams, update grade books, and complete report cards, few teachers have time for time for -- or an interest in -- attending professional development sessions. Don't fight it. Instead, use this precious "down time" to review, renew, and redo. Included: Tips for self-assessment and planning.
Many teachers eagerly count down the last few weeks before the school year ends. For K-12 staff developers, however, summer "vacation" often means workshops to be led, training materials to be written, and meetings to be attended. Although such a schedule allows staff development to occur when teachers can take advantage of it best, it permits little "down time" for teacher trainers. Staff developers, therefore, need to be intentional about taking time in April and May to review, renew, and redo their strategies and resources.
Few teachers and administrators are interested in new training when they're wrapping up the "old" school year, so the last few weeks of school offer a perfect opportunity to evaluate your own efforts during the past year:
- Start at the top. Review your school or district's major professional development goals. Were your training objectives related to school improvement plans, reform models, new initiatives or curricular emphases? Look at each goal and ask yourself
- How did we as staff developers address the needs specified by administrators or teachers for this goal?
- What worked and what didn't work? Why?
- If we had to replicate our training, what would we change? Why?
- Get feedback from your "clients:" the administrators, teachers, non-teaching staff, yes, even the students you've trained.
- Consider whether you're meeting the needs of all school or district employees. We tend to make teachers' needs a priority, but we also need to make sure that administrators, clerical staff, counselors, custodians, and others have the skills they need to succeed.
- Assess yourself.
- If you collected data before and after each training session, now is the time to evaluate it.
- If you haven't collected any data, now is not the time to distribute surveys or other evaluation tools to teachers. At this time of year, few have time to do anything more than close out grade books and complete report cards. If you have to evaluate the results of your training now, write down the standards you've followed and discuss with staff members how you've met or failed to meet each of those standards.
- Explore other standards. Check out the National Staff Development Council's Standards for Staff Development or the standards available for download from Alabama's Best Practices Center, for example.
- Spend a day out of school with other staff developers. A different environment can provide a fresh perspective and inspire creativity. Be sure to
- involve all members of your staff development team, especially if team members usually work in different schools, different training areas, or with different segments of the staff. Often, each staff developer on a team holds pieces of the same puzzle; taking time for collaboration might provide solutions or new points of view.
- test yourselves. Take the Professional Development IQ Test from the National Staff Development Council.
Teacher trainers, like most educators seldom have enough time to do everything that needs to be done. We find ourselves, like Scarlet O'Hara, too often saying, "I'll think about that tomorrow." Well, now is the time to do a few of those things you've been putting off 'til "tomorrow." Can't decide which to tackle first? Here are some ideas:
- You know that stack of magazines, journals, newsletters, and so on that have been collecting dust in the corner of your office? Spend 30 minutes each morning reading through the materials and marking any articles of interest. Immediately copy relevant articles and organize articles on similar topics into folders. Then, when the busy school year hits, you'll be able to draw from instantly available reference materials instead of having to dig through mountains of papers to find that article you think you read not too long ago. Check out Read Your Way to Success: How to Choose and Use Articles for Presentation for more ideas on collecting, organizing, and using print materials.
- Make a school visit. Have you heard that a local school is doing amazing things with staff training? Are a nearby district's staff developers known for their enthusiasm, professionalism, and preparedness? Make time to visit those exceptional schools to find out how you can emulate their success.
- If you can't travel to another school, read about one. See The Transformation at Taft School for an excellent overview of how one at-risk school turned around student achievement through exceptional staff development and a commitment to faculty.
- Develop yourself. Locate a conference you can attend, a class you can take, or a skill you can learn that will make you a better teacher trainer.
- Share and compare. Look at materials or training events from other schools or districts. Ask to copy training materials, staff development plans, or links to resources you think might be helpful.
- Explore new online resources. Every day, quality staff development materials are posted on the Internet. (Teacher Leaders Network is one example.) Pick three topics you know you'll need background information on during the coming year and spend time each week surfing for information and resources related to those topics.
So you've decided what worked and what didn't work last year, and you're feeling revived and revved up from your personal professional development efforts. Now, it's time to prepare for the year ahead. It's easy to evaluate your own work and be inspired by the work of others, but what's the point if those efforts don't translate into real improvements in staff development practices? Consider the following when preparing for the coming school year:
- Is there madness in your method? Are you off printing handout after handout when your teachers are looking for one-on-one help, new Web resources, or e-mail assistance? Make sure the training you deliver meets the needs of your audience.
- Is it broke? If it works, don't fix it. If it doesn't work, fix it or forget it. We often get stuck in a teacher training rut, assuming that what worked for years still works. Teachers' needs and skills change, however; district and/or school priorities shift; even your own staff's strengths differ. (For more out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new ideas, see Learning to Abandon What Doesn't Work.)
- Ready -- or not? Be prepared. No matter how many years you've been in education, August will be faster and more furious than you expect. Prepare for the new year as early as possible.
- Are you free? Clear your fall calendar. Teacher trainers often are called at the last minute to help with new hardware, software, paperwork, and more. Keep your back-to-school days free for impromptu training.
Finally, remember as you face the hectic pace of a new school year that if attitude is everything, nothing else matters. Keep a positive outlook, and approach each problem as a challenge and each request as a need you can meet. Make the next school year your best year ever!