Principal Professional Development:
Goals, Processes, Content & Design
The recognition that effective school reform rests in large part on sound principal professional development is not new. Most states legislated new continuing education requirements for principals following the publication of A Nation At Risk. Many states funded academies to provide the required training. A decade of inspired effort to reform the quality of administrator professional development has made some inroads. What is needed is to acquaint all potential users with the knowledge of both substantive content and instructional design principles for effective administrator development and to galvanize the professional obligation and political will to act on it.
Goals of Principal Professional Development:
- The focus and rationale for all professional development must be with some essential question concerning problems of practice, specifically related to teaching and learning. The goal of all professional development must be in effective action that addresses significant problems related to teacher effectiveness and student learning and must aim to reduce the discrepancies between the school and district's goals for student learning and their actual achievement.
- The sources of "authentic problems" that are to be addressed through professional development are to be found in data about students, school, district and in the vision of student achievement and effective schools contained in the district's strategic improvement plan.
- Professional development must engage participants in an examination of their own practice with the aim of defining for themselves a vision of what it means to be a principal of a high performance learning community and how they can contribute to the organization's processes of continuous improvement.
- A central feature of professional development for principals must be to involve participants in developing in-depth understanding of the essential features of the high performance learning community and the values and beliefs that inspire them.
- The content of professional development should be shaped explicitly by the kinds of competencies that constitute effective action by the principal in support of learning for all students, and by the dispositions, knowledge and skills these competencies call for.
- Programs of professional development, whether undertaken by the individual, school, or district, should be based in the framework of an overall district professional development plan.
Processes of Principal Professional Development:
Effective principal professional development programs should be constructed from a mix of processes such as:
- Self-managed growth.
- Professional development plan.
- Collaborative learning.
- Community conversations around "essential questions."
- Principal institutes.
- Portfolio development.
- District professional development.
- Tailored and packaged external programs
Content of Principal Professional Development:
Professional development experiences for principals should be constructed with the following kinds of content in mind:
- Effective school leadership.
- Levels of knowledge: activating personal knowledge; building shared understanding; linking individual and group aims; and broadening participants' perspectives using research-based information.
- Continuum of personal and collective experience.
- Structured and organic professional development experiences.
- Multiple sources of data (administrator, school, district) linking professional development with authentic problems.
- Examination of fundamental beliefs and assumptions.
Design Criteria for Planning School and District Professional Development Programs for Principals:
Professional development should:
- Be grounded in principles of effective staff development.
- Be tailored to the administrator's learning and competency profile developed through a range of formal and informal assessments by self and others and be reflected in an individual development plan.
- Draw upon all resources that can be used to supplement local funding.
- Provide participants with opportunities to learn alone, in small groups, and in larger organizational settings.
- Cover all four levels of knowledge in learning communities.
- Draw upon the skills and competencies of effective school leadership.
- Be designed as an integral part of a larger, coherent plan tied to the school and district's goals and improvement plans.
- Identify measurable goals and objectives (changes in behavior) of development.
- Provide an ongoing, continuing spectrum of development throughout the administrator's career.
- Be built around the school and district's responses to the following "design questions":
- What are the readiness levels of the different administrators and how can resources and development opportunities be best targeted to the most open and most reluctant learners?
- Given the district's strategic improvement plan and staff development plan for principals, what is the best balance between packaged, generic instruction and programs, or self-developed and directed experiences?
- What is the appropriate training unit for the given situation and activity: the individual, the school team, the external collective?
- What is the appropriate community for the development of the particular capacities in question?
- What problems and skills are the appropriate focus?
- How can the routine processes and structures of the school and district be exploited as opportunities for professional development?
The dramatic new ways of understanding student learning, instruction and assessment, and school management and professional community call for equally dramatic changes in the competencies of school principals. The work of education is hard. The job of the principal is no exception. Acquiring and mastering the requisite skills of school management and leadership, especially in the context of contemporary pressures and expectations upon schools, is a supremely challenging and difficult task. The challenge for school authorities is to make the task doable, in part through rigorous and worthwhile programs of professional development.
Excerpted from Professional Development of School Principals for Leadership of High Performance Learning Communities by Hunter Moorman. This is the preliminary report of the Danforth Foundation Task Force on Leadership of High Performance Learning Communities and is dated September 20, 1997.