23 February 2017

Factors that impact on professional development the most are timechange and scarcity.

Changes occur on many levels, for instance, the implementation of a new curriculum; new subjects or learning areas; new knowledge areas in subjects; promotions, etc.

The shortage of qualified teachers is one of the biggest challenges to an effective education system. Existing teachers need to be developed professionally in order to assist where the greatest needs exist.

The responsibility of professional development lies on different levels, and no single level is more important than another. The responsibility begins with the individual who is then supported by all the other stakeholders. Amongst the most important stakeholders is the principal.

The role of the principal is crucial in his/her staff development. The principal determines whether professional development is taken seriously and implemented or not. Just giving permission is not enough. They must be the advocates of professional training and provide time for training, protect it from other co-curricular and/or extra-mural activities and participate in the professional development so that they are as knowledgeable as their teachers.

“Principals nationwide are called on to improve their schools and show gains in learner achievement. They often start by asking, “How can I persuade teachers to be enthusiastic about this improvement initiative?” or “What can I say to overcome the reluctance of resisters?” The principal’s challenge, however, is not persuading staff of the benefits of an initiative, but helping them experience those benefits. Principals must create situations that lead people to act, helping them do rather than talk about doing… Once teachers are familiar with, and practicing the changes, support will follow. Commitment follows competence” Burnette, (2002).

For principals to be effective leaders in the teacher development of their schools, they need to know the strengths and weaknesses of their staff and then invest in their growth and development.

Training needs should be determined by the learning outcomes that the staff at a school wants its learners to achieve.  They have to identify the gaps in practices, knowledge and skills that exist to achieve those outcomes and then consider the types of training and development that will enable teachers to acquire them. They should plan and structure professional development to be an on-going and gradual process.

The different roles of a principal

The task of a principal is many faceted and not at all easy! In research, the following roles have been considered as the most important:

  • Administrative tasks
  • Working with learners and learner issues
  • Personnel management/Human resources
  • Dealing with external agencies (politics, union politics, parents with issues)
  • Conflict resolution
  • Resource management
  • Working with parents (consulting with parents, parent-teacher conflicts)
  • Instructional leadership
    • Curriculum development
    • Supervision
    • Professional development
    • Implementing inclusion
    • Problems of externally mandated change
    • Changing of evaluation/assessment system

“Although the role of the principal as instructional leader is widely advocated, it is seldom practiced: principals still spend most of their time dealing with managerial issues” (Kavanagh, B. 2006).

From their own teaching experiences, principals can have valuable insight into the challenges teachers face in the classroom. They must, however, also position themselves as guides and as models for teachers who, in the face of significant change, have to become learners themselves.

They have to define and communicate the schools vision for education and remember that a shared vision is at the heart of continuous professional teacher development.

There are many challenges that face professional development. Workload can cause low staff motivation – principals have to ensure that a balance is created when leading the CPTD initiatives.

Without adequate support, the attempt will eventually become ineffective. According to Hord and Hirsh (2008), the following approaches of principals were found to support strong professional learning communities (PLCs):

  • Emphasise to teachers that you know they can succeed – together.
  • Expect teachers to keep their knowledge up-to-date.
  • Guide communities toward self-governance – PLCs should be democratic and participatory, share authority and decision-making, gradually prepare others to take the lead.
  • Increased participation enhances the quality of staff performance; through taking ownership of their development and teaching practices, they are prepared to be held accountable. To achieve this, a principal must be prepared to delegate – the more power a leader transfers, the more powerful leader he/she becomes.
  • Make data on learner performance accessible, help them to interpret data.
  • Teach discussion and decision-making skills.
  • Show teachers the research.
  • Take time to build trust. Teachers will never openly express themselves if they fear their colleagues.

In more research on PLCs, a study has shown that the greatest changes in thinking, as well as the practice of teachers, occur where principals publicly support the PLC. The four following attributes of the principal’s leadership styles were found:

  1. They included teachers in decision-making, especially regarding teaching and learning.
  2. They supported teachers' classroom decisions.
  3. They fostered a spirit of shared responsibility for student learning among the whole staff.
  4. They frequently articulated how the CFG work supported the school's vision and mission publicly.

“As implementation progresses, it is important for principals to acknowledge teacher success with celebrations and commendations. Forums such as faculty meetings, PTA meetings, school newsletters and school board meetings all make excellent places to share good news about teacher success.”

Research has also shown that the greatest hindrance to the success of learning communities is principals who fail to actively support the work of the learning communities (Dunne, Nave, and Lewis, 2000).

Professional development on different levels

As an instructional leader, a principal should look at professional development needs at the different levels of a school and differentiate accordingly.

Principal’s self-development

“Teachers and students benefit more when principals function as learning leaders rather than instructional leaders” (DuFour, 2002).

HOD development

Develop heads of departments as role models of good practices in their subjects or learning areas. This will enable a principal to delegate some of the responsibility of professional development to vice-principals and heads of departments.

Teacher/staff development

The process of staff development should be the result of a process of reflection and dialogue, and the process must be sustained over a considerable period of time. Staff development should be done on different levels and the development must be provided by meaningful and effective professional learning opportunities. The process of staff development must be evaluated on different levels to its effectiveness on the desired outcomes.

Teachers must develop a level of trust that allows them to share their struggles and vulnerabilities as well as their successes, ideas and insights with one another. The discovery that others across a wide variety of subjects and grades share similar issues and concerns will lead to a more positive approach to professional development.

Training for group leaders

Heads of departments and senior and master teachers must be used as professional learning group leaders and be trained in the skills and knowledge needed for such a role, i.e. mentoring, coaching and management.

Antoinette du Plessis
Educational Consultant

Burnette, B. (2002). How we formed our community: lights and camera are optional, but action is essential, Journal of Staff Development, 23(1): 51-54.

DuFour, R. (2002). The Learning Principal. Educational Leadership. . Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Dunne, F., Nave, B. & Lewis, A. 2000. Critical Friends Groups: Teachers Helping Teachers to Improve Student Learning, Research Bulletin. Phi Delta Kappa Centre for Evaluation, Development, and Research December 2000, No. 28. [Online]  Available: http://www.pdkintl.org/research/rbulletins/resbul28.htm on 02/02/09 (accessed: 22 February 2017).

Hord, S. & Hirsh, S. (2008). Making the Promise a Reality. In Blankstein, A., Houston, P. & Cole, R. (Eds.). Sustaining Professional Learning Communities. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Jones, F. 2009. How to use Tools for Teaching: A Plan for Professional Development. The Principal's Role.[Online] Available: http://www.fredjones.com/howto/p2-PrincipalsRole.html 27 Feb 2009 (accessed: 22 February 2017).

Kavanagh, B. (2006). Providing Educational Leadership: First Nations Schools Administration Handbook. [Online] Available: http://www.fnesc.ca/publications/index.php Feb 2009 (accessed: 22 February 2017).

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