My job for the last six years years has been to identify and provide professional development for staff. We set goals, looked at upcoming challenges, and worked toward meeting the needs on the horizon. In that, the team I was on worked hard to infuse practice into the skills we were teaching. It was a different paradigm and we made some huge progress in a short amount of time.
Then COVID-19 raged across the planet and threw us into a spin. Given all the unknowns, one thing was very clear: we had to train staff and build skill. Fast.
And we did.
Time was given by the district to focus on staff development. They realized that staff would need much more support in the new, online environment. My partner and I worked hours and hours, alongside the teaching staff, to provide helpful materials, workshops, templates, and resources. Teachers had time and space to learn and grow even though things were upside down.
Time and space.
Time and space were given for those shifts to take place. It was a deliberate choice to make room for those things to happen. And because we had time and space, we came out of our 18 months online in much better shape that we would have otherwise.
Now, we’re back in school full time.
Coming back to school, we made the deliberate decision to remove that time and space. Our schedule lacks any time for teachers to work together. We have a rigid structure of required work (I don’t want to dignify it as "professional development") that amounts to checkboxes on a form. Back to business as usual.
I feel like I’ve been shifted over into accounting. Time spent doing professional learning is finally paid (thanks ESSER) and instead of setting a high bar and making it relevant, we’re reading prompts and watching videos. "Answering" questions and verifying that people have clicked submit. Head knowledge is provided, but there is no expectation or mechanism to work on practice. There is no support or system to make sure what we’re taking time to do is being used.
Because those things don’t require time and space.
Not at school, at least.
On the face, our core departments are doing slightly better at communicating, but we have different groups prioritizing different things all in the same timeline. We’re lacking cohesive leadership and vision setting. And because everything is a priority, nothing gets our full attention.
Instead of diving in and exploring meaningful, powerful change and merging what we learned while remote with our excitement about actually being with students, we said, "nah."
So, what’s there to be done?
On one hand, I can put my head down and do the work given, trusting that people up higher have a better vision for what’s needed. I can also listen to the staff I’ve built relationships with, remembering that the time and space they get is sucked up by other things. Even if we had time and space, then PD probably still wouldn’t be at the forefront.
On the other hand, I could do more and think outside the box.
We are still in an emergency, without a doubt. But I’m tired of letting the emergency dictate what we do.
- Long-term alignment. Instead of looking at the near term goals, we can reframe any work we do with staff in view of long-term programs. Adopt the same language, make a point of drawing attention to overlap and showing where theory meets implementation.
- Immediate payoff. Finding friction points and creating resources that take no effort from staff to use to smooth those out. Things like templates or sample lessons that can be taken off the shelf. Along with those are guides (print and media rich) explaining how we got to that sample, why it matters, and what they can refer to in training for more background.
- Instructional leadership at the admin level. I can’t get into staff meetings. But I can provide prompts, discussions, and items for principals – arguably the foremost instructional leader in the bulding – to do that for me. Equipping building leadership to carry those supports forward pushes the touchpoints down a level and helps build the building leadership up as a resource.
- Clear direction. Even if I’m not setting the long-term agenda, I can provide insight and a commentary on how to reach goals set by the people who do. I’m subordinate to the same system, so insetead of being a policymaker, a policy interpreter and guide is more important.
I still don’t know what this looks like day to day, but it’s more interesting that what I’m doing day to day now. Even though everything is a priority and we’re lacking the traditional time and space, there is room for good work to be done.
And I’m planning on trying to do it.