Why District-Level Leaders Should Provide Professional Development for Principals

Professional development for principals: an important part of district level leadershipIn my last column on district-level leadership, I discussed the need for consistent messaging. Another important responsibility of district leaders? Providing high-quality professional development for principals.

School principals need professional development

Principals are selected for their positions based on a wide variety of criteria and possess an equally wide array of skills and knowledge related to curriculum, instruction and assessment (CIA). “Knowledge of CIA” and “Involvement with CIA” are two of the statistically significant responsibilities that impact student learning and achievement that emerged from a  meta-analytical study at McREL.

The study identified 21 responsibilities of school leadership, all of which have a substantial impact on student learning and achievement. Almost any of these responsibilities — or a study of the book that emerged from the research, “School Leadership That Works:  From Research to Results” — could form the basis for at least a yearlong series of professional development sessions for principals.

Are there too many demands on principals to allow time for PD?

Unfortunately, some districts call principals together for informational meetings but do not allocate time for PD. This is due to the mistaken idea that given the myriad demands on principals’ time and the goal of having them off their sites as little as possible, business meetings are necessary but PD is not.

Carrying this notion a step further, some principals hold regular staff meetings for informational purposes, but do not utilize this scarce resource for professional learning for teachers.

‘Sacred time’ and creating communities of professional learners

On both levels, this kind of thinking is an unfortunate mistake. Thanks to technology, there are numerous vehicles for communicating the necessary information from the district office to the sites, and from the principal’s office to the teachers. Then, what some districts and schools have termed “sacred time” can be used to bring professionals together face-to-face for PD and collaborative discussions.

Certainly technology can also be used increasingly for some components of professional development, but to create communities of professionals who continuously learn together for the purpose of improving students’ learning, in-person collaboration remains essential.

Future posts on this topic will discuss the logistics of providing professional development for principals.

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Terry Wilhelm knows what it takes to be a leader in today’s education community. She has served as a classroom teacher, a school principal, a district-level and area service agency administrator, and a college adjunct professor, and has extensive experience facilitating professional development for educators. In Leaders’ Link, Wilhelm offers strategies to meet the challenges and maximize the opportunities administrators encounter at the site and district level. Wilhelm holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and an administrative credential from California State University, San Bernardino. She is a district-level facilitator who works with educators nationally and is owner and founder of Educators 2000.


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