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PD for Principals: Discussion Protocols

By Terry Wilhelm November 4, 2013

Using Discussion as PD for PrincipalsIn recent years, best practices for site leadership have moved away from sending teachers to offsite training and toward site-based team learning as a professional learning community, or PLC. If they are fortunate enough to work in a district that provides a setting for team learning, principals can reap the same benefits teachers do from PLCs.

Carving out time for principal-centered professional learning communities

This implies a rethinking of the traditional monthly or semi-monthly principals’ meeting. Just as they advocate for principals at their sites, can districts disseminate information electronically instead of requiring face-to-face meetings? If so, this frees up meeting time for professional development for principals.

Can district-level administrators ride the circuit and meet individually, on-site with principals to cover important new programs for which principals will be responsible? In my experience, districts that have begun to rethink and reallocate resources — especially time, people, and expertise — provide an invaluable model for what principals are expected to do at their sites with teachers. If that happens, time formerly allocated for informational meetings is now available for professional development for principals.

Professional development for principals: Discussion protocol

Now what? Beneficial options for PD for principals are limited only by the creativity of the planners — and principals should be part of the planning.

Discussion protocols are one useful option. Here is a discussion protocol that can be applied with principals in small groups of  four to six. Sometimes it is advantageous to have principals grouped with level-alike colleagues, and at other times, mixed groups, such as feeder-clusters, are better. Vary the configuration from meeting to meeting. In a small district, one configuration may simply be two groups: elementary and secondary, and at other times, everyone in one discussion group.

Team learning discussion protocol in 8 steps

  1. Number off in each small group from one to four (or five or six). Central office administrators should divide themselves among the groups, but do not  count in the numbering off.
  2. Principal number one has five minutes to share something s/he is working on. No one interrupts, including central office staff.
  3. Spend two minutes for clarifying questions (Note: “Have you thought about . . ?” is a suggestion, not a request for clarification).
  4. The group has three minutes of silent writing time to respond to principal number one’s idea. You might use 3×3 sticky notes and write one idea per note. Use the following stems:
    • Here is something I’ve done . . .
    • I like how you . . .
    • You might consider . . .
  5. Going in a circle, each participant (including central office staff) shares his or her top idea.
  6. The principal who shared the issue has one minute to respond to any of the ideas s/he wishes. There is requirement or expectation to respond to everything.
  7. All sticky notes are passed to the principal who shared.
  8. Repeat with the next principal.

This protocol generates numerous positive effects, including:

  • Stimulates the leadership thinking of each principal who shares; may spark possible new solutions. Gives central office staff a deeper understanding of current site issues
  • All participants gain new ideas from the group, even when not presenting their own issue.
  • Builds increased respect and regard among group members for each other as leaders and as individuals.

In future posts on PD for principals, I will share additional ideas from the field.

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