PD for Principals: Professional Development Through Book Talks
Most educators would agree that professional reading is an important aspect of staying current in our work. Articles, websites, blogs and books abound on the theory and practice of education and educational leadership.
Given principals’ frenetic schedules, many district-level leaders are understandably reluctant to assign reading to their principals. However, making time to have book talks can serve as a valuable form of professional development for principals.
Sometimes purchasing a book for everyone prior to the summer break is workable, and appreciated by the principals. However, some districts operate year-round schools, and high school principals may have extended work years at parity with those of senior district leaders.
Strategies for book talks as PD for principals
One simple solution for scheduling book talks for principals is to add an agenda item to regular principal meetings that provides an opportunity for individuals to share a short, one- to two-minute summary of a book they have recently read. This could be kept very informal and completely voluntary.
However, if time is to be invested in sharing professional reading, I strongly advocate putting the item early in the agenda. Leaving it at the end, where it is likely to be rushed or dropped if the meeting runs overtime, symbolically sends a mixed message to the group about its value.
Because some individuals may be avid readers who somehow manage to always be reading a book while others find it difficult to squeeze in any professional reading at all, an informal approach can result in always having the same few principals sharing. One solution is to limit the number of principals sharing to two or three per meeting, and ask those who have a book to share to fill out a signup sheet when they arrive. By keeping the signups on a clipboard and adding a new sheet for each meeting, priority can be given to those who have not shared before or who have not shared in a while.
Principals can use book talks to address current initiatives
Of course, broadening the invitation to include sharing of shorter readings — articles, blogs, or even single chapters of a book — will also encourage more principals to become involved in sharing professional reading. Additionally, the book-talk topic can be narrowed if district leaders want to encourage sharing of resources about a current initiative, such as strategies for successful transition to Common Core mathematics instruction.
If time allows, another way to add value to the sharing of professional reading is to have those who are sharing not only provide a short summary of the reading, but also speak to a specific question about its impact on their leadership. The meeting facilitator may provide prompts:
- The new insight I gained from this was _______
- The way I see this fitting into our current initiative [e.g. Common Core] is _______
Asking the audience members to also respond to the speaker’s prompt, or a related one, will help ensure benefit from the investment of time. Audience members could respond either in an individual quick-write, a think-pair-share, or both.
PD for principals is an essential tool for school districts that want to encourage active learning at all levels. Principals who have time invested in their own professional development — including learning from their peers — feel empowered to serve their schools.