Professional Development for Principals
Leadership Insights

PD for Principals: When Good Teachers Are Not Team Players

By Terry Wilhelm June 3, 2014

For some principals, a difficult area — or even a blind spot — can be mustering the courage to hold difficult conversations with teachers who are good classroom teachers with students, but poor team players.

I have observed phenomena including principals holding these teachers up as models to their peers (as colleagues roll their eyes), excusing them from required professional development, and simply turning a blind eye to unprofessional behavior or power struggles.

Professional development that addresses principals’ blind spots

All of these actions erode the principal’s credibility. This presents a conundrum for district office leaders who are charged with supporting and developing principals.

Most people do not take kindly to having others point out their blind spots — so named because we literally do not know we have them. On the other hand, if a principal is painfully aware of a good teacher’s unprofessionalism and simply lacks the courage to address it, this can be an embarrassing shortcoming that is not easy to discuss.

A two-pronged approach may be effective for district leaders who know — or suspect — that this is a problem for some of the principals. One prong is group professional development and the other is individual principal coaching. Both are important.

Professional development for principals provides a common knowledge base for the leadership group. However, without one-to-one coaching, principals who need to apply what they’ve learned to their own practice may be unable to do so — or may not see the need due to their own blind spots.

Problem-solving with objective professional standards

A strong basis for planning PD for principals in this area is a set of objective teaching standards at either the district or state level. The use of written standards allows principals to apply objective criteria to a teacher’s practice both inside and outside the classroom, providing some protection from potential teacher complaints about subjectivity.

For example, the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTPs) were adopted in 2009. Many districts in the state also use the CSTPs as the basis for their teacher evaluation instruments. Standards one through five apply chiefly to a teacher’s classroom practice.

The sixth standard, Developing as a Professional Educator, addresses a teacher’s practice and behavior beyond the classroom:

Developing as a Professional Educator

  • 6.1 Reflecting on teaching practice in support of student learning
  • 6.2 Establishing professional goals and engaging in continuous and purposeful professional growth and development
  • 6.3 Collaborating with colleagues and the broader professional community to support teacher and student learning
  • 6.4 Working with families to support student learning
  • 6.5 Engaging local communities in support of the instructional program
  • 6.6 Managing professional responsibilities to maintain motivation and commitment to all students
  • 6.7 Demonstrating professional responsibility, integrity, and ethical conduct

Each of the seven practices describes a teacher’s ideal, continuous personal growth in the standard of “Developing as a Professional Educator”. Practices 6.3, 6.6, and 6.7 may be areas that need improvement for teachers who are strong with students, but perhaps have difficulty collaborating with peers, are self-centered, or otherwise unprofessional during group discussions or with individual colleagues.

Differentiating between classroom-level and schoolwide practices

Helping principals become familiar with an accepted local standard and associated practices for teacher professionalism can help build confidence in addressing these thorny issues. Coupled with role-playing in the safety of a group setting, using fictitious scenarios that may mirror real ones at sites, the standards can assist principals to see, hear, and practice how effective conversations about these issues might take shape.

Differentiating between teachers’ classroom level practice – which may be strong or even exemplary – and their school-wide practice with other professionals and parents can aid principals who are reluctant to address issues of professionalism. Spending time with objective standards about teacher professionalism is a good first step in developing principals’ capacity to work more effectively with all teachers at their sites.

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