Every aspect of your school is running smoothly and you have all the resources you need for staff development . . . said no school leader ever.
Finding the time and resources to train school staff is an arduous and sometimes thankless job, yet one that I find intriguing. Staff members are schools greatest assets, yet all too often, school leaders have minimal time to nurture the potential of their own staff through intentional staff development. Recently, stepping in as an Interim Principal allowed me the opportunity to analyze how to best approach staff development over time, and share some of my reflections here in the form of a tutorial.
Before I jump in, let’s get on the same page as to what I mean by “Staff Development”. Staff development is defined as “all the policies, practices, and procedures used to develop the knowledge, skills, and competencies of staff to improve the effectiveness and efficiency both of the individual and the organization.” This definition definitely sums up the managerial aspect of educating staff and maybe in “competencies” of their role, yet I feel it’s missing some heart.
You see, I’m focusing on the development of humans to be their best in their roles.
Professional development provides more than job-related training, it builds the inspiration creating a career path.
The goal of staff development is to “grow your own”, a concept of investing time and resources into growing loyal, effective, valuable employees and colleagues that perceive their contributions as being part of something bigger than themselves. Another great byproduct of focusing on staff development is that it raises the bar of professionalism whether you’re aiming there or not.
So how do you go about covering all the regulatory aspects of running a school, such as health and safety procedures, and cultivate effective and efficient staff behavior in their roles without burdening your already hard working teachers and support staff with longer hours? I wish I had Hermione’s magical time turner to offer you so you could optimize your time with your staff, but alas, here in Montessori Muggle World, I offer you a simple tutorial that will lead you to create your own Staff Development calendar.
Step One: Reflect on Individual Staff Members
Spend some time priming your brain cells by visualizing each of your staff members being their best. What are their individual and collaborate strengths and areas they need support in nurturing? Create a private journal and record your reflections.
Step Two: Analyze Your Staff Strengths and Challenges
On another day (sleeping on your reflections gives you the opportunity to consolidate your thoughts and to gain a new perspective), reread your journal entries about your staff members. Highlight strengths and challenges for each, then make headings for each of the challenges. Group staff members that are in need of developing skills or knowledge in these areas.
This entire exercise could be approached collaboratively in a staff meeting with members self-identifying strengths and challenges and placing them in appropriate “buckets” with sticky notes. This process can lead to dynamic and effective partnering of staff that are meeting their needs by finding their own professional coach within your organization. Leadership then can step out of the way while capable staff members coordinate schedules and deepen their connection.
Step Three: Cultivate Informal Staff Development
Not all learning happens in formal situations. Actually, adult learners tend to better transfer new information when they have an opportunity to practice with a colleague. Informal opportunities for staff development occur when the environment is prepared for adult learning including nurturing a culture of lifelong learning, increasing emotional safety for mistake-making, and the greater purpose, mission, or vision of the school is infused into daily life.
When every staff member (including leadership) identifies their strengths and commits themselves to taking responsibility for another’s learning as a mentor, and they are transparent about the skills or knowledge they’re in need of acquiring and humble themselves to learning as a mentee, then the culture shifts to embrace peer teaching as a viable path to staff development. An important component to preparing informal moments is to provide information on giving and receiving feedback and having case studies for all teams to practice.
Step Four: Identify and Tap into Expertise Amongst Staff and Beyond
As a provider of staff development in all kinds of schools in diverse subject matter, I witness the variances of competence amongst staff members. My own path to become a teacher educator involved lots of in-school opportunities to lead discussions, present to parents, and share professional development workshops I attended with my colleagues who were unable to attend. My professional passions lead me to proactively pursue presenting mini-workshops with my colleagues, and eventually, beyond the scope of my school environment. I was motivated through autonomy and increased mastery because I share a greater purpose, to improve the effectiveness of our school community.
Is there someone on your staff that you have identified as having a strong passion and expertise for one of the “challenge buckets” you identified in Step Two? If so, create a plan to cultivate them!
If not, it’s time to look beyond your own organization for the prowess and perspective of an outside expert or consultant that potentially can optimize your overall school performance. I’ve been amazed to discover many professional development opportunities that are affordable and applicable through local libraries, regional Montessori organizations, and through word-of-mouth between Montessori schools. Additionally, I highly recommend leveraging technology for professional development. There are numerous titles available for Montessori-specific professional development through several organizations such as Trillium Montessori, American Montessori Society, and our own ClassrooMechanics. Staff members can work through these workshops and courses individually, or you can leverage the power of collaborative learning with a site license and offer a group viewing.
We have several schools that deliver both individual at-you-own-pace and collaborative group viewing access to our Montessori Assistant Toolkit and when combined with in-class exercises, we’re hearing of great successes. Bringing in an outside consultant to help you see your organization through a different lense also has inestimable benefits. When you invest in a customized workshop or coaching, you increase the possibility that your growth needs will be met.
Step Five: Assemble a Staff Development Record
Once a staff member has identified their own strengths and challenges, creating a record, much like we do with our students, is a great way for them to be accountable to their own learning, a place to measure success, and is a path to record their growth trajectory. Having a clearly identifiable goal and frequent check-ins with an accountability partner are important in order for the staff member to evolve. Initiate this record in a one-on-one check-in meeting with each staff member giving clear instructions for what is expected to begin with, and a scheduled meeting for the next steps. Suggest several ways to record growth insuring whatever method they use works for them. They could build their own rubric for the specific goal:
Or they could create a time interval record:
Or even a graph so they can track and reflect on their growth:
Step Six: Create School-wide Staff Development Goals
Collate all the information you’ve gathered about what subject areas would be best addressed and when. For instance, your required health and safety protocol training must take precedence over the more provoking subject of sign language workshop everyone wants. Check out your “challenges bucket” from Step Two to identify which subject areas are better addressed as a whole or partial team, and what subjects are better suited to address individually. Now it’s time to prioritize!
Step Seven: Time to Establish a Staff Development Calendar
At this point you might notice you have lots of moving parts that have the potential to lead to greater staff development, and therefore, greater outcomes for the children in your care. It’s time to pull these ideas together and create a Staff Development Calendar that equips you with a navigational map of your journey.
Ideally, your journey begins before the beginning of the school year with individualized meetings with each of your staff members. This is invaluable time spent getting to know them, understanding their personal and professional goals, and sets the stage for open non-threatening communication and promoting your ethos of lifelong learning. This is also a great time to begin their Staff Development Record and for you to work on Step One.
Within the first month of school, schedule a group meeting to identify in-house mentoring and setting the stage for what strategies are effective for giving and receiving feedback. Follow this up with scheduling another one-on-one meeting with each staff member to check in on their progress identifying goals.
Utilizing your prioritized list of subjects, schedule a variety of optional and non-optional training opportunities for your staff providing dates that vary in times and days of week to best meet the varying needs of your community. I stick to the once a month model to optimize learning and not stress staff out because they’re over-scheduled.
Step Eight: Recalibrate Individual Staff Growth Trajectory
Schedule a monthly check-in with each staff member and briefly identify where they are in acquiring new habits and knowledge. Do they have a new, more pressing challenge they need to add or replace? Are there obstacles to their growth that haven’t been addressed? Do they need more resources to be their best? Are they receiving the right kind of coaching from their colleagues or might they benefit from an outside viewpoint? This is an essential part of the path to development and nurturing a love for lifelong learning.
So now that you have the tools and the inspiration, time to pull out your school calendar and invest in your greatest assets by developing your staff to be their best!
-by Tammy Oesting
Tammy Oesting has spent the last 25 years delivering professional development workshops, consulting schools, and educating new Montessori teachers. Her passions include issues of social justice, educating support staff, art education, neuroscience as applied to educational practices, and exploring the magnificence of the world. She is location independent and serves Montessori globally through her company ClassrooMechanics. AMS certified 3-6, 6-12