The Principal's Role in Ensuring the Professional Development of Teachers

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Lempp, Jennifer, Administration and Supervision - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Lempp, Jennifer, Education Graduate, University of Virginia

Teacher professional development is imperative and the key to improving schools (Borko, 2004; Desimone, 2009; Desimone & Stuckey, 2014; Penuel et al., 2007) and school principals are critical to the successful professional development of their staff (Hallinger, 2018; Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Leithwood et al., 2015; Mullen & Hutinger, 2008). However, ensuring effective professional development is provided to all teachers is complex and has not proven to be easily accomplished (Dagen & Bean, 2014; Wei et al., 2009). This capstone focused on the principal’s thought process and decision making that leads to teachers receiving quality professional development that meets their needs.
All schools taking part in this study were identified as being “bright spots” in their large suburban school district. The purpose was to uncover what led to the success in these schools so we can learn from these practices and replicate them elsewhere. Three research questions guided the study and focused on triangulating the existing research with principal decision making and teacher perceptions. With professional development playing an important role in the development of our teachers, I felt it important to determine what professional development opportunities were seen as supportive and what characteristics of professional development were deemed by teachers and principals as less impactful.
The literature examined for this study included research on best practices in professional development as well as adult learning theory. It was important to consider what is known about quality professional development and how adults learn to ensure teachers were provided with learning experiences that would be worthwhile. Additionally, leadership practices were examined as they relate to the professional development of teachers. The conceptual framework for this study was derived from a combination of these three topics: quality professional development characteristics, adult learning theory, and leadership practices.
The study began by exploring the results of an Employee Survey, specifically three questions that related to the teacher satisfaction with their professional development. These data were available from all elementary schools, and the schools with the greatest satisfaction in the areas of professional development were selected for consideration. Ultimately, five schools were identified for further study. Principals and teachers were interviewed, and interviews revealed what was considered to be quality professional development and the steps taken to ensure teachers had these learning opportunities. The research was targeted at determining the practices a principal uses to enact a system of professional development that is also perceived as positive by the teachers in their school.
Findings from the study highlighted the importance of the role of the principal in shaping the professional development plan for the school and the individual considerations taken for teachers. The key decisions made by the principals in the study were shaped by their values and beliefs. The disposition of the principal determined the plan for professional development, and these values and decisions made by principals did not go unnoticed by the teachers. Teachers echoed the thoughtful considerations that were made, recognized the leadership, and were grateful for the opportunities they were provided.
This research indicates that despite there being a limited number of assigned professional development days in the school calendar, limited budget, and other nuances in the decisions related to professional development, principals taking a thoughtful about their approach can produce quality learning experiences for their teachers.
From this examination of the practices these five elementary principals use to ensure teachers are receiving effective professional development we can extrapolate practices to adapt and use in other schools. In that spirit, the following recommendations are made: (a) school district leaders should provide continued professional development to principals; (b) school district leaders should provide advance determination of district goals, staff calendar, and professional development opportunities; (c) school leaders should establish learning as a norm; (d) school and district leaders should focus on key aspects of quality professional development with regular evaluation; and (e) school leaders should use the adults in the school as coaches.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
professional development, teacher training, school leadership, professional learning
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