My Experience with Powerful Professional Development

Guest post by Daniel Kelley

Principals across the country may face their own set of unique challenges, but one fact applies to all of them: They need greater support and training.

I say this for many reasons, but the top one is this: School leadership is one of the most important influences on student achievement, second only to quality instruction. This is huge. And if principals don’t receive quality professional development (PD) on a regular basis, it is the students who will suffer.

The Principal’s Ever-Changing Role 

The principalship has evolved greatly over the past decade. From school safety to social media, we are in charge of a much greater host of responsibilities. Gone are the old days where principals sat behind a desk—the job now requires that we step out of our office, roll up our sleeves, and be a true, hands-on leader.

To properly tackle all the issues we face, principals must not only execute outstanding leadership, but also train teachers to contribute at a higher level. This idea of shared school leadership isn’t always easy to create. It requires effective, two-way communication with all members of your staff, which can be a challenge. And guess what? There’s no special internal communication training before you get the job.

In addition to training outstanding teacher leaders, I strive to balance the needs of the staff while also pushing them to be innovative and challenge the status quo. There may be tenured teachers who need to get in touch with current trends, so how do you reach them? This effort becomes a unique challenge when teachers are uneasy about speaking to their principal. There may be one group of teachers in your school that has an easy, open dialogue with you on a regular basis—and there may be another group that seldom has one-on-one talks with you. So how do you reach that second group?

Professional Learning to the Rescue 

That’s where relevant professional development comes in. I recently took part in a pilot group of principals and other school leaders for an innovative new executive leadership training program: The McKinsey Management Program for School Leaders (MMPSL). This dynamic online program is a powerful collaboration between NASSP and McKinsey Academy that, I think, will revolutionize leadership training for school leaders by providing the executive development that is missing from principal training programs.

I participated in the Team Management course with a group of principals from around the country. The course is designed to give school leaders the strategy and skills necessary to build engagement and create an open dialogue to enact real school change. And for me, it did exactly that. After taking the course last summer, I walked into the 2015–16 school year with a new set of tools to help me develop relationships with teachers, manage my teams more efficiently, and better handle difficult situations.

This unique program helped me think more from the other person’s perspective. Not to minimize or dismiss the issue at hand, but to be more empathetic about where he or she is coming from. When possible, I also try to give people a brief synopsis of a meeting’s purpose so they can be more prepared instead of having a moment of panic. In addition, the course allowed me to reflect on past conversations and what I could have done better. I now ask myself, did I handle that right? Could I have handled that better? How could I improve upon that next time?

The bottom line is that quality professional development is a game changer for principals—so don’t stand silently anymore. Make it your personal pledge to ask your state and district leaders to invest in their schools by investing in robust principal development.

Daniel Kelley is the principal of Smithfield High School in Smithfield, RI, the 2016–17 NASSP President-Elect, and was the 2012 Rhode Island Principal of the Year.

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