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Posted on Feb 1, 2009

An Extra Week of Summer Holidays!

An Extra Week of Summer Holidays!

by Bill de Jager, SCSBC Director of Learning  ◊  

Checked out the summer holiday calendar lately?

It may be worth a look.

With this school year ending on June 26 and the 2009-2010 school year beginning late on September 8, it’s going to be a summer with an extra week!

We all know that being part of a school community is wonderfully-intense, yet bone-tiring, work.  Those long school days—planning, teaching, classroom-managing, assessing, preparing, and administrating—can easily add up to much more than 40 hours a week.  By summer, we need time to refresh and renew.  Time for family and friends.  Time to decompress; time to play.  Time to recharge, before it all begins again after Labour Day.

Given the extra week of summer holidays this year, however, schools may wish to take advantage of that additional time to include it within their professional development (Pro-D) plan.

Now there still may be those in our SCSBC school communities (including some board and education committee members) who are still trying to resolve the following perceived quandary: why schools need to continue to provide money for training when teachers have already been “thoroughly trained.” If teachers have been educated for at least five post-secondary years (including one year in an intensive Professional Development Program [PDP]), then why do schools still require ongoing professional development as a line item in the school budget? And, seemingly to add insult to injury, school boards are also advised to set aside 1% of their annual school budget for ongoing professional growth – an annual budget of $3,000,000 would provide $30,000 for Pro-D.

For me, it’s not a quandary.  Requiring Pro-D is a smart investment.  If done properly, it will strengthen learning and teaching.  Done haphazardly, it may frustrate both teachers and students (and probably be a waste of money).  Not done, it will stunt learning.

So it should come as no surprise then that many SCSBC schools have adopted a professional development policy.  For some, a large component of the policy has included the required completion of worldview courses as a contractual obligation for incoming teachers.  At times, providing those courses have absorbed a substantial portion of a school’s Pro-D budget, leaving little left for long-serving staff.  Other schools require evidence of professional growth within a 3-year timeframe.  Their Pro-D budget line reflects the yearly cost of providing funds for a third of their staff.  Some schools, due to financial restraints, find it difficult to budget any substantial funds towards Pro-D.

The annual SCSBC Compensation Report provides schools with a suggested professional development policy for teachers employed in SCSBC schools.  Along with rationale, the policy provides numerous specifics for implementation.  1

Adoption of a policy, however, depends on consistent implementation for its success.  Over the years, I have observed that the completion of professional development requirements has been approached in a variety of ways.

The smorgasbord-buffet-potluck approach is where the educational leadership allows their staff to pick and choose Pro-D opportunities according to individual staff tastes.  So it can easily become a bit of a conference nibble here, a workshop sampling there, and several servings of dessert seminars.  Perhaps a carefully crafted Pro-D menu, designed by admin and staff together, would provide the most effective nutritional value.

Some school communities have made the commitment to schedule weekly Pro-D time for their staff to learn collectively.  At least two hours every Friday morning or every Wednesday afternoon—during the scheduled school day—are set aside for significant and specific professional development.  This schedule allows staff to implement and monitor learned strategies and educational understandings during the week in the classroom, and then together to review and reflect on their effectiveness a week later.

Other school communities may be less intentional about professional growth.  Their policies and requirements, if any, may not be deemed as overly important.  Attending teachers’ conventions and regional Pro-D days may be part of the school calendar, but the incentive for additional professional growth may only come from those who see its value.

Some school communities have connected staff evaluations and reviews with professional growth plans.  When educational leadership provides consistent and appropriate teacher evaluations or reviews, then a professional growth plan can be mutually crafted by an administrator and the teacher.  But if there is no commitment by board and admin to make teacher evaluations or reviews a priority, if there is no commitment to holding themselves accountable to see those evaluations or reviews as pivotal generators of professional growth, then haphazard Pro-D opportunities will just continue to frustrate staff and students in the long run.

And what does the current research tell us about effective professional development? The November 2008 Principal’s Research Review summarizes the following five qualities of effective professional development:

1.  Collaborative, comprehensive and ongoing: Professional development has a greater impact when it involves groups of teachers organized around common subject areas and grade levels rather than individual teachers.

2.  Focused on subject matter: Professional development focused on curriculum, content knowledge, and how students learn specific content is more likely to impact teacher practice and student learning.

3.  Teacher-driven and classroom-based: Professional development is effective when it is explicitly connected to teachers’ work with their students.

4.  Active and hands on: Effective professional development provides opportunities for active learning as teachers become inquirers and problem solvers; involves teachers in identifying problems and questions, thinking about and discussing their work, gathering data, and using what they learn to inform their practice.

5.  Centered on student outcomes: The success of professional development is ultimately measured by changes in student outcomes.  Gaps between goals for student learning and actual student performance should drive teacher learning.   2

Confronted with such research, it should force us to ask some essential questions about our approaches to providing professional development in our school communities.  It should also counter the quandary of providing money for continual training when staff have already been trained.  With the economic environment as it is, we will want to be sure that our dollars, including those budgeted for Pro-D, are well-spent.  We will want to be confident that our Pro-D policy and practice garner clear evidence of improved student learning.

So, what about this summer?

Well, here are two Pro-D possibilities for schools to include as part of their overall Pro-D plan: Trinity Western University has almost confirmed their 2009 summer courses for Christian school teachers.  Look forward to possible expanded offerings.

Also, with the advice and input of the SCSBC Learning Advisory Team, SCSBC is in the process of offering a variety of educational workshops during the first two weeks of July this summer.  There may opportunities here for professional growth.  Stay tuned for an announcement soon.

Here’s hoping that your upcoming summer is one of rest and, if time permits, growth.

Footnotes:

1.  2009-2010 SCSBC Compensation Report, Appendix C, page 37-38.
2.  Principal’s Research Review, November 2008, page 5.

Discussion Questions

1.  What is our school’s professional development policy?

2.  What would be the strengths and weaknesses of our current policy and practice? How does it compare to the suggested SCSBC professional development policy? (See Appendix on page 33 of the 2009-10 SCSBC Compensation Report)

3.  Does our school’s Pro-D policy and practice adequately reflect the five qualities of effective professional development, highlighted in this article?

4.  Are we confident that our Pro-D policy and practice garner clear evidence of improved student learning?

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