The power of presence

Sitting on an airplane, there’s little to do other than reflect on where you are going or where you just came from. In this case, I am heading home from working with a school in Michigan that kicked off an EmPOWER training for their elementary and middle school teachers this year.

I’m struck by two lingering images:

1) the teachers’ visible investment in and excitement about learning new methods of teaching, and

2) the school administrators’ visible investment in this professional development initiative.

I use the word visible literally. The principals AND the assistant superintendent were there, sitting with their faculty — for two full days in August and then another two full days in October. They observed, completed all of the activities, shared in teachers’ table discussions, observed demo lessons in classrooms, and sat in on my debriefing sessions.

In the 20 years I have been providing professional development to teachers, it’s more typical than not that principals will sit in for a portion of a training but excuse themselves for much of the day. This is totally understandable, as we all know that principals have a lot of responsibilities that require their time and attention.

When they are able to attend the whole day of PD, though, I’m thrilled. Wonderful discussions take place between them and their teachers, and this inevitably leads to greater teacher investment in putting whatever they’ve learned into action. Administrators can support implementation in smart ways because they have a first-hand understanding of the new directions teachers are trying to take with their students.

The presence of school administrators in school-sponsored PD sends such a powerful message to everyone in the room.  It shows their commitment to their faculty and to the professional development itself.

I’m hopeful that we are moving into a professional development age where this becomes the norm and not the happy exception.