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Mentor Interview: Making Professional Development Meaningful

Michelle Skowbo

Making Professional Development Meaningful

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In our first mentor interview, a school administrator shares his experiences with making professional development meaningful.
Q: How are training topics chosen? 

A: He chooses training topics in two ways: First, if there’s something topical, for example, new technology, he will check in with everyone to see if they are interested in learning more. Second, he checks in with supervisors, specialists, team leaders, and teachers to see if there is anything that is impeding progress or is a challenge for them. If someone is particularly interested in the topic, he will mentor or coach them, and then they will often work together to co-create a training that will be useful to others. 

Q: Is professional development training done in-house? Or do you bring someone in, or let your teachers know about outside opportunities? 

A: Generally, professional development is in-house and comes about organically; he meets with supervisors and team leads regularly and uses these conversations to work from there. He lets faculty and supervisors know about new technology, resources, and helpful articles. They have opportunities to give workshops and share outside resources as well. 

Q: What are some of the best professional development activities that you have been a part of?

A: The school administrator said coaching faculty members one-on-one was one of the most effective professional development approaches he has used. He makes an important distinction between coaching and mentoring: Coaching focuses on reflective questions, building awareness, and is best suited for seasoned faculty members. Mentoring involves instruction, usually of the basics, and is often combined with coaching for newer faculty members. His strategy is to first train supervisors in both coaching and mentoring. They are then advised to select the best approach depending on the instructor's experience and proficiency levels. Teachers are encouraged to utilize these methods with their students, too. Coaching not only promotes self-reliance and reflective goal-setting but also fosters lifelong autonomous learning and aids in creating highly tailored coachee-driven learning and action plans.

   Some examples of reflective questions are: 
  • Awareness: These questions help the coachee to become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. For example:
    • “What was going through your mind when that happened?”
    • “What was your emotional response to that event?”
    • “What did you notice about your body language in that moment?”
    • “What were your options for how to react?”
  • Analysis: These questions help the coachee to analyze their situation and identify the factors that contributed to the outcome. For example:
    • “What were the benefits and drawbacks of your approach?”
    • “What are some things you might do differently next time?”
    • “What insights did you gain from this experience?”
  • Action: These questions help the coachee to develop a plan for taking action and achieving their goals. For example:
    • “What are you going to do next?”
    • “What are the key ingredients needed to achieve your goal?”
    • “How will you measure your success?”

It’s important to ask questions to make sure a learning or action plan is feasible; for example, a useful question might be: “On a scale of 1-10, how likely is it that you will be able to follow your plan as written?” If someone provides a number below 8, a good follow up question would be, “What adjustments can you make to ensure you can give your plan an 8, 9, or 10?”  
Coaching is an effective professional development approach, in large part because people appreciate not being told what to do all the time, having a chance to reflect for themselves and solve their own problems, and being seen as capable. Coaching is a good way to work on soft skills, too (e.g. empathy, active listening, motivation, empowerment); these aren’t just for supervisors, teachers and students benefit as well.  
Another effective training was on emotional intelligence. When he came to the school, the dean brought him in and said that negative competition was affecting the school’s teams. In response, he developed a training on emotional intelligence. As with coaching, teachers and supervisors were asked to figure things out based on reflective questions. When the administrator meets with a chairperson and then with team members, he asks them what they are facing, what ideas they have now to solve problems so all team members can win, what they feel comfortable sharing with the team, how they might share it, how what they have to say might come across to the other participants, and he offers to role play with them, too, so they can practice beforehand.
A chairperson once noted in a coaching session that students had a lot of anxiety, especially test anxiety. The chairperson and the administrator worked together to create an Emotional Intelligence workshop for students using the same principles. Once students understand the various components of emotional intelligence, they usually find themselves empowered to apply them to a variety of situations, including test-taking and interpersonal issues in the classroom.