Monday, March 28, 2011

Phases of professional development


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The phases and reflections below are solely based on my own journey as a professional educator.  I welcome your feedback and your own perceptions about the different phases and outcomes of professional development.

Phase Description Purpose
1 Establish survive, overcome mistakes, establish voice and professional identity
2 Discover new interests, hidden/untapped talents, vision for my professional future
3 Seek and Prepare on the job, theory and practical, learn from others, expertise, confidence
4 Share and Lead mentoring, networking, presenting, clarity, effectiveness

Professional development phase 1:  Establish

In the fall of 1993, I began my first teaching job.  During the summer before, I crammed as many education courses into my schedule as I could because I had chosen to pursue a career in education, but having come to that decision late in my undergraduate work (it was actually the spring semester of my final year) I really knew nothing about being a teacher.  Some of those courses were helpful.  If nothing, I learned that the field of education was more complex than simply lesson plans and classroom management.

That first year, though, was mostly about lesson plans and classroom management.  Trying to keep my head above water and return for another day was first and foremost on my mind.  Sure, I made some mistakes – ok, I made PLENTY of mistakes, but I paid attention to the more senior members of the staff and learned as much as I could.

This pattern of internally focused professional development designed to establish my voice as a teacher and develop a professional identity lasted in some form for much of my first 4-5 years.

Professional development phase 2:  Discover

Professional development then made a gradual shift from establishing my professional presence to discovering my other interests in education and accepting that a new professional future is possible and desirable.  It was during this time that I changed my focus in education from teacher and coach to a future in administration.  This was the result of others seeing something in me (I still do not know what they saw) that compelled them to begin planting the seed that would eventually lead to my career shift in administration and leadership.

At first, I thought about athletic administration.  I pursued a graduate degree in Human Performance and Health Promotion.  What I discovered was that about 3/4 finished with this degree, I was interested in more than athletic administration.  I became Dean of Students for Upper School and applied for acceptance in a doctoral degree program in educational leadership.  I discovered I had interests in leading schools in the highest positions.  The performance feedback I received suggested that I had some talents conducive to high level leadership positions, with the proper training and knowledge.

Professional development phase 3:  Seek and Prepare       

This phase is marked by tremendous changes in my life, both personal and professional.  Personally, this period includes: getting married, buying houses, having children, moving away form home, moving further away from home, and getting through and re-establishing life after Hurricane Katrina. 

Professionally, the changes include: seeking and finding a leadership mentor, finishing my M.Ed. and Ph.D., changing roles from Dean of Students to Assistant Principal then to a founding Head of School and eventually my current position - Head of Middle School.

Development for me during this time was the most diverse.  Of course, with graduate school, I was immersed in researching, writing, and discussing the theoretical issues related to educational leadership.  Practical knowledge came more from on the job training.  I learned many lessons from my own mistakes (similar to the first years of teaching), but just as often, I learned from the decisions and actions taken by the leaders with whom I was working.  Many times, I would take mental notes.  Usually, these notes were in the form of categorizing actions/decisions in one of two areas:

  1. When I am faced with a similar situation, I want to respond like that.
  2. When I am faced with a similar situation, I will never do what that person did.

Out of this phase, I developed a sense of “expertise” in matters related to educational leadership.  The other, and possibly most important, outcome of this phase was gaining the confidence I needed to put myself “out there” as such an expert and to seek greater leadership responsibilities.

Professional development phase 4:  Share and Lead  

I consider this the phase I currently inhabit.  Having said that, this phase is also the one that I believe is potentially the most powerful because by its nature sharing and leading imply effecting others.  In many ways, this is the “pay it forward” phase, but it is also extraordinarily introspective and reflective.

This phase is marked by a number of action steps on my part.  You are reading one.  I established this blog as part of my desire to share and lead.  Other examples include social networking (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) and presenting/actively participating in conferences.

At my school, this phase clarifies how to lead and support teacher professional development as well as establish/implement new division-wide initiatives.

The future and conclusions

I’m not sure what the next phase will be for me.  That is what makes this so interesting.  I can look back on my career and up to this point see a path that is marked by successes and set backs.  Through it all, I have never waivered from the belief that what I am doing is important and worth every effort I put into it.

I continue to learn and grow.  Now, I also enjoy being a part of other educators’ journeys.

Thanks for including me in yours.

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