Turn obligation into opportunity

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EngagED Learning Magazine Cover

This article is part of
Vol. 1, issue 1 (Fall 2021)
of EngagED Learning magazine.

By Marie-Claude Rancourt
RÉCIT Pedagogical Consultant for School Administrators
Twitter: @mc_rancourt

Recently, because of the pandemic, educators have been forced to develop many skills in order to face challenges and to fulfill the school’s mission, which has propelled professional development into the heart of everyday life. School administrators quickly had to implement action plans to support teacher training, particularly in connection with digital skills.

The new school year provides a great opportunity for leaders to keep this learning approach alive, one that we’ve all had to experience for over a year now, in spite of ourselves. How can a management act now, and how can it influence the continuation of this professional development process among its teachers?

The interest in transforming the obligation of professional development into an opportunity is now amplified in Quebec by Bill 40, which requires teachers to complete 30 hours of continuing education over a two-year period. This obligation adds a responsibility to the already complex role of school management. Now, in addition to having to organize professional development activities for staff members (LIP art. 34), they will have to ensure that they fulfill their obligation, something that could quickly become uncomfortable. However, as researcher Michael Fullan suggests (2020), « policies can be imposed, but not the state of mind with which you approach them. » It is through their role as educational leaders that school administrators will be able to influence the acceptance of this new reality and the climate in which it will materialize. 

“Policies can be imposed, but not the state of mind with which you approach them.” (Michael Fullan)

Although solutions and models are available, the perfect recipe to achieve this does not seem to exist. In 1999, Quebec’s Ministry of Education published a document in which it presented guidelines to support continuing education in order to facilitate the implementation of the reform of that time. It’s called Choisir plutôt que subir le changement. Although its title is still relevant, it seems to have had little actual impact on school organizations. Therefore, how can leadership influence the transformation of this professional development obligation into a collective opportunity?

Take a reflective look

In recent months, school administrators have been thrown into the heat of the moment and had to respond to the most urgent needs and multiple health requirements. Through all this frenzy, taking a step back to reflect on their team’s learning proved difficult. However, leaders who now wish to foster continuity aligned with their school’s needs and goals will need to take this time out and take a reflective look at professional development. They will be able to question the model that was in place before the pandemic, how continuing education has leaped during the crisis and what form it will take as a result. In Fullan’s concept of nuanced leadership, one of the principles involves the importance of looking beyond the obvious, exploring multiple possibilities, developing a deep understanding of context, and adopting a learner approach. Therefore, leaders can really influence and participate positively in the implementation of a collective and innovative professional development model. 

Food for thought…

As a leader

  • What is my ideal vision of continuing education in my environment?
  • Where do I stand in relation to my own professional development?
  • What are my strengths? What are my challenges?
  • Who are my allies?
  • What role do I want to play in the professional development process of teachers in my school?

With the school team

  • How do we ensure that personal training initiatives meet a real need and that they are part of a development plan?
  • What will ensure consistency between continuing education and the school’s mission?
  • What could be the characteristics of a continuing education model that meets both individual and collective needs?
  • What will validate whether the learning achieved really supports the development of professional skills?
  • How will it be possible to regulate the professional development process, whether collectively or individually?

Give it meaning

A clear vision and expectations are the first dimensions of leadership that promote engagement. Like the engagement of students in the classroom, that of teachers will be influenced by the meaning they derive from the projects to be carried out and the objectives to be achieved. This condition for success takes on even more meaning when it comes to professional development, because real positive outcomes from continuing education are only possible if each individual commits to it. So, it would be important to ensure that a school’s professional development project is supported by solid foundations. These foundations, established in collaboration, will guide actions, define the “whys” and mobilize a greater number of teachers. 

Food for thought…

  • Why is it important to collectively define a professional development process?
  • Why is it useful to invest in such a reflection?
  • Why is it necessary to have a common vision?
  • How will such a professional development process be useful for the school team, for teachers, for management and for student success?

This reflection will ultimately be beneficial to: 

  • Ensure more consistency between the different training courses
  • Develop a collective plan and individual plans
  • Ensure positive and formative pedagogical supervision
  • Support teachers more effectively in their professional integration
  • Increase the sense of collective effectiveness

Meet the mission of the school and the educational project

  • Facilitate the dissemination of learning among colleagues and harmonize practices
  • Empower school staff
  • Perpetuate learning and skills development

Get into action

“Your goal as a leader is to be right at the end of the meeting, not at the beginning. » (Davie Cote in Bryant, 2013)

In order to realistically update the raison d’être of a coherent and mobilizing professional development model, members of the school teams will benefit from combining their expertise to find innovative and flexible ways to achieve their goals. School administrators will support this collective work by themselves adopting a learning approach within their team and by getting involved in an authentic way, which will amplify the positive impact of the actions that will be implemented. 

Some courses of action for management

Define collectively

  • Develop a common understanding of professional development
  • Establish a common vision and the values that will support it
  • Target realistic and measurable goals
  • Identify each person’s role and responsibilities
  • Establish a collective and individual development plan
  • Specify the guidelines for an individual development plan
  • Etc.

Facilitate

  • Foster a climate of trust
  • Establish effective and regular communication
  • Demonstrate honesty and flexibility
  • Share responsibilities
  • Coordinate the meeting schedule
  • Engage in your own professional development process
  • Etc.

Support 

  • Support the development of individual development pathways
  • Use development tools, such as the new teaching skills repository
  • Feed reflective practice
  • Value efforts
  • Encourage initiative and innovation
  • Etc.

Cultivate 

  • Keep the collective project alive
  • Regulate established objectives
  • Remind everyone of the collective vision
  • Promote the transfer and dissemination of learning
  • Celebrate and recognize successes.Etc.

In summary, in order to positively influence professional development, school leaders are encouraged to use the current momentum as a lever to mobilize their team around a common project rather than letting the obligation govern continuing education in their environment. As a result, schools’ traditional development models will be transformed. Moreover, by becoming involved as learners in the process leading to the definition of a shared vision and common objectives, they will promote commitment, sustainability and consistency in the skills that will be acquired.

And to support school administrators’ leadership in such a project, several paths can be taken! However, it is up to everyone to define and take the first step, while giving it their own colour.

References and resources for inspiration 

  • Bryant, A. (2013). Honeywell’s David Cote, on Decisiveness as a 2-Edged Sword, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/business/honeywells-david-cote-on-decisiveness-as-a-2-edged-sword.html?smid=url-share 
  • DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., Many, T. W. and Mattos, M. (2019). Apprendre par l’action. Manuel d’implantation de communautés d’apprentissage professionnelles (3e édition). Presses de l’Université du Québec.
  • Fullan, M. (2020). Nuance : pourquoi certains leaders réussissent-ils et d’autres pas? Presse de l’Université du Québec.
  • Lencioni, P. (2005). Optimisez votre équipe. Un monde différent.
  • Luc, E. (2019). Le secret des grandes équipes : huit compétences pour un leadership partagé. Presses de l’Université de Montréal.
  • Michaud, M.-C. (2021). Être un leader sans armure : Le pouvoir de la vulnérabilité en gestion. Les éditions Logiques.

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