In the Concordia Plan Services (CPS) 2018 survey, CPS noted “Employment experience is key for teachers.” CPS reports, “A strong message from teachers is that their day-to-day experience and how they are treated as professionals is critical to their long-term future in the LCMS. They want to feel supported and respected and it is especially important at the local school level. This speaks to the importance of positive leadership. Teachers also strongly desire the opportunity to get better at what they do and see a path for growth and advancement in their future.“
In northeast Indiana, The Lutheran Schools Partnership provides thoughtful, encouraging professional development (PD) opportunities. Not only is the content valuable and timely (consider Kim Marxhausen’s presentation at the kickoff of the 2021 school year on the effect of fear and stress on the child’s brain or consider any of the fundraising presentations shared via Learn and Lead), the PD comes with minimal financial burden from individuals and schools but is pertinent for the needs of the day. Surveys over the years have been very complimentary of the content of these PD options also sharing thanks for the opportunities to grow collegiality and faith.
Teachers in our region’s Lutheran schools also suggest a few other valuable practices when it comes to professional growth. First, teachers enjoy the opportunities to visit colleagues’ classrooms. The purpose of these visits may include observing instructional strategies or classroom management procedures.
These opportunities also provide leadership opportunities. When asked about growing, and specifically growing leadership, a local teacher commented, “Schools need to find opportunities to better leverage the skills and talents of all educators for the benefit of the organization.” His comment was in the context of leadership in our schools and providing opportunities for growth that don’t imply becoming a principal or making a change in the classroom.
He’s right! Giving teachers opportunities to lead is important for each person’s understanding and participating in the direction and function of the school. Over the years, TLSP has encouraged curriculum leaders and tech leadership in the form of councils encouraging “teach the teacher” practices. The idea is to utilize the interest and expertise of individual teachers to lead in a particular area of the school. It should be noted that these strategies also take the sole burden of leadership away from the principal.
One additional comment included in response to the topic of PD. Our teachers need planning time within the school day. The value of a half hour away from the classroom within the school day to address phone calls, lesson planning time, a quick meeting with a colleague or addressing a student issue is essential for school leadership (board and principal) demonstrating the value of each teacher and providing opportunities for the teacher to excel in the classroom. This planning time is not “time off.” This time is imperative for good instruction and for the holistic health of each teacher.
National Lutheran School Accreditation (of which all our schools use) address basic indicators of success when it comes to professional development. Financial support and encouragement of attending conferences, tuition support for advanced degrees, classroom observations that include plans for improvement, and the demand for appropriate licensure are included in the self-study of the school. Teachers, principals and boards need to address policies and procedures to ensure that growth is an expectation of its staff.
TLSP will continue to seek ways to support professional development as well. This year, thanks to a grant from The Lutheran Foundation, we are implementing an instructional coaching program. Called Progress Partners, schools are utilizing specially trained teachers to work with schools and individual teachers on a desired area of growth. New teaching materials, classroom management and other instructional strategies are just a few of the areas that our Progress Partners are addressing.
In our next post, the issue of respectful compensation will be addressed. Stay tuned!