What you are doing is building consensus. You are tapping into talented minds, probing for solutions or innovations that will directly impact your organization. It is a democratic process which allows all voices to rise.
Bringing professional development home is about asking ourselves deeper questions regarding our values and the kinds of experiences we want children to have while in attendance. Rather than relying on the workshop or conference formats, this grass roots approach takes into consideration the wealth of expertise already present in your own staff. Imagine what might happen if we shared our own knowledge with others? If we collectively tapped into our own abilities to learn something new?
Inviting outsiders to deliver professional development seems much safer than asking teachers to open up to each other. Yet hiring a consultant is expensive and might not target specific needs within your community. The best solutions and innovations always come from those working at the front lines of service delivery.
Moreover, if we seek to have children working together and learning from each other, than surely we can expect the same from ourselves. To be certain, we need to take courage in exposing our frustrations, mistakes, and imperfect knowledge. We worry that we might draw envy or criticism as we try to convey our ideas. We might stumble over our words, not knowing the answer to a colleague’s question. These risks can be avoided by developing a leadership protocol designed to build relationships within our teaching community. When we share our authentic experiences – targeting improvement of practice and supporting each other’s growth – we really are building high quality learning environments for our students.
A Leadership Protocol
One way to get started is for a director, principal, chair or other designated leader pose open-ended questions such as, “How do we…” or solicits one from the group. For example, “How can we improve on communications with parents?” How might we examine bias in our school community?” What kinds of traditional activities can be moved outdoors?” “What are the ways we encourage children to draw?” “ How can we make children’s learning visible to parents?” These questions can be about curriculum, instruction, assessment, management, communications—really any meaningful aspect that builds relationships within your learning community.
The Five Elements of Collective Leadership are:
- A shared vision and revisioning
- Wholeness and constructiveness of the organization
- A collective wisdom and intelligence of the organization
- Co-action – we are in this together
- Adaptability and emergence of new methods
Steps to Success
Step 1: A few days before your meeting, the question is posed to give teachers time to think (perhaps by email or memo). The assumption is everyone has valuable ideas to contribute. Everyone in the room takes a turn responding to the question individually or in small groups. The leader creates a discussion protocol by writing down all ideas, collecting them for review. Ideas are not debated in whole group, but returned to smaller groups for discussion.
Step 2: The leader divides the teaching team into smaller groups. This might be by grade level/student age, it might be by teaching team, it might be random. Regardless, the small groups review the list of ideas and mark those that capture their imaginations. Ideas are reviewed for similarities and patterns. Notes are taken within the small groups, capturing yet more ideas about intent and needs.
Step 3: The leader asks each small group to report in their findings, to share their desires with the whole group. This process narrows down the list of potential next steps without making individuals vulnerable. Again, the leader creates a discussion protocol by writing down all ideas raised by the small groups.
Keep in mind at this point, the leader is not asking for processes to complete the task or investments of resources. What you are doing is building consensus. You are tapping into talented minds, probing for solutions or innovations that will directly impact your organization. It is a democratic process which allows all voices to rise.
Step 4: Soon after this meeting, the consolidated list is provided to the teacher by email or memo. Teachers are given time to review and think about next steps. Perhaps a week later, the leader will call on the staff to develop a plan for learning, or a plan for change. This step is often accomplished through committees or simply asking for volunteers. Once a plan has been designed, it is brought back to the entire group for review and comment. And the discussion cycle begins again.
Perhaps one of the best publications defining leadership protocols is, Five Elements of Collective Leadership for Early Childhood Professionals by Cassandra O’Neill and Monica Brinkerhoff (2017). We lend this book to your attention as well as their FREE online webinars created by Cassandra O’Neill at this link:
Crisis often leads to innovations. Today we have many organizations providing quality online learning opportunities for early childhood educators. Included in this newsletter are links to professional development that can be reviewed whole staff or individually. The beauty of this kind of offering is that staff can view on their own schedule, and then form group discussions around ideas. Viewing these webinars and workshops as a teaching team may be a way to spark innovation within your organization, bringing professional development home.
O’Neill, C., & Brinkerhoff, M. (2017). Five elements of collective leadership for early childhood professionals. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press and Washington, D.C.: NAEYC
“When we share our authentic experiences – targeting improvement of practice and supporting each other’s growth – we really are building high quality learning environments for our students.”Mary Ann Biermeier M.Ed.