staff development

This week we were to reflect on the staff development standards issued by the National Staff Development Council (NSCD) in terms of what staff development would look like in our own school when we assume the role of Principal or Vice-Principal.  After reading through the 12 standards, I decided to narrow my reflection to three:  Design, Equity and Learning.


Staff development that improves the learning of all students uses learning strategies appropriate to the intended goal.

Far too often, teachers find themselves sitting through lengthy (and well-intentioned) workshops where the design and delivery of content reflects the ‘sage on the stage’ model of teaching.  It is not learner-centred, multi-modal, interactive or engaging.  Although teachers are intended to provide instruction for students that is personalized to their learning needs and styles, the staff development designed for them is typically neither.  As an instructional leader, my goal would be to model throughout staff development opportunities the type of learning environment that I would hope to see throughout the building.  Here are some thoughts:

  • Student work would always be at the centre of staff development (teacher moderation & planning).
  • Staff would be encouraged to develop a Personal Learning Network using social networking tools such as Twitter (see Twitter for Teachers) to personalize their learning.  See the National College for School Leadership paper on networked learning.
  • There would be opportunities for job-embedded learning built into the day so that teachers could work together to support each other in their learning.
  • TEams would be encouraged and given the opportunity to lead staff development and to model effective instructional practices.


Staff development that improves the learning of all students prepares educators to understand and appreciate all students, create safe, orderly, and supportive learning environments, and hold high expectations for their academic achievement.

Until I know that every staff member truly believes that all learners can achieve success, a learning environment cannot be said to be equitable.  I am thrilled that the Ministry of Education will be releasing a new version of the Education for All document in the near future.  As instructional leader, I would ask each of my colleagues to join me in honestly and critically examining the biases, assumptions and beliefs that underpin our teaching.  I would model this by assuming a position of vulnerability by demonstrating my own self-reflection.  I would ask questions such as:

  • How does my teaching and learning embrace diversity (gender, race, socio-economic, religious)?
  • How do my daily interactions with staff and students demonstrate my commitment to equity?
  • How do my hiring practices model my belief in creating a safe and supportive learning environment for all members of the community?


Staff development that improves the learning of all students applies knowledge about human learning and change.

We need to continue to learn about the human brain and how it learns.  Knowledge about how we think and learn is an exploding field.  It is imperative that teachers have access to current information on what teaching practices will be most effective for learners with a variety of life experiences, learning styles preferences and learning needs.  We know that our students need multiple opportunities to develop and hone their higher order thinking skills.  I would want to use staff development opportunities to:

  • engage in conversations around how teachers feel that their students learn.
  • model my own professional learning about human learning and change.
  • demonstrate how my own learning has changed and continues to change.
  • participate in inquiry into how the brain works and what our students need to learn well.

10 thoughts on “staff development

  1. Very thoughtful post, Shannon. As I sit here and reflect on it, there’s no way that you can be successful as a teacher without the effective use and access to computer and internet technologies. Effective use allows for meaningful differentiation in the classroom and professional discourse and sharing among colleagues about best practices and current research. I hope that people who can make this happen read and understand your message.

  2. Hello Shannon,

    I’ve learned a great deal by reading this post. Do you have specific examples in schools with which you work on how they are implementing some of the ideas above?

    Thank you,


  3. Shannon,

    This is an excellent post, you have identified a number of key areas that need to be addressed as we move in a direction of continual refinement and improvement of our craft. I really enjoyed your discussion about the importance of equity of learning for all students. Education for All is a good document and a great place for teachers to start. The concept that all students can achieve succes needs to be infused into the planning we do as teachers on a daily basis. In order to do this effectively we need to share with one another, profesional dialogue is a very powerful tool that we all have at our finger tips on a daily basis.

    Keep spreading the good word.

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  5. Hi Doug,

    Thanks for the comments! Your support of teachers using technologies that are new to them is a huge step. Thanks for always sharing the great resources.


  6. Hey Kent,

    I think that there are places where this is happening – maybe in pockets. I do try to ‘be the change’ whenever I have the opportunity to model or present pd. I think that environments that embrace some of these ideals should be celebrated and noted (so that we can visit!).


  7. Hi Shannon,

    Yes, I agree with you that staff development should model the approach to teaching and learning that we hope we are advocating. As a teacher educator I have also experienced workshops and staff development on student centered learning, social constructivism, etc. that is what you refer to as Sage on the Stage. I believe this occurs because instructional designers or those advocating this new approach have not learned in this manner ourselves. It is hard to break old habits and it does seem much easier to develop teacher directed experiences. It seems that we can maintain control of a situation in which we may not know what to expect. After all, many staff development opportunities are developed by individuals who are not familiar with the people and culture of the organization. So then we regress and fall back on how we have been taught ourselves. Be that as it may, it is essential to deliver the type of learning experience we are advocating so that the people attending/participating in the staff development experience student centered learning as participants. Nevertheless, adults over 30 or 40 probably never have experienced this type of learning either. Learners have to be coached into learning within a new paradigm. Like my undergraduate and graduate students at various ages, they have to be coached to be self-directed and to learn in a different manner. It works both ways. It is quite a dilemma and is challenging to pull off. It will take many generations before learners become used to taking on more responsibility for their own learning. Learners have been so used to just being passive. So it may be necessary to combine an instructivist with a constructivist approach at least at first to help the learner adjust to changing expectations. All of us are learning again how to learn and teach more effectively.

    Great post and information.

  8. Hi Diane,

    I completely agree – it is difficult to change the way that we do things. I think you make an interesting point about learners still being very passive in their learning. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! Be the change :o)

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