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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Learning - In An Empty School

Tomorrow is a staff development day at Heatly. This is a great opportunity for our staff to have the time to work together and address perceived needs to leverage continued improvement of our instructional program. The morning begins with a presentation on the value of collaboration. In fact, the title of the agenda for the day is, A Day of Collaboration. This discussion will be followed by a variety of learning activities planned by a committee of staff members.

Before we share information on these training experiences, it's worth noting the apparent irony that plagues schools everywhere. Public schools across the country promote life-long learning as a value embedded within their organizational mission statements. Yet, when one examines the amount of time that school districts are able and willing to commit to advancing the learning of their staff members, it appears contradictory. That is, the state provides for a mere four days in the school year for staff development, or as the state refers to them - Superintendent Conference Days. Contrast that with the amount of training typically provided in the private sector. For instance, if a new technique of an innovative technology reaches the market that impacts performance and efficiency levels at General Electric, IBM, Ford, or even much smaller, local businesses, you can be assured that the business or firm will provide training for employees. It's a matter of remaining competitive. If these businesses don't adopt and practice the new technique or use the innovative technology, they may fall behind their competitors that do utilize these new factors. Losing out on these opportunities may very well mean losing customers and losing business. Schools are really no different.

Research supports this contention. I have read where the average business sets aside approximately 10% of their annual budget to support training for employees. Meanwhile, public schools allocate less than 1% of their budgets for staff development. There are generally two reasons for this difference. First, beyond the state restrictions of four days per school year, schools rely on tax-payer approved funds and many members of the public have difficulty envisioning that teachers are actually "working" when there are no learners in the school. That thinking is aligned with similar associations that doctors only "work" when they are interacting with a patient, or lawyers only "work" when they are engaging with clients. There are new policies and programs to be enacted, new teaching methods to be practiced, and new mandates to be accommodated by school staff.

Secondly, staff development days prompt changes in childcare needs. A day off other than a holiday or annual winter and spring breaks can be disconcerting to those parents who must search for alternative locations and supervision for their children when school is not in session. While faculty meetings and committee meetings take place after school hours, large scale and lengthier training activities require half or full day agendas. These training sessions cannot be done while the school is full of children. If the staff development sessions are scheduled for the summer months when children are already out of school, then it would increase costs for the district and thereby increase budgets at a time when the economy has a tight grip on everyone's budget. This is similar to training in the private sector, which is nearly always provided during the work day, since private sector employees are not expected to work beyond their regular schedule to receive training without compensation.

The Heatly staff will be attending sessions tomorrow involving the Instructional Design Team, The safe Schools Committee, The Policy Committee, Team building exercises, Progress Monitoring Training, as well as a few different technology experiences like Smartboard Basics and Applications, Instructional Websites, and Microsoft Office Applications in Education. It will be a full day that contributes toward staff members affirming the need to be life-long learners.

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