In a previous blog entry I discussed why no teacher should pay for basic classroom supplies.
Let's take this mentality a step further, explaining why no teacher should pay for professional growth books.
Better teachers get better results. Period.
While we wish teachers were perfect the minute they enter the classroom, the reality is teachers cannot reach their full potential without professional development.
There are several approaches to professional development. Participating in coaching cycles, completing peer classroom observations, and attending workshops and conferences are prime examples. All are effective practices, and when done right can significantly impact teacher effectiveness.
However, there are two drawbacks to these delivery models. First, teachers must find time during their (already busy) daily schedule to complete these activities. Second, teachers are dependent on others to complete these tasks.
There is another professional development opportunity that provides teachers with great flexibility in terms of time and reliance on others: reading.
Stephen Covey once said, "There’s no better way to inform and expand your mind on a regular basis than to get into the habit of reading good literature. You can get into the best minds that are now or have ever been in the world."
We are fortunate to live in a time where everything learned about effective teaching is written down somewhere, waiting to be discovered. While not all that is read will resonate, teachers who have breakthrough moments while reading often experience bursts of enthusiasm that last for months.
Here's the problem: While most educational leaders publicly encourage lifelong learning, few operationalize this attitude in day-to-day operations.
How many times have you seen the following: An administrator tells a group of teachers, "Here is a book you may be interested in reading" but there is no follow-through from the leader to purchase the book. Essentially, the leader is saying, "You should read this book. Now go and buy it with your own money."
School administrators must flip their mindset: Instead of the district asking teachers to buy books, teachers should ask the district to buy books.
This outside-the-box thinking may pose some questions. Let's address three primary concerns now:
What will the teacher do in return? The answer is simple: Nothing. Some believe teachers need to participate in a book study or turn in a report to justify book purchases. How about we trust staff and resist treating them like high school students? If employees take initiative to request a book, let's assume they will read the book and implement their takeaways without micromanaging.
Is this an appropriate use of public funds? I've spent considerable time looking through public dollar spending guidance. Purchasing professional books for staff development falls under a number of categories that will keep your auditor happy. Consider using your Professional Development budget, a common fund for most school districts around the country.
Does this approach get expensive? Leaders who adopt a “free PD books for all staff” attitude will realize that teachers are respectful of the process and rarely abuse the system. And if you have too many teachers wanting to read … is this really a bad problem? The simple gesture of supporting employee personal growth is well-worth the investment.
One example how we've endorsed this mindset was when we purchased Elena Aguilar's Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators for any interested staff member.
We selected this book because Aguilar touches on many challenges our employees face. Furthermore, her book meshed with our district core values and strategic anchors.
But when 80 staff members requested a copy of the book of the $25 book, I began to second-guess the decision.
Is this the best use of money?
Should we have limited the copies?
What will our business office think?
Once the sticker shock wore off, I felt comfort by thinking the following: So you're telling me a $2000 investment will result in 80 staff members more excited about their job, further engaged in our district, and better prepared to teach our students?
What a bargain!
The best leaders don’t just give lip service to lifelong learning. They create systems where barriers to lifelong learning are removed.
In a profession where employees are given few perks, let’s purchase personal growth books for staff.