Professional Development as a Leadership Opportunity

By Chris Amirault, Ph.D., and Christine Snyder, M.A., coauthors of Finding Your Way Through Conflict: A Guide for Early Childhood Educators

Professional Development as a Leadership OpportunityIn our work with early childhood educators on developing strategies in and for conflict, we’ve noticed a common pattern unfold in organizational trainings, conference workshops, and other professional development settings. Teams will attend our sessions, and all too often the supervisors for those teams are present in body but not in spirit. They plunk away at their devices, or sit in the back reviewing paperwork or chatting with other supervisors.

To be sure, as two program directors, we understand that there’s always a lot for supervisors to do! But we see this as a missed opportunity for leadership development—one that has tremendous benefits if only we recognize them as such. Here are four simple steps we encourage, along with why we think they’re important.

1. Sell the PD with Your Engagement.  

We’ve always thought it a bit strange when leaders demonstrate little interest in professional development that they’ve chosen and paid for! If you aren’t taking your own choices seriously as a development opportunity for the educators in your program, why would anyone else do so? If nothing else, you might as well lean into your investment to get your money’s worth—instead of underselling the product you are promoting your staff.

2. Distinguish Content, Skills, and Mindset.

Too often, professional development emphasizes only one area of development for adult learning. You know what we mean: the 57-page PowerPoint presentations with dozens of slides filled with sentence after sentence of overwhelming content—none of which is likely to change a single person’s behavior. If you engage with the training, you have the ability to point out and discuss the skills needed for thoughtful implementation of that content. But content and skills aren’t everything!

3. Model Growth Mindset.

Without a corresponding expansion of attitudes and beliefs, even outstanding training that aligns relevant content with excellent skill-building opportunities won’t have any lasting change on your program. You need a mindset shift, and you are the best person to model growth mindset. What ideas are most challenging to you? What is pushing you out of your comfy spot into a real zone of proximal development? Modeling that shift is the on-ramp to meaningful change as an outgrowth of the training.

4. Mentor Next-Generation Leadership.

We often ask our leadership colleagues, “Who are your three?” In every learning situation, collaborative meeting, study group, coaching session—you name it—we think you should be asking yourself, “Who are at least three people in whom I am investing leadership development?”

That simple question is revealing: true leaders laugh and list half a dozen or more people they are mentoring, formally or otherwise, whereas others are troubled, even offended, by the question. If you don’t know whom you’re mentoring to advance their leadership capacity, you’re not taking full advantage of each professional development opportunity! To grow as a leader and an educator, we encourage embracing the suggestions in this post and making the most of PD.

Chris AmiraultChris Amirault, Ph.D., is the school director of Tulsa Educare MacArthur in Oklahoma, and for more than three decades has dedicated himself to high-quality education, teaching courses and facilitating workshops on early childhood education, conflict, assessment and instruction, ethics and professionalism, challenging behavior, family engagement, antibias education, and equity. Prior to his arrival in Tulsa, he lived in Mexico, working as a consultant focusing on organizational culture, change management, and QRIS system design in Oregon, Rhode Island, and California.

For thirteen years prior to that, he served as executive director of the Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center affiliated with Brown University in Rhode Island. During that time, he also taught early childhood education and development courses for area colleges and universities and served as a mentor and coach for providers throughout the community.

Author Christine SnyderChristine M. Snyder, M.A., has worked in early childhood education since 1999 as a teacher, center director, author, and trainer/coach. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education and a bachelor’s degree in child development. She is currently director of the University of Michigan Health System Children’s Center and assistant professor in the college of education at Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan.

Previously, she was an early childhood specialist at the HighScope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where she focused on developing professional learning for teachers and curriculum for preschoolers and infants/toddlers. She facilitates training throughout the United States, internationally, and online, and has published several books, articles, training DVDs, and other classroom resources for teachers. She lives in Michigan.

Finding Your Way Through ConflictChris and Christine are coauthors of Finding Your Way Through Conflict: Strategies for Early Childhood Educators.

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