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March 1, 2022
Vol. 79
No. 6

ASCD PLS Connections / A Partnership for Adaptive Leadership

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Professional Learning
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When schools face unexpected challenges, it's leaders who often have the answers. But sometimes they, too, can use a little guidance.
The School District of Manatee County in Florida has been partnering with ASCD on professional learning services targeted specifically at leaders. Through workshops, self-reflection and evaluation, and regular check-ins with experienced leadership consultants, the partnership helps both established and aspiring leaders build their capacity and more effectively communicate with colleagues.
"We want to be on the forefront of instructional leadership," says Dr. Melinda Lundy, Manatee's director of professional learning and leadership development. "We want to be well grounded in best practice …. We want opportunities that push our thinking and that broadens our critical commentary."
The partnership with ASCD began in 2020, when Manatee County sought PD services to help prepare leaders for the complexities of virtual learning. Since then, the program has been adapted to meet the evolving needs of the district's educators, says Lundy.
In October 2021, two groups, one specifically for assistant principals and the other for aspiring leaders, began capacity-building workshops with ASCD faculty members Ann Cunningham-Morris and Opal Dawson, respectively. A third group, designated for school principals and led by superintendent of the City of Fairfax Schools in Virginia Phyllis Pajardo, has begun self-evaluation ahead of workshops this spring.
Keisha Chandler, ASCD's senior implementation manager for professional learning services, helped develop the program in collaboration with Lundy, using methods presented by Pajardo and Cunningham-Morris and others in the book The Principal Influence: A Framework for Developing Leadership Capacity in Principals (ASCD, 2016). The text breaks down school leadership into various roles, such as visionary, instructional leader, and engager to help principals identify and strengthen the various forms of support they provide.
"You have these roles that principals play, 'You're the visionary, you're the instructional leader, you're the engager, you're a learner collaborator,'" says Dawson. "We went through all of those roles and [discussed] within those roles, what are you doing as you work with teachers?"
One of the first steps leaders in this training took was reflecting on their own abilities to communicate and collaborate with colleagues. That's crucial because it can be difficult in a leadership position to think critically about your own professional practice, says Cunningham-Morris.
"We tend to say, 'I just have so much to do, I don't have time to reflect,'" she says. "But reflecting on our practice is huge for our own growth as leaders so that we can meet the needs of our staff and our students."
Participants have echoed that idea. As an aspiring leader wrote in feedback, "My experience thus far has been rewarding and reflective as I go below the surface of leadership and discover and develop my growth-mindset."
The program also benefits participants by giving them a chance to work with and learn from each other. As one assistant principal reflected, "Powerful conversations are happening because we can work with other [assistant principals] who we would not normally see and talk with."
For district administrators who want to implement this kind of professional learning, Lundy says it is crucial to be intentional about the skills you want educators to develop.
"Have the collaborative discussions about how you want to grow over the years … and when you are trying to focus on a professional learning area, have it planned thoughtfully," she says.
No leader can have the answer to every challenge their school faces, but with the training developed with ASCD, school leaders in Manatee are building their capacity to uplift and guide teachers and, ultimately, better support learning for students.
Learn more about ASCD's Professional Learning Services.

Noble Ingram is the Associate Online Editor of Educational Leadership magazine.

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