A study of the views and positions of school administrators toward professional development
Darden, George Washington
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This multi-site case study focused on administrators who work in the schools of the Cobb County, Georgia, school system—one of the largest, most diverse, and most rapidly changing systems in the state of Georgia. The purpose of the study was to explore how school leaders in a diverse school district view professional development in an era of standards-based reform. My study was related to other studies on professional development and educational leadership, including those that focus on the design and implementation of professional learning programs, those that address issues of social justice in professional development, those that identify cross-national issues and dilemmas in professional development, and those that examine administrator behavior in general. The results showed that while all school leaders under study recognized the fundamental tenets of modern professional learning, not all were willing to or capable of implementing long-term, collaborative, classroom-based, participant-driven professional development programs. Administrators also differed in terms of who they believed should design professional development programs—people from inside the school or “outside experts.” Teacher resistance was uniformly reported, but it seemed that those school leaders who stood up to teacher resistance ultimately gained teacher compliance. Other school leaders used teacher resistance to excuse the absence of a professional development program. Administrators varied on whether there was a social justice motivation behind staff development. Administrators universally spoke of the changes that have recently come to American education, in terms of technology, policy, and professional development itself. Interestingly, administrators who proved to have the clearest vision of the goals of professional development and were able to rally their teachers around that vision were the ones who had most directly adopted the District’s focus on raising test scores. Finally, administrators showed little awareness of cross-national issues in schooling and professional development, despite the fact that most of the issues they discussed have also been documented in different settings around the world. The study is of value to those who seek to understand how federal, state, and local policies are implemented in schools, and how those policies are preserved or modified when school leaders are given the prerogative to carry them out.