A Low Cost Professional Development Plan for Schools
By Matthew Moes
It is only a matter of time before schools realize that the school consists of the talents and abilities of its staff. The school is not a machine wherein the human beings are merely interchangeable parts. Naturally, there should be a level of professionalism that allows roles to be determined and filled by different individuals, but roles are shaped by the personalities and aptitudes of the people who fill them.
Consequently, it follows that stability will come to an institution by developing and retaining the staff that will bring its goals to fruition. This means that compensation must be adequate enough to maintain the needs of the employees, and an investment in professional development (PD) is required to ensure that your staff is able to carry out the mission statement of the school. It also prevents stagnation in individuals who already meet standards of certification. PD is necessary all the way around for a progressively growing institution. Some low cost ways to implement PD in your school:
- Make it a priority: Once it is a priority weighing in on the minds of the board and administrators, doors will open up in this regard.
- Require it in the contract:
- For teachers who are already certified, require them to maintain the CEU (continuing ed units) that are required in your state;
- For teachers who are not yet certified, require them to take at least one class per semester toward certification;
- For both, be sure to require that documentation be provided for filing with the school. (Not doing so will be a violation of the contract).
- Help the staff pay for it:
- Pay as much of the cost of these programs as the school budget allows;
- Deduct the rest from the employee's BUDGETED salary. This should be stated up front. Let's say you have budgeted $20,000 per year salary. The cost of tuition & fees for TE certification for two classes this year will be $2000. You will actually pay the teacher $18k for the year and inform him/her that you have $2k set aside for his/her PD. If they do not use it, they lose the money (and possibly their job, since they did not cooperate in becoming certified). For certified teachers this will be cheaper since CEU workshops are cheaper (perhaps sometimes free).
- Book of the Month Program: Part of PD will come from the school principal recommending books to the staff. These should fall into the following categories:
- Islamic books - topic oriented, not reference books.
- Education - keep teachers up to date on current ideas in education.
- Professionalism - corporations already have booklists on goal setting, positive thinking, motivation, etc.
- Family relationships - teachers should have stable families and be prepared to counsel parents and students with family matters that come to light in conferences.
- Money management - teachers should not be preoccupied with bills and thus should learn to budget their comparatively low salaries better as well as learn how to make investments. Also, many students think education represents the path to financial success in life - how can they learn this from penniless teachers?
- The cost of the Book of the Month program can be very affordable. Assume for example that you have 20 staff members. The first year, the principal (or school board) can invest $200 to find 20 good quality books from the above categories priced around $10 apiece. The principal should be enough of a leader to have already read them all (or at least keep up). The staff should be able to read one per month according to some kind of plan put together by the principal. Each year you add more books and adapt to your school's needs. This ensures that all your staff are reading too. Don't forget to give the staff an incentive to do this extra "work" at first. Also make sure the principal follows through with it each month to find out what the staff is learning. Once they get started, they will appreciate the difference it makes.
- CDs/DVDs/Tapes: Make sure audio discs/tapes are made available to the staff (and even parents) on Islamic topics for the commute to and from the school. You will notice a difference in the moral climate of the school if staff are Islamically oriented.
- Time school breaks with Islamic conferences and promote them to the staff:
- If the school will not pay for the staff to attend Islamic conferences and seminars, then they should at least accommodate through the school schedule.
- Be sure to promote these events and their benefits as well.
- Encourage your staff (and parents) to attend with their families.
- Staff led workshops: Your staff is the school's biggest asset, and they are already under your service! Assign workshop topics to staff members to prepare topics and give in-house workshops throughout the year. Use the strengths of your staff to do this. It builds teamwork, too, as staff members learn where to turn inside the school for help with specialty areas highlighted through these workshops.
- Use your school newsletter:
- Have staff members share articles on their workshop topics, book reviews of the book of the month, or reflections on Islamic seminars or tapes they have found benefit in. It promotes these things to the community while building credibility in your staff;
- Submit articles from your school newsletter to professional publications as well to promote your school and staff through Islamic magazines, educational journals, and otherwise. Imagine an article by your staff being featured in next month's Reader's Digest!
- Hold retreats for you staff; Structure it with activities that build teamwork, and encourage reflection.
I am sure there are more ways to have a progressive yet low-cost PD program. It takes dynamic leaders to initiate and carry out these kinds of ideas, but this should be the focus of the principal. Spend time empowering the teachers rather than checking up on their every move. If you have personally empowered them, then you will have confidence in their abilities.
Our biggest problem is finding talented trained leaders to administer our schools. Under qualified boards and principals are too busy running their best staff away with micromanagement instead of developing and empowering staff to be a stable force in the school for years to come. Let us not forget that if you want to develop your staff, then you should be on par yourself. Board members and principals alike should hold themselves to the same standards. Do not give up trying, but be sure to invest your own time in developing your prowess as an educator. And if you have little or no qualifications to be a principal or a board member, do not hide behind the excuse that there are few other candidates willing to take the job. At least enroll in a proper program to become qualified. That is no less than what we expect of the rest of the staff.
The future of our schools rests on the people who operate them at all levels, and the future of Islam in this country rests on our schools. May Allah give us His help.
Br. Matthew Moes enjoys a distinguished career as an educator and administrator in Islamic schools and is a Board Member for the ISLA.