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When I first served as a superintendent, I would hear lots of advice from leaders in the private sector to “run my school district like a business.” I imagined that meant more focus on results, less silos and more cross-functionality. Subsequently, having spent time in the private sector, I did appreciate the things public sector leaders could learn from their private sector counterparts, but conversely I learned many things that could be shared in the opposite direction.

One aspect of running a large business I really valued was the unapologetic way the private sector invests in training and capacity building of its employees. In public education, we often hear that professional development is not seen as quality by employees, especially teachers, and it is often the first function that gets cut when budgets get tight. It’s the opposite in the private sector. There is an expectation to provide quality training to employees and when budgets get strained there is a greater commitment to professional development as the organization may have to build the capacity of its workforce to do more with less.

As school districts focus on providing quality professional development, here are some tips I have found useful in both the public and private sectors. 

  1. Ensure that professional development is not “one and done” but ongoing and job embedded: One shot trainings are often gimmicky or trendy and often miss the scope of what the employee needs. The guest speaker who has a great message can be entertaining, but professional development that actually aligns to what the employee is expected to do, and is delivered in a thoughtful sequence for an appropriate amount of time, is more likely to yield desired results.
  1. Survey staff got to determine needs and personalize training to the unique needs of every employee: We have put a focus on personalizing education for children but have been less committed to following a similar commitment for adult learners. Veteran staff members more than likely have different needs than employees new to the profession.
  1. Take the time to evaluate the quality of the professional development offered. If it’s done at all, most districts evaluate large scale trainings through things like Survey Monkey. While it’s great to say, “ 90% of our employees valued the training,” the more compelling evaluation is to see if it’s actually utilized in practice. Setting outcomes for the training with walk-throughs and “look-fors” instructs practice takes professional development evaluation to another level. Taking a further step to do root cause analysis on the professional development to measure if it made a difference in student performance is the ultimate approach.

While in the private sector, employees would expect high quality, professional development from their organization. Truly, this is an area we in the public sector can take a lesson from in deepening our commitments to our employees.