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  • Writer's pictureCameron Janzen

Investing in your Support Staff though professional learning

Investment in professional development and training is a reflection of what a school believes about its staff, it is a measure of a school’s learning and its commitment to its people.

In this article Cameron Janzen emphasizes some of the reasons why schools should invest in support staff professional learning and what structures need to be in place for it to succeed.

A common feature in international schools is that faculty and leadership team

members are expatriates and professional support staff are primarily drawn from the national population. The expatriate staff members will be with the school for some years while the support staff are often retained for the long term. The nature of international schools will always require that the majority of professional development spending is allocated towards faculty and leadership. Nevertheless, both equity and inclusion as well as common sense would argue that schools need a professional learning program in place for both members of faculty and staff.

A critical part in creating a learning environment is promoting the expectation that all members of staff are continuous learners. Apart from the important aspect of the positive energy from an inclusive environment, what recommends support staff professional learning is:

Valuing Staff: Investing in professional development and training programs shows employees that a school is invested in their success and interested in cultivating their advancement. If they feel valued, they will stay longer with your school.

Ensuring Staff stay updated: Harvard Business Review quotes Henry Ford as saying, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay”. No matter how current your professional staff was when they joined you, if they neglect continuous learning, they will diminish as professionals. Legal aspects and industry trends move rapidly, and it’s important for schools to keep pace with the times.

Boosting Staff Confidence: Professional development can help bolster employees’

confidence in their work. Greater confidence can, in turn, translate into higher job satisfaction, employee performance, productivity, and overall morale. If given the challenge and opportunity to learn, most people find learning highly rewarding.

Increasing Staff Engagement: Employees engaged in professional development are more likely to stay engaged in their work and to be enthusiastic about pursuing their goals.


Developing professional learning structures for your support staff

Establish an inclusive learning ethos: Review your school’s professional learning strategy and see to what extent professional support staff is included.

The drive to inspire, to increase aspirations, and to unlock potential for all must be a strategic view in inclusive, learning-centered schools. Loucks Horsley’s work reminds us to think of schools as learning communities for all and challenges us to have a paradigm shift in our professional development strategy.

A Paradigm for Professional Development in Learner Centered Schools



Focus on individual development

Individual and system development

"Pull-out" training

Job-embedded learning

Fragmented, piecemeal, one-shot experiences

Clear, coherent, long-term strategic plan

Professional development as some peoples’ job

Professional development as everyone's job

Professional development for teachers

Professional development for everyone

Professional development as a “frill”

Professional development as essential

Note: Table adapted from Loucks-Horsley, S. (1995) Professional Development and the Learner Centered School. Theory into Practice, v34 n4 p265-71 Aut 1995. ERIC

Training vs professional development: Training is organized around meeting the learning needs of the school at the current time. Training fills in an existing gap due to lack of experience or skills within an employee's area of responsibility. Professional development is learning that is designed to help the employee look to the future and support the long-term growth of the school and/or themselves. Be sure your plans for your staff have an appropriate mix of training and professional development.

Adopt Cascading goals: Goal cascading is the process of structuring goals at all levels in an organization. The aim of goal cascading is to translate the goals at the highest level into goals at each level below, extending all the way to individual-level goals. This way, when each team or individual accomplishes their goals, the entire school gets one step closer to reaching larger long term strategic goals. To support the use of cascading goals, shift your supervision and evaluation model to include individual

professional learning goals. Your end of year appraisal meetings can also shift from being an evaluation to one that discusses your staff members current and future learning.

Promote job-embedded learning: Staff development is most effective when it is job embedded. Look for ways to support just in time learning or learning on demand structures for your staff through a library of online learning modules.

Make sure your support staff has access to school wide learning resource staff such as technology integration staff. Encourage peer observations, professional reading groups, and mentoring programs. For many, the best opportunities for learning are held in a convenient and comfortable location, their work area.

Form learning partnerships with out of sector companies: The education sector can become very inward looking. Encourage learning opportunities through training or observations of other industries, particularly ones that may specialize in the desired area of learning. For example, if you want to improve your customer service approach, arrange for training from a high-end hotel chain.

Encourage International and National Certifications: Professional development programs should encourage regular attainment of internationally recognized

certifications in their field of responsibility. Faculty at international schools are required to obtain and maintain international certifications and so should professional support staff. Regular re-certification or additional certifications is also a way to support your staff in keeping their skills current.

National and Regional Leadership: Support your staff in obtaining leadership roles in national or regional professional associations. Many of our schools are in countries that do not have well-established professional associations. Encourage your staff to take leading roles in growing these professional organizations. Open your school facilities to

support professional learning conferences for non-teaching professionals.

The Human Resources Departments of International Schools often lack the resources to complete the heavy lifting of organizing and maintaining effective staff appraisal systems and the corresponding professional learning structures. At Sage Consultancy, we can support the setup of these processes. For example, developing a learning focused appraisal and supervision model.

In addition, at Sage Consultancy we continue to develop professional development offerings to Business Managers and other support staff groups, and we look forward to increasing our offering during 2023.

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