Professional Development has never been this good, right?
Sage Consultancy has led two Deep Dive workshops for the Association of International Schools in Africa (AISA) , one in the fall of 2020 and again in 2021. In preparation, Sage developed materials on subjects common to all school finance and operations managers, our workshop delivery was, however, tailored to areas important to staff in the African international school context.
The second workshop this past October comprised of weekly online meetings over a five week period. Participants were to prepare for each meeting by reviewing and completing Sage curated online materials at a time convenient to their schedule. The materials, including discussion boards, questionnaires, templates, article references, videos, and case studies, were accessed via a learning management system.
As my background includes 30 years of organizing professional development opportunities in Africa (as the second AISA Executive Secretary), the USA, and Japan before joining Sage, I’ve thought deeply about how PD has evolved.
I’ve employed name-brand consultants that frequent the international school circuit, teachers teaching teachers, IB workshops, hosted university professors for both local and regional workshops, distributed targeted funds for summer study, and been directly involved in just about every staff development style and content option that one could suggest.
So it would seem like a good time to reflect on what Sage Consultancy has learned from organizing the AISA workshops and our experience in providing online professional development.
Value for Money: Clearly PD delivery options have changed dramatically over the last two years, and the base costs of bringing expertise to individual schools and groups has significantly decreased. Instead of air travel and lodging expenses, the less expensive fees of internet, Zoom, and LMS subscriptions take their place. That makes the user's costs more efficiently focused on Sage's accumulated expertise.
Some new subject areas attracting attention: In the 2020 session, “Good Practice in Financial Management of International Schools for Finance & School leaders”, the topics that generated the strongest response from our participants were managing board finance committees, budgeting and financial planning and fee setting. Those topics have always been the concern for school business managers. The “new” topic area that captured attention in that 2020 workshop, due possibly in part to online meetings and the array of new visualization techniques, was developing data presentation skills which supported visualizing financial skills. The latest AISA workshop in 2021 was titled “Effective School Business Management for Finance & School Leaders” and included such topics a supporting the admissions team and schoolwide documentation, whereby it was procurement strategies that generated the most animated discussions.
The need to connect with colleagues is as strong as ever: As with schools and learners, there is an informal curriculum that can be as satisfying and as important as the formal syllabus. What became clear in Sage's interactions with AISA participants over the two years was the course delivery and structure needed to support chatting and the process of getting to know other professionals who are in a similar role with similar challenges.
In both 2020 and 2021 AISA offerings, we saw a clear need for ways for individuals in the same job area to be able to stay in touch with their colleagues, sharing what they know, and seeking advice from among themselves. So, for example, encouraging participants to remain in the online meetings beyond the formal time frame provided a way for attendees to get to know each other and create linkages that would last beyond the formal sessions.
Formal communication structures are crucial: Within the AISA business managers, the chat groups that used to link them have come and gone. What seems to have happened is the individual or individuals who championed that effort have either moved on, became too busy (or Covid distracted), and the linkages have withered from lack of leadership. We have witnessed this same deterioration in other regions we have worked in. So it seems to me that there’s a need for some leadership to support these connections and create professional structures to promote networking.
Sage Consultancy is playing it's part in supporting this networking through its monthly newsletters, blog posts and professional development as it sees the opportunity to keep the conversation alive a worthy goal. We look forward to our continuing work within AISA and the impact that is has.