Using Virtual Professional Development to Impact Staff Culture

Alicia Jensen · February 26, 2020

As I reflect through my administrator lens on the halfway point in a school year, it is a crazy and satisfying place to be. You are beginning to truly see thegoals for the year that were set out start to grow into the new culture of the school and, at the same time, you are in the crazy bustle that is the beginning of planning for a new school year that is still months away.

This year as we set our goals we reflected on our data and what we wanted to see different at the conclusion of this school year from last. We set goals around academic growth and achievement, we set goals around student behavior and our response to it, and we also set goals around our school culture and climate and what we wanted to have it feel like when someone walked into our building. We are a large elementary school, with a staff of nearly seventy, and although elementary is known for many positive things, a large staff is still a large staff. We came into this year suffering from staff feeling disjointed and not connected to each other or to common goals. We have made an intentional focus on our school culture work this year knowing that it impacts our ability to achieve our other goals well and in sustainable ways.

The more times you can create a shared experience for people, the better! It’s the reason why the ice breakers that people roll their eyes at are actually critical to the work that needs to be accomplished. Creating shared experiences is a challenge! With a large staff, the expectation for attendance at Professional Learning days, kick-off events, and staff meetings vary based on classification. As such, not having everyone hear the same message at the same time, and in the same way, creates continued situations where staff feel like some have more opportunities for growth than others I have attended multiple CharacterStrong Educator Trainings in the last few years. The staff that have joined me have come back as the champions for the work of the whole child and I couldn’t do this work without them! However, my building budget cannot support me sending all of my staff to two-day educator training sessions. Even if it did, I cannot be so naive as to believe that an amazing reminder from Houston Kraft or John Norlin, or any of the other awesome presenters is enough to ensure that this work becomes our standard.

Enter Virtual PD!

We started our CharacterStrong Virtual PD work this year and have launched it in 10-15 minute segments with all staff. Since all the materials are there for you, you can work systematically through the lessons, or pick and choose the ones that we need to be reminded of at that time. Since it’s all digital, it allows for the opportunity to stop the video and have an authentic whole group conversation about what that looks like in our school and how we are currently interpreting the language or concepts. As John tells us, “We need to be reminded more than we need to be taught.” This allows for those reminders to be delivered throughout the year, and to a larger audience than I could support with just our professional learning budget.

The work of changing a school culture is long and if it isn’t one that you are purposefully designing, you can land in places where the behaviors that are the norm are not the ones that you want or expect.

Like anything, we need to stick to it for it to work! It needs to come back into our conversations in as many times and ways as it can. This isn’t work that allows you to just arrive; it takes time and consistency and it is worth it. If we as a school want to make larger academic gains, we need to work together. If we want to go to a school where staff wants to be here, we have to work together. If we want to send students out into the world who are intentional about making the world a better place, we need to work together. CharacterStrong and the Virtual Professional Development they just launched help give us the language and tools to be able to do that.


Alicia Jensen

Alicia is in her fourth year as an elementary principal, and seventeenth year in education. Her passion is to make every person: student, staff or community member, who walks into their school know that they are valued and loved. She strives to find a good balance in her life, because she is also passionate that her husband and their three boys know that they are loved and valued as well. She loves to keep up on current education things through twitter @PrincipalAlicia, and if you would like to see the day to day work her school does, follow them on Facebook at Ptarmigan Ridge Elementary School.