January/February 2018

Keith Pain, Ed.D. is an assistant professor in the Educational Leadership program at the University of St. Francis in Joliet and is a retired Illinois superintendent, principal, and teacher.

While all professions recognize the importance of professional development and educational experiences related to one’s work, for educators and board members, professional development is particularly critical for improving district teaching quality and for raising student achievement in public schools.

Research has demonstrated that not only does professional development for teachers and district leaders raise the quality of our children’s education, but that teachers gaining exemplary classroom instructional skills from continual professional development is one of the most important factors contributing to a student’s success. Additionally, in 2011, the National School Board Association’s Center for Public Education, when examining the practices of school board members in both low- and high-achieving school districts, found that school boards in high-achieving school districts are more likely to also take part in professional development so they can learn how they can facilitate school improvement and enhance the instructional skills of their teaching staff.

The Illinois Association of School Boards sponsors a wide range of board development opportunities and workshops. Specifically, School Board LeaderShop programs not only address the basic, but important, school board member roles and responsibilities, but also provide governance workshops. These workshops help board members and boards work collaboratively with their superintendent to

Ensure that school boards continuously focus on high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction by defining goals and a clear vision.

Be increasingly data savvy by monitoring student achievement so that continuous improvement is facilitated through the district’s goals.

Sustain educational resources, including professional development, which focus on and enable success for the district goals for school improvement.

It is especially in this last point where school board members can have a dramatic effect on the district’s accomplishment of its goals with respect to student achievement.

Recent research from the Rand Research Corporation has concluded that teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling. Additionally, regarding student performance on reading and math tests, teachers and their instruction are estimated to have two to three times the impact of any other school factor. It is therefore critical that teachers continually receive professional development on content and strategies that enhance their teaching for the highest achievement for our students. Moreover, it is quite clear that educational administrators must also receive their own professional development so that they can continue to effectively lead school improvement for schools and teachers and so that our students are educated to the highest level possible.

When both teachers and leaders maintain professional development, the school board’s most important mission of effectively educating all students is much more easily attained. School board members cannot neglect this important responsibility to facilitate district-wide professional development if they truly wish their schools’ student achievement to move to a higher level. Start by becoming involved in IASB professional development and encouraging your district staff to include professional development in one of the district’s goals or to increase their commitment to this important prerequisite to effective and continuous school improvement.