NAIS Annual Conference 2013: Professional Learning of the Future

The Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools (ADVIS) developed an online professional development course for the department chairs of its schools. Carla Silver, of the Santa Fe Leadership Center, and Barbara Kraus-Blackney, of ADVIS, led a panel of course participants (Kevin Ruth, Wendy Eitlejorg, Rosemary Guarino) who shared the successes and challenges of offering a blended learning course for an adult community.

First, why targeted professional development for department chairs?

  • Department chairs are an under-served group
  • They have a lot of responsibility with ambiguous authority

Why a blended learning course?

  • Blended learning courses offer opportunities for sustained reflection
  • They are able to connect people who are geographically distant

Class Logistics:

  • The course began with one face-to-face (F2F) all-day session to allow participants to get to know each other
  • There were 5 synchronous sessions, 90 minutes long
  • For asynchronous work, Haiku was the platform used

Course topics included:

  • Rules and Responsibilities of Department Chairs
  • Managing Up/ Managing Down
  • Current and Future Trends in Learning & Teaching
  • Supervision, Evaluation, & Assessment
  • Planning Professional Development
  • Hiring Talent
  • Critical Conversations

Some rewards of using a blended learning model included:

  • Opportunity to spend time with other department chairs
  • Flexible with respect to individual teachers’ time demands
  • The first F2F session was good at setting the tone and expectations
  • Able to have sustained professional development over time
  • Experts were brought in from all over the country to lead the synchronous sessions
  • There is value in being part of a cohort
  • New networks of department chairs within disciplines were established

Some challenges:

  • Time was a factor. Many participants had trouble finding the necessary time to devote to the course.
  • Using Blackboard’s Collaborate application wasn’t easy for some
  • Putting your thoughts out online to people you aren’t familiar with
  • Learning the technology
  • There were inconsistent numbers of participants at different sessions

Based on their experience, the next iteration of this professional development will incorporate these things:


  • Have clear expectations at the beginning
  • Provide better technology training
  • More community building at the F2F session
  • More small group work


  • Shorten the length to 2 – 4 months
  • Less lecture in the synchronous sessions
  • Are the synchronous sessions necessary?


  • The initial F2F meeting
  • Provide cutting-edge experts to present their work
  • Breakout groups
  • Encourage team-building among department chairs within the the same school