Take the Risk, Take the Extra Step: Advice for School Leaders

Furman head shot

Dr. Robert Furman

South Park Elementary, Pennsylvania


Dr. Robert Furman, Principal of South Park Elementary, was interviewed by edWeb to gain an administrator’s perspective on providing quality professional development for teachers and the social aspect of learning.  While Robert first discovered edWeb as a webinar presenter, he quickly realized the site’s potential as a best-practices research platform, an affordable source of teacher PD, and an opportunity for growth-focused evaluation.

Robert first discovered edWeb at a conference when our team asked him to present a webinar.  It was when he presented that he learned about edWeb.net’s Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and realized the vast resources that the site provides educators.  The site provided him with a resource for his personal learning, and edWeb has now become one of his go-to places for discovering best practices and ideas.  Robert describes edWeb as a hands-on, best-practices research platform that allows administrators and educators with busy schedules the opportunity to find information in the little free time they have.

edWebinars provide a flexible solution to the time-crunch all educators experience.  It’s clear that educators have very little time to dedicate to professional development, and Robert and his teachers use edWeb as a way to structure PD around their own schedules.  Particularly, the South Park educators use edWeb’s archived webinar recordings to get valuable and targeted information at their own convenience.  Robert also expressed the importance of follow-up after PD to ensure that the experience has been valuable and that teachers understand and know how to utilize the information they have been given.  When the teachers at South Park Elementary view an edWebinar, Robert often provides them with guiding questions to foster learning, as well as the opportunity for group analysis of the information.  Another important benefit of edWeb.net for South Park Elementary is that it’s free for educators.  Robert acknowledged the implications that small district budgets have on bringing in presenters for teacher professional development and explained that edWeb gives his school the opportunity to bring in the experts, free of charge.

The social and community aspect of edWeb.net is also a great benefit for the educators at Robert’s school.  If they view a webinar that strikes a chord with them, they have the ability to join and interact with the professional learning community that held the presentation.  Robert also uses the communities personally, as they help direct his research process.  He is particularly active in the Leadership 3.0 community, which gives him the opportunity to connect with and learn from administrators who share his experiences.   Robert thinks these communities are a particularly useful resource in that they provide the opportunity to share best practices without the hindrance of time or location. edWeb members are developing  truly global friendships by connecting with other educators on the site, and it’s an especially great experience to meet other members at conferences and be able to say, “I saw you on edWeb!”  Rob expressed that the social aspect of technology allows us share information with other educators quickly and efficiently, in a way that we haven’t been able to before.  It is important to remember that you may not have the answer, but someone else who has already experienced it may.

South Park Elementary is in the process of implementing a teacher evaluation system that incorporates edWeb into the process.  Robert wants his teachers to have opportunities to grow, and sees his role as integral in providing true learning experiences for the South Park staff.  If he identifies a deficiency, rather than seeing it as a failure, his goal is to provide as many resources as he can to help the teachers improve.  With the webinars that edWeb provides, Robert can target the specific concern, have the teacher view the webinar, and have them report back so they can discuss the information and figure out together how to implement it in the classroom.

One piece of advice that Robert has for other administrators who are interested in utilizing edWeb in their schools is to take the time to sit down and help each teacher get started.   When Robert first decided to use the resources edWeb provides, he dedicated half an in-service training day to help all of his teachers join and become active in the edWeb.net community.  He also made sure to create his own community so that he and his school’s teachers could communicate.  Rob stressed the importance of dedicating the time to this setup process, saying, “it may take a half-day now, but you’re going to reap the benefits for years to come.”

“They like the idea of having the social community.  They’ve actually branched off into other communities as well.  I think they’ve got a Pinterest recipe book going these days too…we’ve created a monster – they’re all over the place!  It’s really been a nice experience for them to be able to join other educators, and you know it’s come full circle when they’ve gone out and watched things without me having to point them out.  Whenever they come to me and they say –  ‘hey, I’ve checked this out, this is really cool, you watch it!’ – you know you’ve arrived when you’ve gotten to that 360° usage.”

“Take the risk.  Take the extra step.  Don’t assume it’s going to happen on it’s own.  You’ve got to put a little blood, sweat, and tears behind this kind of stuff – but in the end it’s worth it.  You’re going to see your scores rise.  You’re going to see your teachers be happier, because they seek this knowledge, they want it.  They don’t want to be mediocre, they want to be superior – and the ones that are superior want to be even better.  By giving them these opportunities, you’re going to look like the leader that you’re supposed to be.  Remember, we’re the instructional leader[s], we’re the head teacher[s].  We’ve got to be the one[s] that [are] teaching our staff, and this is just a great tool to do that.”   – Dr. Robert Furman

Dr. L. Robert Furman Ed.D. is the principal at South Park Elementary Center in South Park, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Instructional Technology Tools and Motivating the Reluctant Reader Through Technology.  Rob is a blogger for the Huffington Post and a writer for Scholastic’s Reader Leader Forum. Rob was recently honored as a national “20 to watch” in educational technology by the National School Board Association.