Planning for growth…

Earlier this month I shared a quote with staff, hinting at the direction we are heading with our professional development and learning programme. In their excellent book, Professional Capital (2012), Andy Hargreaves (@HargreavesBC) and Michael Fullan (@MichaelFullan1) state

What is needed is a profession that constantly and collectively builds its knowledge base and corresponding expertise, where practices and their impact are transparently tested, developed circulated and adapted. There needs to be a continuous amalgamation of precision and innovation, as well as inquiry, improvisation and experimentation.

 

Over the last few months I’ve tried to synthesise their work and that of many others (which I’ve blogged about recently), while also reflecting on the successes and challenges we’ve faced in trying to engage staff with learning projects, which culminated in this week’s ‘Celebration of Inquiry’. Today I shared with staff the fruits of that lengthy process with the launch of the themes for next year’s Learning Communities… and I’m very excited…LC

The work of the Learning Communities will form the backbone of our professional development and learning programme next year. We’ve bought staff some time by committing to the introduction of a fixed professional learning slot where once a half-term, students will have a late start to facilitate the meeting of the Learning Communities (we toyed with making it a fixed weekly arrangement to open up a whole host of other development opportunities, but decided to take one step at a time).

Staff have now been asked to read the blurb for each of the 10 themes and identify which Learning Community they would most like to become part of for the year. Although there is some overlap between some of the themes, the overall scope is intentionally broad in order not only to cater to a wide range of personal development and learning interests, but also to ensure that the work of the Learning Communities supports a range of strategic development priorities (i.e. priorities based on what we see as trends from observations etc, as well as priorities relating to the implemention of new courses with increasing challenge and linear assessment).

Within each Learning Community, staff will be supported with identifying and articulating specific inquiry questions to explore. It is likely that a range of different inquiry questions will be explored within each community, but these questions will nest within the group’s theme, allowing for individual direction but maintaining internal alignment of the community.

The focus of each Learning Community is underpinned by a piece of ‘essential reading’. For some of the communities, this consists of carefully selected articles and online resources (blogs, videos etc), while for other groups it is a carefully selected book. Once staff have indicated which community they would like to join, we buy the books! This key reading will be a stimulus for the professional learning of the group: books (or articles and web links where this constitutes the reading material) will be distributed before the start of our nice long summer for staff to read before the first meeting mid-Septemer! Individuals and groups will then derive specific inquiry questions to develop their own practice based on the learning stimulated by their reading and the discussion that ensues.

Each meeting of the Learning Communities will provide opportunity for each member to share their progress, engage in some new learning/ reflection on the reading or other stimulus, and plan for next steps. These meetings will be supported through the use of twilight INSET opportunities to develop all staff as coaches and as observers, as well as supporting staff with the devleopment of research skills (eg framing inquiry questions and measuring impact through soft or hard data, or using peer observation (which will run to the agenda of the observed teacher) or student observation).

Over the course of the year, the intention is to draw upon the developing expertise within these communities and use it to support staff beyond those communities as well. The work will end in a ‘Celebration of Inquiry’ event – it’ll be like the one we had earlier this week, but on a larger scale… I envisage all staff will be involved in sharing their learning from across the year…

I for one can’t wait!

“Teachers are like gardeners”… and so must our leaders be

As we continue to work on our plans for our professional development learning model for next year, looking to turn the masses of research I blogged about recently into a tangible model that will work for us in our context, I happened to come across this video (via this excellent post on (not) grading lessons by @JohnTomsett):

So what are the conditions for the professional growth of our teachers? How do we, to extend Sir Ken’s (@SirKenRobinson) final comments, ensure that learning is not just something for young people but is something that endures throughout the whole of our lives? What must we, as school leaders, do to ensure that we have a pedagogy for teacher learning that is held in the same regard and with the same level of importance as the learning of our students?

Well, I think it’s hard to dispute Drucker’s much-used quote about the importance of culture, and this is surely the place to start.

IMG_3856We’ve done a lot of work on establishing a culture which is developmental and supportive; which is challenging yet aware of anxiety and stress… The way we approached the start of our journey, the way we have moved ahead with lesson observations/visits, the message we are trying to convey about workload and priorities, the approach to staff development which celebrates expertise within our community and which gets staff working together… These things, are all part of the effort being invested in getting the culture right. This photo of the corner of the notice board in my office shows the quote that I look at every day…

So yes, culture is critical (and there is a lot to write about on this topic alone), but I don’t think anyone would do deny that you also need a strategy!

So what is our strategy for professional growth going to be?

It still reads more like a manifesto than a nailed-down plan of action, but this is what we’ve got so far, out of which is starting to crystalise something more concrete…

  • Our strategy is going to be rooted in long-term collaborative enquiry which develops and shares expertise based on the impact it has on student learning and outcomes. The model for how we do this will be based on the understanding that improving practice involves changing habits, not simply adding more knowledge, and this takes time.
  • To do this, we will create time and opportunity for all staff to be part of a Learning Community which meets at least half-termly. These Learning Communities, which will be loosely themed to allow teachers the choice to coalesce around a particular area of personal interest to them, will explore beliefs and assumptions about learning and teaching, encourage risk-taking and innovation, and support staff to engage in and with evidence and research (their own and from academic research). The structure of the meetings for our Learning Communities will be agreed and fixed so that the structure provides routine and the routine becomes habituated, bringing the learning within the sessions to the fore.
  • Our strategy will include the development of all staff as coaches and as observers, and these skills will be used for peer-observation (driven by the agenda of the teacher being observed, no one else) and reflective questioning to support each other in joint practice development.
  • We will develop the role that student voice plays in the process of the  professional growth of our teachers, drawing on the Learning & Teaching committee that will be part of our new School Parliament.
  • At the end of the year, all staff will share and celebrate their learning from the across the year as part of a Celebration of Inquiry.

On we go with the details…

 


“Why professional learning rather than professional development?”

It may seem pedantic, but the distinction drawn by Helen Timperley et al in their report Teacher Professional Learning and Development is one that resonates with what we are trying to achieve here…
Over time, the term ‘professional development’ has taken on connotations of delivering some kind of information to teachers in order to influence practice whereas ‘professional learning’ implies an internal process through which individuals create professional knowledge.