Last year we dabbled with staff working in groups on Professional Learning Projects – with much success and positive reception. This year, the backbone of our staff development model is taking us further towards long-term, collaborative teacher learning groups: giving staff time and space to work together using an approach that is rooted in enquiry and reflection, informed by research and reading…
A slightly more detailed overview of our model can be seen here, and this guest post for the SSAT gives some big picture context, but this page gives some background to how we arrived where we did. As such, it reads more like a manifesto than a nailed-down plan of action, but this is where things started to crystallise…
- 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.
Here is a sample from a much bigger body of reading that is informing our plans for professional learning…
The (general) research on Professional Development.
The Centre for ths Use of Research Evidence in Education (CUREE, @Curee_official) have produced an equally accesible introduction to the research around teacher development in their report, Understanding What Enables High Quality Professional Learning (I particularly like the distinction in thinking about ‘professional development’ and ‘professional learning’). Equally, The Sutton Trust’s (@suttontrust) report on Developing Teachers contains some useful suggestions and insight to get the cogs turning.
I can’t pretend to have read the whole thing, but I keep telling myself that at some point I will work through the full text of Helen Timperley’s ENORMOUS best evidence synthesis on Teacher Professional Learning and Development. However, this summary of Timperley’s work by Mike Bell over at the Evidence Based Teachers Network is an easy starting point (and it is one of the pieces of work reviewed by the TDT and Curee).
Fraser et al’s (2007) review of Teachers continuing professional development has some interesting observations about the relationship between formal/informal opportunities, collaborative endeavour, and a sense of ownership. Their conclusions suggest that:
approaches which are based on collaborative enquiry and that support teachers in reconstructing their own knowledge are most likely to lead to transformative
Which brings us to…
The work of Dylan Wiliam (@DylanWiliam), a leading authority on both formative assessment and the model of staff working collaboratively in enquiry groups that he calls ‘Teacher Learning Communities’, has provided much of stimulus for the actual nuts and bolts of our programme for next year. This white paper on Sustaining Formative Assessment with Teacher Learning Communities is a must-read, while this webinar on Five Components of an Effective Teacher Learning Community provides similar ideas in a different format.
Another of the more practical reads comes from the work done in developing the NCSL’s Research and Development Kitbag work. The secondary phase case studies are well worth a read… Likewise, reading the NCSL’s Leading a Research Engaged School has proved helpful, particularly in relation to thinking about where we might look outside of our own school for research expertise.
Although the actual model that we are pursuing leans heavily on Wiliams’ work, the intellectual exercise of looking at the background research is, in my opinion, a worthwhile pursuit in itself. A couple of meaty examples come from work presented by Ray Bolam and colleagues:
- Synthesis of research and evluation projects concerned with capacity-building through teachers’ professional development. A weighty tome, much of which I have only scanned through, but it does present findings that strongly endorse models of professional development that include collaborative approaches to CPD (p92), mentoring/ coaching (p94), and action research (p95). Final conclusions (from p109 onwards) offer further insight into the evidence supporting various concepts.
- In Creating & Sustaining Effective Professional Learning Communities they provide a thorough literature review, survey and case study findings, and offer analysis and concluding implications. It is another very dense piece of work (though I did invest in reading this one properly!), but the literature review alone is stimulating. Early on in the review, they offer a working definition for what it means to be a (professional) learning community:
…a group of people sharing and critically interrogating their practice in an ongoing, reflective, collaborative, inclusive, learning-oriented, growth-promoting way (Toole and Lewis, 2002); operating as a collective enterprise (King and Newmann, 2001). Summarising the literature, Hord (1997, p1) blended process and anticipated outcomes in defining a ‘professional community of learners’ (Astuto et al, 1993) as one “…in which the teachers in a school and its administrators continuously seek and share learning, and act on their learning. The goal of their actions is to enhance their effectiveness as professionals for the students’ benefit; thus, this arrangement“
The key characteristics of such a community seem to boil down to:
- shared values and vision
- collective responsibility
- reflective professional enquiry
- group, as well as individual, learning is promoted
More on collaborative professional learning.
Read an introduction to the idea of moving from CPD to JPD (Joint Practice Development) in this National College resource on Power Professional Learning: a school leader’s guide to joint practice development. This paper, from Aileen Kennedy at the University of Strathclyde, also explores perceptions of the idea of collaborative CPD and potential barriers, including a review of pertinent literature.