For some time now Twitter has been a place of networking and professional learning for many educators, including the Professional Learning and Leadership Team! (In fact, we have a professional learning activity on our Online Resource dedicated to this very purpose - Using social media for professional learning. You must be registered to see this.)
However in the latter months of 2019 I noticed that a lot of educators were beginning to post about professional learning spaces in their school buildings. As a potential source of rich professional learning I decided to investigate further. After talking to a number of teachers on Twitter and via email I came to understand that schools were beginning to carve out protected spaces; whether it be a bookshelf, a corner of the staffroom or an entire room, dedicated to the promotion and celebration of staff learning and development.
The teachers I spoke to explained how the professional learning space in their settings emerged organically and had been built upon over time. Stephen Kelly, Headteacher at Liberton High School, explained,
“Setting up and use of the space was not structured at all. I started a notice board with posters promoting research based pedagogy… The space in the library has come from collecting all the books bought for staff, often on request, in one place for everyone to access. It is simply a section of the school library”.
Stephen described that the visibility and accessibility of the space has led to higher engagement with the resources and has had positive impact on learning and teaching,
“This prompted discussions and led to a PDSA (plan, do, study, act) cycle implementing Rosenshine’s principles as well as using summative testing and the Leuven Scale as measures in maths”.
Similarly the teachers acknowledged that the idea was very much in its infancy and that they would like to develop it more, perhaps with increasing numbers of staff keen to take responsibility for keeping the space fresh and appealing.
The ultimate goal is to create a ‘culture of learning’ within the school, that surpasses one-off professional learning events like twilights and inset days. The space would play an integral part in this by being the interactive hub for in-house professional learning that is relevant and contextualised to the school setting. The professional learning space should be inviting, informal and spark rich discussion to take place.
If you are wondering how such a space could be developed in your setting, Gail Williamson, Depute Headteacher at Jedburgh Grammar School, explains in detail her experience of creating a professional learning space for staff:
"Our professional learning boards are very DIY, the main intention is to maintain a professional learning presence in the staffroom where colleagues are more likely to be discussing what they are doing and reading. Teachers can borrow books as well as add notes, recommendations and reviews to the boards.
"We’re at the early stages of trying to shift the culture and responses around professional learning to it being an ongoing process and not just reserved for Inset Days etc, but it’s a slow drip process."
Who set up the space and continues to coordinate it?
"I set it up and continue to refresh and add to it, but I’m hoping that the Learning and Teaching working group will take more ownership of it as they progress through the year. The Digital Learning group manage their own board."
How can people interact with and within the space - are there any mechanisms to promote dialogue or add feedback?
"I set it up in the staffroom in order to make it accessible to everyone. I recently purchased books for teachers to borrow such as, ‘Learning Rainforest’ and ‘Making Kids Cleverer’ but deliberately put them in the staffroom next to the board instead of the school library. Again, to encourage casual conversation and discussion in a more relaxed setting. I also have copies of articles and blogs in magazine racks next to the board.
"I encourage staff to add resources, comment and share using it. There are pens, Blu Tack, post-its available for people to add information. We meet weekly on a Friday morning as a staff and so I highlight anything new at that time. I also do a monthly professional learning bulletin and when I send that out I do a reminder for anything new on the board, and encourage people again to add to it.
"We are trying to grow the use of EduTwitter as a source of professional learning and have run twilights on how to sign up and who to follow. We also have a monthly professional learning reading group. Staff are also starting to run twilights on topics they are interested in, for example we have one organised in February about ‘Sleep’ following a pastoral teacher attending a recent guidance conference, and a curricular PT who was at ResearchEd in Dollar where she attended a similar themed workshop. Details of these twilights are on the professional learning board, our monthly PL Bulletin as well as the online CPD booking system.
"We are at the early stages of trying to raise the profile of professional learning. There is not an embedded professional learning culture yet, however many teachers have embraced what we are trying to do and this is being supported at QIO level within Scottish Borders Council with a newly appointed QIO specifically focused on learning, teaching and professional learning."
Who uses the space? Is it for the whole school staff? Are there specific people who use it most often? How is engagement promoted?
"It is for all staff, although teachers use it most often, and in particular at the moment it is a group of principal teachers and younger staff who are engaging the most. On the digital board teachers who are currently working on their Apple Teacher badges are adding their names to show who has completed what training. This group also do a weekly drop in for anything IT related.
"Jedburgh Grammar School will be moving into a new campus along with the primary in April 2020. With that in mind, our primary colleagues will also be able to share professional learning opportunities."
Angela McCrorie, Depute Headteacher at Drumchapel High School, provided us with these images of her school’s physical and virtual professional learning spaces which may give you further ideas about how a space could look in your setting!