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Now is not the time to ‘batten down the professional learning hatches’ and to wait for the storm to pass

None of us could ever have imagined the uncertain times that we are currently facing. We’ve been used to the occasional snow closure day over the past few years, but nothing that has changed our daily way of working as teachers into such a challenge. Our core values continue to guide us through these times and I have been thoroughly impressed with the dedication and commitment that our education professionals have shown to continue to get it right for every child and young person.

This could not have been done without our educational professionals continuing to engage in ongoing professional learning activities, so now is not the time to put our own personal and professional learning on the ‘back burner’, but a time to reconfigure our professional learning goals as we face the challenges of the current situation head on.

It is quoted that ‘we are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat’ and this is true for our education professionals. They will all have different professional learning goals as they get to grips with teaching in the ‘new normal’ with a greater focus on providing rich learning experiences for their learners in a digital environment. 

In my role as Professional Learning and Leadership Development Officer within the Professional Learning Team in Fife it has been essential that we think differently about how we can best support our education professionals, including senior school leaders, with professional learning that will support and challenge them through what is unknown territory and a very different playing field from anything they will have experienced before. I read the following quote in the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak and it has resonated with me throughout the lockdown period and I believe this to be true of our educational professionals who have continued with passion to best serve the children and young people whom they have been trusted to prepare for life in the 21st century.

Do not lose heart.  We were made for these times…  For years we have been learning, practicing [sic], been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

(Clarissa Pinkola Estes)

As part of our support for education professionals we developed a SWAY which focusses on Supporting Ongoing Professional Learning, PRD and Professional Update to give our staff the opportunity to, when they are ready, engage in professional learning at local, improvement collaborative and national level. This is continually being updated with examples of practice from our practitioners on how they have been engaging in professional learning activities using a wide variety of media during the lockdown period. Participants on our leadership development programmes have shared their positive experiences of leading in times of uncertainty and the positive impact this has had on their leadership journey. As is always the case our practitioners have continued to go ‘above and beyond’ as lead learners to continue to improve the learning experiences for their children and young people not only in this current period but also in preparation for when we might be able to return to some form of normality in our schools and teams.

Our Professional Learning and Leadership Framework 20-21 has recently been launched to support professional dialogue during this term when many are engaging in their PRD meetings virtually with line managers and identifying their next steps for professional learning. The professional learning offer is further enhanced by the work which our colleagues in other teams within Fife are developing and delivering to support professional learning in many different areas based on school and individual needs.

Professional learning and engagement with our Session 19-20 participants also continued as we supported those who have been focussing on specific aspects of their professional learning.

The development of a coaching culture in Fife has been ongoing for a number of years. Many of our senior leaders have engaged with the Coaching for Success programme and have successfully gained GTCS Professional Recognition in Coaching on completion. As we find ourselves faced with changes in the way we live and work our skills as coaches have come to the fore. It became clear that for those senior leaders who had completed the programme, support to refocus on their coaching skills would be of great benefit to them and their teams. A Coaching in the New Normal SWAY has been developed which supports our school leaders in refreshing their skills as coaches, as well as giving support to them through self-coaching approaches and links to motivating and engaging media. 

However, we know that we are not yet on steadier seas and that the storm continues to rage around us and may for some time to come. It is with this in mind that developments to support the professional learning of our education professionals will continue as we move into the new school session. As it is unlikely that professional learning ‘get togethers’ will be possible for some time to come, we are thinking differently about what this will look like and how we can continue to provide rich professional learning opportunities that lead to positive outcomes for our children and young people.

It is clear from the evidence we have seen across the country that the hatches have been well and truly kept open for our practitioners with regards to their professional learning and that they are weathering the storm based on their personal and professional learning goals and needs. 

Lesley Henderson is a Professional Learning and Leadership Development Officer with Fife Education and Children’s Services Directorate.