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Professional learning – what’s right for you right now

I’ve picked up some interesting debates on social media in recent weeks about teacher professional learning, as teachers and school leaders across Scotland work to ensure continued learning for Scotland’s young people – ranging from ‘there’s no way I have the headspace to engage in professional learning right now’ to teachers sharing their continued learning on programmes, including university learning. So, what’s right? Simply put – what’s right is what’s right for you right now.

I’ve worked in the area of teacher professional learning for almost 20 years, from my time as a local authority CPD co-ordinator, as well as in GTC Scotland, the Scottish College for Educational Leadership and now in Education Scotland. I firmly believe that the best professional learning is never done to teachers, but with teachers, and by teachers, and one of the strengths of the programmes initially developed at SCEL, and further developed in Education Scotland, has been the networking opportunities which often continue long after any programme completion dates. That’s why I’ve been really heartened to see, during this lockdown period, the emergence of a growing network of teacher-led learning, such as #PLgaitherin (co-ordinated by @robin_macp, and meeting virtually at 10am on Saturday mornings), #ScottishEducatorsConnect, co-ordinated by @TissierPt, a principal teacher in Edinburgh, and online professional reading sessions organised by @MisstahCook as part of Highland Council’s #LeadOn10 cohort. When many of us are working remotely, locked down in our own homes, these, and many other networks like them, provide opportunities to connect, to share and to learn.

These networks chime with some of the messages that we have had from our Professional Learning and Leadership participants. When we asked how we could continue to support your learning during this time, there was an emerging theme about opportunities to connect, to have a bit of headspace, and to share ideas, issues, concerns and fears with other teachers and school leaders across Scotland. We’ve recently introduced a series of Big Blethers which we hope will provide exactly that. I know that it’s too easy for all of us in challenging times like these to go inwards rather than outwards, and seeking out more screen time might not feel like what we are looking for, but these learning communities, and others like them, might help nourish us in the difficult days, and help us laugh and connect during our good days too.

Like you, our Professional Learning and Leadership team are having to learn many new skills at this time. Prior to COVID-19, a lot of our programmes had a considerable face-to-face element – and you’ll know that a few weeks prior to the lockdown, we had already paused all professional learning activities led by ES. We wanted teachers across Scotland to be able to focus on learning and teaching in this new environment – but we realised that, with continued physical distancing in place for the foreseeable future, we now need to think differently about how we lead and facilitate our professional learning. So as well as our team redeveloping programme content we have also been learning new skills in online facilitation. In reviewing programme content, we are also thinking about how we support you to lead teams remotely. I’m finding that challenging. I know that, in ‘normal’ circumstances, I thrive on interactions – be that the daily social interactions with work colleagues, or team sessions where we can work together to plan, to innovate and to share learning. I’m finding that hard to do remotely, but my reading and learning in this area is focusing my thinking on how I can best be accessible and keep connected to colleagues, trusting and empowering teams – and importantly, promoting a healthy work life balance.

You’ll know that we are sharing a fortnightly Professional Learning and Leadership newsletter – highlighting professional learning opportunities that might be useful to you now, and in the coming weeks and months. Our newsletters contain information about our professional learning and leadership programmes, as well as the increasing number of Professional Learning Activities available on our online resource which we hope will support your learning. Thanks to you, we are also sharing your experiences of leading your schools and your teams during this time. If you would like us to highlight any professional learning that you are co-ordinating or aware of, and want to make it available across Scotland, then please let us know and we will include in future newsletters.

So, to finish, focus and prioritise the learning you need for now – be that increasing your technical skills to lead remote learning and teaching, understanding the potential effects of trauma and isolation on young people, leading teams, schools and systems in a very different way.  Engage in that learning in the way that works best for you – through growing networks and professional learning communities, engagement in local, regional and national opportunities and programmes. And don’t worry if your professional learning right now looks very different from others sharing their learning on social media – there are as just as many combinations and possibilities as there are background bookcases appearing on our screens!