Teacher-Led Professional Learning
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned as a teacher came on my first, terrifying day as a probationer when I discovered that the people you work with are not only teachers of the pupils in the school – they are teachers of teachers too. Had it not been for the support, kindness and the willingness of my colleagues to share their knowledge and experience on that day (and beyond), my first day could well have been my last!
Over my almost twenty-year career, I have come to realise the immense importance and positive impact sharing good practice can have. I have been extremely fortunate to spend a large part of my career in a school where there is a wealth of talent, knowledge and expertise, and learning from my colleagues continues to be the most meaningful aspect of my professional learning journey. I am delighted that now I am in the position to support and enable these channels of collegial professional learning, which allows teachers not only to support one another, but also to expand their impact on young people across our school.
I was appointed to the role of PT of Learning and Teaching at Smithycroft in 2016. Creating a whole school programme of teacher-led professional learning was one of the first things I did. This was in response to staff feedback as to the type of professional learning they would value, and this has become a very positive part of our school culture. It is often said that good professional learning is not something that is done to teachers but with teachers, and involving colleagues in the creation and delivery of a whole school CLPL programme has been a powerful way to enhance professional growth and collaboration to make our learning environment as effective as possible. Staff feedback consistently identifies our teacher-led CLPL programme as a key strength of our school, and in our recent success in the GTCS Award for Excellence in Professional Learning, the panel recognised this initiative for improving outcomes for learners, while at the same time building capacity in colleagues and being crucial to the strong culture of professional learning across the school.
Our in-house programme is well-established. It focuses around a weekly schedule of teacher-led events including workshops, information sessions, thematically linked courses of learning, professional reading groups, skills shares and collegial discussions, all of which are communicated by a weekly CLPL Bulletin. Sessions are non-hierarchical and are led and attended by a range of staff including student teachers, probationer teachers, supply teachers, part-time teachers, promoted teachers at all levels, non-teaching colleagues and when real expertise is required, pupils themselves!
One of the questions I am most often asked when discussing our teacher-led CLPL programme is, 'How do you get people to come?' The answer to this is not always a simple one, but over the years I have learned that there are some key factors which have helped to keep levels of staff engagement high and ensure that our culture of professional learning continues to thrive.
We can all agree that anyone who works in an education setting will be an extremely busy person, so anything which takes them away from the day-to-day work with the learners has to be something which they will feel will support their practice and enhance the experience of the young people for whom they are responsible. So, I have 'three Rs' which I keep in my mind when planning and organising sessions and work, to ensure that all events are:
Some events are usually planned to coincide with key dates in the school calendar, for example effective feedback sessions are offered when teachers are undertaking prelim marking and, when we were able to have parents’ nights, there was always a skills share session scheduled for the week before the first one of the year, but most opportunities occur organically. Informal staff room conversations often give insight into what colleagues feel they need support with and reveal what is working well and can be shared across the school. Staff also readily ask for and offer CLPL. Colleagues who are new to the school, on supply or student teachers are encouraged to share skills and these members of staff often bring fresh ideas and new ways of thinking.
Our teacher-led programme has proved to be very successful and is now embedded into the life of the school. The high levels of staff participation illustrate the success in developing a collegial approach, which not only improves outcomes for learners, but also supports continued self-improvement for the school. The culture created over the last five years by this programme is one where professional learning permeates the life of the school, and staff work together to enhance their professional growth and make our learning environment as effective as possible. Our approach to professional learning at Smithycroft is one of genuine and effective collaboration. A strong commitment to sharing ideas to achieve a common vision of learning, development, and success for all is constantly promoted and supported across the school.
The strength of our teacher-led professional learning culture was demonstrated in March when we had to move very quickly to delivering learning and teaching from our homes. None of us could have ever imagined the huge changes to our ways of working that circumstances would dictate and the challenges that the profession would face.
However, very quickly, I was able to adapt our in-house teacher-led CLPL programme and continued with our weekly sessions, holding them on a specially created Teams channel. Participation in these opportunities was high and the range of staff leading sessions continued to be diverse, with our resident 'technical experts' being called upon to share their skills to support the more IT avoidant among us, ensuing we were providing the best possible learning experience to our young people, in these challenging times.
We also undertook a range of professional reading and collegial discussions which helped us to adapt to online teaching and we shared reflections and practice surrounding this. As well as supporting our rapidly changing pedagogy in very challenging times, colleagues also felt that their wellbeing benefited from the familiar routine of the school’s 'weekly bulletin' and the opportunity to share, connect and learn with colleagues across the school on the 'Smithy Staff CLPL Teams' channel was also a welcome chance to check in with each other.
Since returning to school, staff have continued to demonstrate their commitment to teacher-led professional learning which is so crucial in these testing times. The teacher-led CLPL programme has, once again, been adapted to fit with our changing circumstances. The weekly programme has been back up and running since our return to the school building in August. Social distancing measures are observed at all sessions and I have been creative with the logistics of events. I have ensured that colleagues feel comfortable attending by arranging sessions outside (hot chocolate is provided!), organising sessions on Teams with staff taking part from their own classrooms and offices, and holding multiple identical sessions to ensure small numbers, which enables social distancing. Attendance at events remains high and feedback from staff positive.
Professional learning continues to be a fundamental part of the life of Smithycroft Secondary. The school is, in the widest sense, a place of learning. Our culture of commitment to staff development and sharing good practice as a method of raising attainment and achieving the best possible outcomes for our young people is thriving and developing. It has been quick to adapt to these very challenging times. Teachers’ circumstances have changed beyond anything we could have prepared for, but our culture of collaborative professionalism at Smithycroft has remained a constant, as has our commitment to providing the best learning experiences for all our young people.