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Learning From Each Other: In-house professional learning

According to the new Career-Long Standard for Professional Learning from the GTCS, teachers should…

lead and contribute to the professional learning of all colleagues, including students and probationers.

However, long before the new standards, a group of us at my school have been saying that we need to develop an in-house programme for professional learning. Not just to provide more opportunities for professional development, but as a mechanism through which we could develop learning and teaching in the school. This has been especially so as we’ve taken forward the development of the learning cycle in our lessons. Increasingly, we need to look to ourselves to find the professional development opportunities we’re looking for.

After much debate as to how best to go ahead with such an in-house programme, we’ve now arrived on a structure we’re happy with and launched it as a pilot this week. Essentially, we’re looking for members of staff in our school community to offer to run twilight sessions which other members can then sign up to attend. However, we had two issues which we wanted to address before proceeding:

  • How to add progression to our courses without becoming prescriptive and/or complicated?
  • How to manage the logistics of such a programme?

For the first of these we’ve devised a scale for our courses which facilitators can choose to use to indicate the level of the course and to provide progression for the staff attending courses. This consists of four levels with a descriptor for each level as follows: 

1. Updating: Updating courses are one-off refresher sessions on previously learnt content. These are largely technical and not aimed particularly at changing classroom practice. Updating courses normally consist of just one session. For example, refreshing on child protection, SQA procedures or IT systems such as Evolve are probable examples of updating courses.

2. Introducing: First encounter with the content. Two sessions with gap task.

Session one primarily based around sharing new information.
Gap task requires participants to find out more about the content and/or reflect on its possible uses. Teachers not required to change their practice.
Session two brings together reflections from gap task and concludes with a discussion on possible next steps.

3. Applying: Teachers have knowledge of the content but want to apply it in their classrooms. Three sessions with two gap tasks.

Session one involves brief recall of prior understanding, more in depth sharing of information if appropriate and discussion of possible purposes and uses in the classroom.
Gap task one requires teachers to plan a class they are going to try the approach with and how they are going to use it.
Session two requires teachers to share their plans with peer feedback and discussion. This session concludes with each teacher having a clear plan for what they are going to change, with whom, when and why.
Gap task two requires teachers to try the approach out with a class.
Session three involves teachers sharing the outcomes from their trial and concludes with a discussion of possible next steps.

4. Enquiring: Teachers have tried the approach out but wish to now explore it in more depth and evaluate its impact. Although sessions will need to be facilitated by one/two individuals, the aim should be to try and reach a point where the sessions are a coming together of colleagues. Flexible number of sessions depending on the nature of the content, but should broadly follow these steps:

Literature: Facilitators start off by introducing academic literature relevant to the content and leading a discussion on this. Participants should be encouraged to search for their own literature and bring this back to the group.
Purpose: Although the course will be structured around addressing a particular problem, facilitators should lead a session which discusses the learning purpose of the approach. For example, rather than trying a certain web tool with a class, at this level we should be thinking in terms of the learning outcomes we hope the pupils should be achieving through the use of the tool/approach.
Evidence: A session will also be required on evidence. The purpose of this course is to evaluate the impact of the approach and so valid approaches to evidence gathering should be discussed and decided upon.
Intervening: Each participant will need to plan out what they’re going to do, with whom and when. This could be planned out and peer feedback provided before progressing.
Evaluating: Once each participant has tried out the approach and gathered the evidence, there should be sessions facilitated which bring together the outcomes of the group for both the students and teachers.

Our hope is that as time progresses, the courses on offer will develop in line with the needs of the school as informed by our PRD process, feedback and informal conversations. We also hope that the structure will provide individualised progression for those attending courses without excessive complexity for those delivering courses.

The other issue which we wanted to overcome is the logistics of managing such a programme. We’re really keen to make it as easy as possible for staff to sign up to attend and run courses and so we’ve set up a wordpress site as a one stop shop for all our courses: www.edubuzz.org/plpl. Thankfully, we’ve also got a member of our fab admin team to deal with all the incoming courses and bookings!

We only launched this new approach this week, so it’s early days yet…but we already have the following courses in the calendar between now and June:

I’m really excited by what we’ve come up with and think it has a real chance of providing a process which allows teachers to learn from each other but in a coherent, challenging and progressive manner – without being too complex or burdensome. I’ll let you know how it goes…

So, what do you think ?