How can schools create the best conditions for teachers to learn and thrive?
Teaching is not a job that can be achieved from a qualification on paper, yet often the default mode for teacher training is to provide lots of information and expect teachers to be better from receiving it, rather than spending the time learning how to use that information back in the classroom and later refine it.
Key questions to ask the school leaders
Some of the key questions I ask in my new book, Just Great Teaching, is based upon the 150 schools I have visited over the last two years and my action research-based upon 10 school case studies. Those questions are:
- Why do you choose to work in your school? Why not the school next door?
- Does your school provide the soil in which you can grow?
- Does your school create CPD opportunities to share difficult practice, not just the best?
- Is the community a safe space where teachers can take risks and share where things have gone wrong?
- How can your school create conditions for all teachers to thrive, not just the strongest?
What kind of school do you work in?
Below I outline a nine-point cultural plan which schools can use as a template in terms of evaluating where they currently sit within the profession. The first question to ask is, does your school operate in a high-stakes accountability model or within its own building where teacher pedagogy is absent? Take a look at the graphic below and evaluate a) Where is your school? b) Where are you as a professional?
Problems with Professional Development
There are several reasons why quality CPD is lacking in our profession, including, to name but a few:
- teachers lacking the confidence to share ideas with one another
- lack of funding and lack of time
- lack of relevance relating to individual needs
- countless initiatives and priorities
- goal post changes by government policy, which then determine training needs
- administration tasks getting in the way
- isolated training days, rather than training aggregated over a longer period of time
- poor delivery and poor learning conditions, for example, a cold school hall with no food.
Cultivating High-Quality Professional Development
Secondly, what can schools do to create conditions for all teachers to develop their practice? How does your school nurture the soil in which you can grow, regardless of which stage you are at in your career? Below I set out what I envisage are the hallmarks of schools that have effective professional development and a culture where self-regulation is the driver for high standards.
- Professional development is protected. It is treated as a non-negotiable part of school life
- There is a clear programme of study, linked to whole-school priorities as well as the national agenda.
- Accessing educational research has a grass-roots approach, with all colleagues opting into training sessions to meet their own needs.
- CPD is calendared in advance for the academic year, and this schedule is adhered to without fail.
- The leadership team takes a step back from the delivery of the sessions but always takes part. I’ve lost count of how many ‘emergencies’ pop up during teacher training sessions…
- Teaching and learning ideas are presented and interpreted during training sessions and then taken away for practice in the classroom.
- Content is linked to research and curriculum needs with appraisal shifting from performance management to research enquiry to encourage all teachers to be learners.
- Content, ideas and discussion are revisited and evaluated after the sessions; teachers regularly discuss how they are working in the classroom. Discussions are always honest, non-threatening and reflective.
- Information is captured to share in tweets or video and there is a collegiate feel, with external visitors and partnership schools collaborating, where needed.
- Support staff are catered for and they lead on aspects of professional development and sometimes drive the agenda; there is a collegiate approach to whole-school improvement, rather than an ‘us and them’ mentality.
- Memberships to organisations are encouraged. This may include the British Council, the Chartered College of Teaching, subject associations, teaching unions, the Scottish College for Educational Leadership, BERA, BELMAS, the Arts Council for Wales and NAHT Cymru to name a few. Membership is subsidised or paid for by the school.
- Where possible, one per cent of the school’s overall budget is used to fund teacher training, external pathways and formal qualifications. There is a mixture of morning, lunch and after-school sessions to meet the needs of all staff, including those with flexible working conditions. In situations where part-time members of staff cannot attend, there is a follow-up session to ensure no one misses out. Childcare facilities, diversity and gender are high on the agenda and the school’s CPD programme often culminates in a conference to share the best of the best.
- There is a move away from the traditional training days, which are often three or five isolated days per academic year, in favour of disaggregating the time throughout the year to offer a more regular, rhythmic and longer-term approach to enable ideas to be revisited.
- External guests are invited to take part.
- Alternative approaches to professional development are considered. Research, lesson observation and where teachers build up their own portfolio of evidence, containing videos of ‘teaching’ inside and outside of the classroom are shared – often culminating in a journal or book publication!
Where is your school?
This is based on what I have seen working in schools across the country, not just those institutions highlighted in my new book, but in all the early years, primary and secondary schools, independent and state schools, free schools, grammar schools, boarding schools, PRUs, academies and international schools I have visited.