For professional learning to be effective staff must have clarity about the changes being sought and agency so that they can act upon their learning. Fiona Aubrey-Smith offers a checklist for schools
This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Headteacher Update
At the start of a new academic year most of us are planning what staff professional development might look like from September. As a senior leader responsible for CPD, we often think of the professional learning undertaken by our staff as something that ‘they’ or ‘we’ are going to be doing – with each member of staff undertaking a programme of professional development specific to their needs, career and responsibilities for the year ahead.
However, alongside this, we also recognise that our school consists of ‘us’ – all coming together to create a learning environment that provides the very best experiences for the children. Therefore, I encourage you to pause briefly as you plan this year’s professional development for staff and consider how ‘their’, ‘your’ or ‘our’ learning experiences will affect ‘you’ as a leader, including your planning and your leadership style.
What does this mean for CPD?
Let me take you on a brief journey to explain why this matters and what you need to do.
When each individual member of staff is part of a professional learning experience such as INSET, a course, something they read, a coaching session, they have two main sources of influence affecting them.
The first comes from within -a combination of their sense of self and identity, their personal and pedagogical beliefs, and their prior experiences. These mix together to form a personal lens through which they view any professional learning experience.
The second comes from the school (or trust) context that they are working in – a combination of policies, strategies, culture, resources and priorities – all coming together to create parameters within which that member of staff works.
These two sets of influences come together when each member of staff engages in professional learning. This means that, even in a shared training session with their direct team, colleagues will each be experiencing and interpreting the CPD differently. There are three distinct ways that this manifests itself:
- What colleagues say they will do; often in conversation, on feedback forms or when disseminating to colleagues.
- What staff intend to do; plans made during or immediately after a course or meetings set up.
- What staff act upon; actions which immediately start to change practice for children or other colleagues.
It is important to note that whether the professional learning has an operational or a strategic focus, the nature of what happens immediately afterwards is what will (or will not) create an impact. For example, saying that we will arrange a meeting to talk about something is very different from actually arranging that meeting; it is the latter which moves matters forward.
As such, for a colleague to shift from saying or intending to actually doing, we need to create an environment where staff are empowered to:
- Acquire new professional knowledge (through professional learning).
- Develop clarity about what needs to change (coaching, discussion, reflection).
- Have agency to change practices (decision-making abilities).
Therefore, as you plan professional development for and with your staff for 2021/22, you may wish to pause, just for a moment and ensure that you are planning – from the outset – for staff to be able to act upon their professional learning.
The power to act – what should you consider?
So, for each colleague and for each professional learning experience that is being planned with them, I invite you to consider three things.
Firstly, will this experience help colleague X to acquire new professional knowledge? How do we know what they already know? Therefore, how do we know that this will be new knowledge? How do we know what they want or need to know? Therefore, how do we know whether they will be open to learning this new knowledge?
Secondly, what support will colleague X require to help them develop clarity about what needs to change as a result of their new professional knowledge? For example, changes in their own practice? For their students? For other students in our school? For other colleagues? For our strategic work, policies or priorities?
Furthermore, how can we provide this? Perhaps via coaching, discussion with senior leader colleagues or peers, or via planned feedback or debriefs. Who should this be with? And does that person have the skills to coach colleague X towards clarity, or will they assume ownership of the space themselves?
Thirdly, how will you provide genuine agency – the ability to make meaningful decisions – to colleague X, so that they can act upon their professional learning and action plans? And who will support them to do so?
The final two parts of the checklist are often the two that are forgotten, or not carefully thought-through – yet these are the key ingredients for creating a collaborative and professional culture of meaningful learning across your team – ensuring that everyone is empowered to act upon their own, appropriately identified,professional learning.
After all, if we are not here to facilitate everyone to learn, and then act upon their learning, what are we here for?