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Building a culture of professional learning

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This article originally appeared in NAHT’s November Leadership Focus 

Authored by Patrick Foley, Head teacher, Southborough Primary

At Southborough Primary School we have always sought to improve outcomes for the children by having a clear focus on improving learning and teaching. A key part of this has been our use of coaching triads and peer to peer support to enable reflection and discussion about practice. This approach was praised by Ofsted and has improved the quality of our curriculum and our outcomes over the last years. There was something missing in this approach, though, which was external input on what made teaching good, we had used various external evidence to improve and develop our understanding of good learning and teaching, including the EEF and the a staff room library but we did not have a sustained and efficient approach to accessing high quality evidenced based materials.  When we first saw NAHT Discovery Education Pathway it was clear that it was going to enable us to enrich our conversations and to enable us to be informed about our practice.

During the pandemic it also became clear that if we were going to continue to improve our practice and ensure that children moved on up in their learning we were going to have to make the wellbeing of staff the highest priority. Through the pandemic all staff worked incredibly hard and were focused on making sure that the children were learning and were safe and were happy. This was very difficult and draining for us all and took its toll. We needed to make sure that we gave ourselves time to recover, time to reflect and gave ourselves agency. It was clear that the first term, and year, back to something like normality, we were going to need to be kind to each other, to support each other and to give to each other. It seemed to us that the most important thing that we’d not had during the pandemic was an ability to focus on ourselves and our professional development. Pathway gives staff agency to work on their own professional learning, to reflect on their career pathways and to take control.

Wellbeing is not simple and we took time to think about what we could do to truly make this a priority. We have made it a central element of our appraisal conversations and we have committed ourselves to a culture of care for each other and our community. Enabling people to access high quality training and professional learning is a central part of a caring culture.

We began our conversations with Discovery Education at the start of the Summer term in 2021 and this helped us plan and develop our approach. Colleagues trailed some of the elements of the programme, and we discussed how we would best use it and share it with staff and how we would want staff to use it. We decided to buy licenses for all our teachers and our HLTAs, each year group has an HLTA assigned to them. They play a fundamental role in teaching the children and ensuring outcomes improve. A clear part of our caring culture is equity and we have worked hard to make sure that all our staff have fair access to training and are able to improve their practice through coaching and discussion.

We introduced the programme, in a soft way, in the second half of the summer term, we gave people their log ins and explained what it was and asked them to have a look at it. At that time, we set out no other expectations. By then everyone was exhausted from the hardest year we had all experienced and people needed time. Some colleagues have accessed elements of the programme and have said that they found it very useful, this was all we wanted at the time.

At the start of this term we launched the programme formally. Andrew Hammond from Discovery Education shared with the staff team what was available and this was universally welcomed. We want them to have control over their own learning and the programme will give them this, for the first time in a long time, after the pandemic. We have suggested that everyone, before the appraisal interview, if they can, spends some time on the orientation element and accesses the wellbeing unit, so that the conversation during the appraisal meeting can be informed with high level thinking about this. We have also set aside 2 INSET days later in the term for colleagues to access the units and other elements of the programme as they would like to. We have suggested that people access this individually or in friendship groups, as they wish, setting their own agenda and learning and developing for themselves.

Next term we will be reintroducing our peer to peer observations and triads. We will use these as a way of reflecting on the learning from Pathway, in implementing the learning in practice and in discussing and deepening understanding of the learning.  Colleagues will observe each other, coach and discuss what has been seen and target learning from the programme to be discussed and thought about together. They will then refer back to this when they revisit each other’s classrooms to work together to improve and develop their practice through learning, coaching and reflection.

Team work is central to our culture. We have a range of teams that work together to address elements of our improvement plan and other elements of school work. Our Achievement Teams check and monitor outcomes, and our Curriculum Teams develop and monitor our delivery of our curriculum, for example. As we develop our use of the Pathway programme it will play a central role in informing the work of these teams, in enriching the knowledge base and enable colleagues to develop and improve their understanding of these elements of our work. We envisage using elements of the programme accessed by the teams and discussed in a book group type way to develop their work.

We are sure that Pathway will be a central part of our plan to move on up from the pandemic and its effects. Better teachers can only mean more and better learning, teachers who are in control of their practice and make the best decisions for themselves will enable the children in their care to thrive.

Created in partnership with NAHT, Pathway offers a fresh new approach to CPD supporting the continuous professional empowerment of teachers and leaders.

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