Professional learning

Written by: HTU | Published:

The expertise is within our primary schools, but how can we encourage all teachers to share their best practice? Fiona Aubrey-Smith asks some challenging questions and offers some ideas

Collaboration has become the latest buzzword – with the Education Select Committee having recently published a report on it and even recommending funding should be made available to support it.

So with national leaders and policy-makers all encouraging collaboration, schools are increasingly seeking out networks to benefit from what Professor Andy Hargreaves would call “professional capital” – in other words, the collective knowledge base of our teaching profession.

Yet there remains an issue in primary schools that while the expertise of the profession is very much within our schools, we are, as a profession, much more reticent about self-proclamation.

Usually, this is simply because with a limited capacity to be able to visit other classrooms, let alone other schools, teachers and leaders often mistakenly assume that others are also displaying the same innovative practice, or applying the same research-informed strategies.

As such, the role of national networks such as SSAT, and indeed the more localised work of Teaching Schools, is increasingly about sourcing innovation and inspiration and disseminating it back out to schools in creative ways.

For example, we have seen phenomenal demand for places at SSAT’s free-to-attend Speed Learning twilights. This is perhaps in part because it is not dependent on supply cover or budgets, and also due to the quality, breadth and depth of practitioner-sharing now known to be available through this model.

Unlike many professions, teachers respect and trust each other and see opportunities like these as a unique and easy way to benefit from that collective expertise – arguably reflecting a gradual increase in confidence as a profession.

True collaboration, rather than professional development dissemination, is a non-hierarchical activity. Collaboration is about looking at a problem or idea together, about planning, discussing, debating, reflecting and a shared ownership of implementation.

As such, collaboration for our profession is about all 250,000 people within our professional workforce connecting together (albeit not all at the same time!), looking beyond school data and Ofsted outcomes, designations and statuses, and instead communicating effectively together to work towards raised outcomes.

This connectivity, seen in the informal social online world, and across user and consumer communities, is fundamentally based on communication – individual people (not institutions) communicating about something that is personal and relevant.

Given that we know communicating to be vital in developing skills and collaborating with peers, how often do we openly discuss strategies for professional communication and collaboration? For example:

  • How often do you, as headteacher, engage in discussion with your staff about the specific skills involved in collaborating (or communicating professional ideas to others)?
  • How often do you scaffold (rather than just encourage) your staff to openly and pro-actively share their successes and strategies? 
  • How often do you actively encourage your staff (not just the high performing leaders and teachers), to share a single aspect of their practice, with others?

These important elements of professional learning are as central to professional collaboration as they are to the collaborative learning of the children within your classes. Can we really expect one without the other? 

So, reflect on the questions above and stop being so modest – you, and your staff, have so much to share with each other, and beyond your school walls.

  • Join in with SSAT’s Speed Learning to share a practical idea around a table with other teachers.
  • Build an “idea of the week” board in your staffroom to add post-it notes to.
  • Hold staffroom learning lunches with staff volunteers sharing a five-minute input on a research project, research finding, or research question.
  • Run a Thinking Thursday where staff take turns to pose a challenging question on the staffroom noticeboard and engage colleagues in thinking about and discussing a key issue.
  • Collate a Good Ideas Scrapbook with staff each contributing a one-page article on their own classroom actions.

But most importantly, find a way for all your staff to celebrate their own achievements and share in one or more of the ways that you choose. In our classrooms we don’t just promote the work of our high-attaining children, and neither should we do that with our staff. Instead, keep the idea sharing small and practical – everyone is good at something and no-one is good at everything.

Then build in progression; SSAT’s Speed Learning or case study contributions provide a wider audience for more confident professionals, and this starts them on the journey to sharing locally, regionally and nationally. 

That continuum is how we practically start making our wider workforce contribute to our wider professional capital. 

So stop being so modest, and stop your staff being so modest. Our profession should stand up, be seen to celebrate itself, and be seen to share practice readily and confidently. 

• Fiona Aubrey-Smith is head of primary at SSAT. Email fiona.aubrey-smith@ssatuk.co.uk 

Further information

The ideas within this article have been collated from members of SSAT’s Primary Network. Find out more at www.ssatuk.co.uk or come along to a Speed Learning twilight professional sharing sessions. See www.ssatuk.co.uk/speedlearning for dates and venues of the free sessions.


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