Monday, 2 September 2013

Schools as Professional Learning Communities

I have always thought that the there is an inherent challenge in the title "Headteacher": the person leading the school should aspire to be the "Head-Teacher" - in sense of being the outstanding practitioner in the organisation. (Now that my role has taken far from the classroom, it is perhaps apt that I am a "Principal" and not a "Headteacher"!). But schools aren't about "teaching" any more, they are about "learning" - and with that shift comes an even greater challenge: to be the "Head-Learner":
  • As the school Principal am I an outstanding learner?
  • Is every teacher an outstanding learner?
  • Indeed, is ever member of the support staff an outstanding learner?
  • Are we a "Professional Learning Community"?
In Stephen Fry's wonderfully funny novel The Liar, a Cambridge don, Professor Trefusis, remarks,
"I haven't produced anything original in years, most of my colleagues have lived from the nappy onwards without any thought at all making the short journey across their minds, leave alone a fresh one."  The Liar p.53 
As professionals working in schools with young people, it is important we lead by example. After NQT and those initial years of intensive lesson preparation, there is a temptation for any teacher to sit back and roll out the fruit of previous years' labour. Ten years' experience all too quickly can become one year's experience ten times over. We see this in the kick-back from experienced staff every time that curriculum changes are forced upon us. There are some teachers who would prefer to teach what they have done for the past n years, rather than embracing the opportunity to look afresh at what they are teaching. (I recall one colleague from early in my career who taught A-level Geography from the notes he had taken as a boy at the school!).
Continuing Professional Development should be an essential responsibility of every teacher (and head-teacher). Sadly its importance is diminished when it is reduced to the three-letter acronym - after all there is a clue in the name! 
A "Professional Learning Community" is one where everyone in the organisation (whether part of the teaching or support staff) sees him or herself as a learner - i.e. someone who is looking to learn new skills, acquire new knowledge and understanding, and who is looking to improve as a practitioner. Learning is uncomfortable.
Learning takes us out of comfort zone into new territory.  It is particularly good for those of us who work in schools to be reminded of this because this is the world that our pupils inhabit. We should all be learners - we should, indeed, lead by example.
One of our five Strategic priorities for this academic year is for Berkhamsted Schools Group to take some significant steps towards becoming a "Professional Learning Community". In addition to the usual programmes for PGCE and NQT, we have put in place a number of learning pathways for other groups: Houseparents, Assistant Houseparents, Heads of Department, Deputy HoDs, teachers new to the school, as well as a general strand for all teachers. Topics being covered in our twilight sessions include, 'Assessment, Marking and Feedback', 'Effective strategies for engaging students with SEN', 'Dealing with Difficult Parents', 'Conducting Investigations', and 'Counselling techniques for Pastoral teams'. We are bringing in a few external providers, however, most sessions draw on expertise in the school, providing important opportunities for professional development by sharing best practice with colleagues - 'a prophet' can have 'honour in their own town'.

It is now an expectation that every teacher attends at least four CPD sessions during the year, whether that be an in-house twilight session or going on an external course. The Administrative staff are using relevant parts of the the MS Academy suite to improve their ICT skill set. Teaching and support staff will be encouraged to take a greater responsibility for their own CPD. It is envisaged that the school appraisal system will highlight those areas where there is the greatest need for additional training.
So what of the SLT?
Well, in addition to courses and twilights, we have initiated an SLT Reading Club to give some structure to our discussions about education and leadership. Our first book?  Mick Waters' Thinking Allowed. I'll let you know how it goes.

I am grateful to Nick Dennis @nickdennis for all the work that he has put into the Berkhamsted School CPD programme.

1 comment:

  1. Is it called the Senior Readership Team? :)