A professional learning culture can’t be imposed or imported overnight, however school and college leaders can help create an environment in which a positive professional learning culture can flourish, says Christophe Mullings from IRIS Connect.
There are strong links between effective professional learning opportunities, positive organisational culture and teacher self-efficacy improving performance and staff retention.
A clear take-home message for education establishments over 2016 has been to prioritise professional development, as highlighted by the DfE’s Standard for teachers’ professional development.
This is challenging for schools and colleges amidst the continued turbulence and challenges faced in the education system but, with some focus and tweaks to ways of working, it is achievable.
Do you have a positive professional learning culture? Six questions to reflect on:
1. Does your institution have a common, learner-focused vision?
Think carefully about the way in which learner needs are identified and consider involving all teachers in evidence gathering. Referring to data and using tools, such as video, can support this. Whatever your approach, clear communication about the process and vision is key to developing social and professional capital.
2. Do you have a structured systematic approach to improving learning through teacher development?
Work back from your desired goal and plan accordingly. If developing growth mindset is the aim for example, then ask yourself as teachers: What do we need to know? How will teaching have to change? Which professional learning activities will support this? How will we know if our changes are effective? How can we refine our work?
3. What do your professional learning project groups look like?
Schools tend to be incredibly hierarchical but for project teams to be most effective, established hierarchies might need to be left at the door. The most suitable project lead is not necessarily the most senior. Whoever leads, they need to be empowered with the full support of the senior leadership team and have time capacity.
4. What are your established norms for professional dialogue?
Successful professional learning cultures are underpinned by trust, openness, and tolerance. They embrace differences of opinion; focus on the teaching not the teacher, the learning rather than the learners. Video can be a great way of initiating teacher led professional dialogue and collective analysis of teaching and learning but this only works when underpinned by respect for all involved.
5. Are you focused on best practice, or real practice?
A culture focused on the dissemination of ‘best practice’ can lead to a directed, top-down approach where teachers are told what good practice is. For a truly collaborative, professional learning culture, everyone needs to feel they have something to learn and something to contribute. Teachers should be actively involved in interpreting and constructing knowledge rather than being expected to accept and enact ideas dictated to them by others.
6. How do you share challenges and celebrate success?
Remember to schedule regular check-ins and updates. Consider ways of involving the wider community too by sharing developments and achievements with those outside of school: parents, governors and other schools. Video can be a powerful collaborative tool and an excellent way of capturing evidence. Utilising social media can also help you to reach a wider audience.
My experience of working on an EEF project that looked at the use of the IRIS Connect film club professional learning programme, is that where leaders focus on the above areas there can be a transformative impact on the professional learning culture of their school.
Christophe Mullings is Head of Education at IRIS Connect. He has nine years’ teaching experience and completed a Masters degree on effective professional learning.