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Using professional learning to drive school improvement

Using professional learning to drive school improvement

18 August 2017

It's been great to see the huge and positive transformation of professional learning in our schools recently. Continuing professional development (CPD) was once dominated by expensive external courses, often with limited impact, whereas now professional learning is focussed on maximising skills and expertise already within a school. This promotes collaboration and targets precise areas for improvement.

Traditionally CPD involved evaluating personal reflection of activities undertaken – which is useful, but limited if relied upon alone.

It is far better to provide staff with opportunities to evidence the impact of activities and equip them with the reporting tools to capture this evidence base. This then allows professional development to take centre-stage in driving school improvement.

Professional learning is commonly integrated with systems to manage performance and make accurate judgements about school performance through self-evaluation.

So it's important that to ensure that professional learning has maximum impact on school improvement by introducing plenty of opportunities for staff to develop the reflective practice necessary for successful self-evaluation.

As a first step, staff must be made aware of the standards against which their practice will be reviewed. Providing staff with opportunities to reflect on their practice and build up a portfolio of evidence is a good way to identify focused professional learning needs.

Sharing and encouraging the use of the same self-evaluation tools you use to judge your school's performance is a powerful way to encourage staff to self-reflect. Such tools can also be used to support focussed CPD activities such as peer-observation or co-coaching strategies.

Self review is also a great backdrop for professional dialogue and objective setting. It informs the discussion about the precise actions that will lead to improvement

Providing a self-evaluation tool which allows staff to create their own evidence base which they can build and own throughout their career reinforces a school's commitment to supporting that journey.

Combined with evidence-based school self-evaluation, self-review also provides the foundation for assessing the strengths and needs of staff – who are typically at varying stages of career development. By enabling precisely targeted and pro-active actions for improvement, self review provides the basis for building a whole-school annual professional learning programme.

Prioritising activities which impact on whole-school improvement priorities, allows staff to meet their appraisal objectives and maximise their expertise and creates a focussed, need-based plan. Most importantly it allows those more senior leaders delivering the activities to evidence their own impact on school improvement.

Variety of opportunity really promotes collaboration, exploration and risk-taking and helps deliver personalised and differentiated provision. However this needs to be planned and communicated clearly in order to build a culture of professional exploration and sharing.

The most effective professional learning requires changing habits, trying new strategies and being open to new ways of working. It can be a risky business so 'underwriting' that risk by reinforcing that in fact individuals learn as much when things don't work out as when they do, is essential. Get rid of any 'blame-culture' and provide a safety net so that staff are happy to make a leap and stretch themselves.

Finally measuring the impact of professional learning and ensuring it gives best value for money remains a significant challenge for CPD leaders. The key here is not to leave these measurements as an afterthought.

It's useful here to use self-evaluation data from work scrutinies, learning walks, lesson reviews and pupil outcomes as benchmarks and overtime these will show the sustained improvement and inform future value judgements.

Denise Inwood

This article was written by:

Denise Inwood
Managing Director

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