It is clear that the majority of schools recognise the importance of linking professional development to school improvement. The big challenge is to ensure it is having an impact. To ensure this is possible, the defining of professional learning needs should be a forensic exercise for individuals and the organisation.
Schools’ improvement priorities are shaped by their cultural context, their community and their own ethos and values and underpinned by quality assurance processes. Feedback from stakeholders, including Ofsted and governors, plus research insights, are also part of the mix, as is factoring in the staff’s own profile of expertise, alongside what excellence looks like in the school and classroom.
These priorities don’t just exist on paper as a tick box exercise: they are there to guide and inspire the whole school team, so they need to be lived. It means identifying what they look like in practice then articulating it in an operational plan. What do our priorities look like day-to-day in the classroom and in the school community? What benchmarks and exemplars can we point to? Are they clearly defined for school evaluation and QA purposes? And how are they modelled by the leadership?
Once defined, these priorities act as the framework for professional development, one which all staff recognise, where expectations can be set with goals and where the rationale is understood and trusted. The deeper the forensic analysis of need, the more tailored the offer can be, and the more likely it is to have an impactful outcome.
A school has improving oracy as a strategic improvement goal and KS3 is identified as a particular focus. A teacher wants to work on oracy in their own practice, having identified the need through self-reflection and research. Their set objective might be to develop their use of questioning with their Year 8 history class to enhance oracy and use of vocabulary.
They would then identify how to achieve it – for example by exploring the range of questioning techniques, reviewing these against their own practice and observing others in their organisation. Based on this observation, they would assess how they would modify their practice and work with others to achieve this.