The role of QA, in particular, in identifying staff professional development needs has expanded in recent years, marking a significant shift. Classroom observations, for example, have evolved for some schools from a monitoring process to a developmental and supportive one, used less to judge and more to identify the skills, knowledge and behaviours that a teacher might benefit from focusing on in more depth. And although observations are still led predominantly by senior and middle leaders, some schools have introduced peer-to-peer observations to create dialogue and provide professional support.
Other ways to identify staff capabilities and areas for development include:
- Self-review – staff assess themselves against both the national Teachers’ Standards and their school’s own priorities
- Peer review – for example, peer observation with focus identified by the person being observed, or peer coaching
- 360 feedback review – to gather insights into skills and behaviours relevant to a role with the outcomes used to identify the individual’s development needs but also, potentially, to feed into talent management and succession planning
These can be used as a basis for appraisal conversations about professional development goals and objectives.
Using a strengths-based model
A strengths-based model takes as its starting point staff’s existing areas of expertise and competence and considers how they might be expanded as part of that teacher’s development and how that expansion could help the school to meet its goals for improvement. Inspired by the method of ‘appreciative inquiry’, as applied to organisations, (Cooperrider and Srivastva 1987), it is based on an understanding that people can most effectively improve their own performance if they build on these strengths, rather than focusing on resolving their weaknesses.
A study by CIPD[ii] in the UK, focused on the wider public sector, indicated that “interventions promoting strengths-based performance conversations can have a measurable impact on what conversations take place between managers and their staff, and on the usefulness of one-to-one meetings for employees’ learning and development and performance.”
Schools such as Dulwich College, Singapore, have employed this model with teachers identifying one aspect of their teaching practice and setting an ‘inquiry question’ as a focus for professional development.
As staff grow in competence in a key area or areas, they can then help to train others who need support, though there’s an important point to recognise here: even good classroom teachers are not automatically good at passing on their skills to other teachers, for any number of reasons, so they may need coaching in how to do it. Such training in itself can also support retention and succession planning.
Potentially, this can be the first step in developing frameworks for what collaborative professional development across teams, departments and hierarchies could look like in schools.
Meanwhile, ensuring that professional learning targets are relevant to the individual’s practice helps to keep them engaged in the process and in their role because it allows them to take ownership of their learning pathway and define their career path. The influence that such empowerment can have on job satisfaction has been highlighted in research by NFER[iii], among others. Job satisfaction is one of the key factors in retention, persuading people to stay in the profession even when there are other pressures to contend with.
Finally . . .
While enabling staff to design their own development routes and goals for learning, it’s still crucial to link that development to school priorities. We will be exploring this further in our next blog which examines the importance of tying school priorities to professional learning to maximise the return on investment in CPD in schools.