Yeats is one of the first poets I ever truly fell for, and I think my fondness comes from his youthful motto, ‘Hammer your thoughts into unity.‘ Perhaps my affection for this quote stems from my own disorganistion, but I like to think that it derives from a desire to find connections between seemingly disparate ideas. I like to learn things, and when I learn them I like to see how they come to shed light on, shape, or further develop what I already know.
When I first found out about the new Performance and Development Framework (PDF) mandated by BOSTES, I was not worried, rather I was excited. Having started a new position where I’m responsible for the professional learning of a school full of teachers, I found the prospect of a new PL framework quite liberating – it meant that existing structures would need reshaping, and new elements introduced. It meant that PL was being foregrounded, which is awesome for teachers and students, but if I’m honest I was excited for myself because it gave me a purpose.
Something else has been happening in Department schools that is new – the school plan. We’ve always had school plans, but this new one is much more rigorous and ensures consistency between schools. I came into my new school when the plan was half-written, so basically the skeleton was there after teachers had been consulted, and I could see the three strategic directions of the school – learning, communication, wellbeing. Staff had all contributed to these foci, and listed a range of things they would like to see develop at the school over the next three years. Having this vision was really great for me, and this combined with the PDF meant I had a mission – to help realise the vision!
Now, just a super quick summary of what the PDF means for teachers. Essentially teachers are required to identify three to five learning goals per year – these form the basis of individual Performance and Development Plans. In order to work towards achieving their self-identified goals, teachers will use a three-phase cycle – plan, implement, review. (Hmm… sounds a bit like my three-phase project cycle (discover, create, share), huh? More on this in a minute!) During this cycle of learning, teachers will self-assess, be observed by a peer and then finally discuss their learning outcomes with their supervisor. The model adopts the very best approach to learning and assessment – they occur side by side, with assessment being formative, wholistic and cumulative. One thing to note, which is essential, is that PDP goals need to reflect the strategic directions of the school. Of course, teachers will be able to set personal goals relating to accreditation, or other career aspirations, as well as subject-specific goals such as implementing a new syllabus. My focus, of course, is more on pedagogy and practice. Why? That’s my job.
Late last year as I was preparing myself mentally for my new job, I wrote a blog post asking people for suggested education-related books to read. Someone suggested DuFour’s Learning By Doing. Thank you! Whilst, I’ll admit, I haven’t read the whole book – I’m more of a fiction grrrl – I have read the important bits, and quickly discovered the overlaps between my PBL approach with students and the PLC approach to PL. Essentially the PLC idea is about shared goals for improving student outcomes, and then working collaboratively to achieve them. The structure itself is very much like action research and the PDP cycles – agree on a goal, plan ways to achieve that goal (PDP: Plan), develop strategies and resources to support the achievement of that goal (PDP: Implement), reflect on outcomes and celebrate learning (PDP: Review). Hey, that cycle sounds like PBL, right? It totally is PBL for teachers, and yes, I was giddy when I saw that connection! So how does this all look now that it’s come together in my head? Well, here’s a flow chart that I hope makes sense:
I was very excited to present this to the senior executive yesterday afternoon, and to receive really positive feedback. Are you wondering about the nitty gritty of this approach? Well, in the spirit of sharing, here’s a bit of an overview of how our PLC Teams will work.
1. The first stage was to create a list of ‘Collective Commitments’ (this is an expression taken from the PLC book, it’s basically what it says – the collective commitments made by the whole school, including students and parents, regarding the future direction of the school). I generated our CC list from our school plan, the Schools Excellent Framework, the Standards and the Quality Teaching Framework – essentially we have ‘agreed’ to all of these policies by the mere fact that we are employed teachers.
2. Teachers will ‘scale’ themselves on each of the ‘Collective Commitments’ using a scale from 1-10, where both 1 and 10 are given a description to guide teacher self-assessment. For example, if the ‘Collective Commitment’ is ‘Differentiation’ 1 might be ‘All students work on the same tasks, all of the time’ whereas a 10 might be ‘Learning activities offer a variety of entry points for students who differ in abilities, knowledge and skills’ (this latter point is taken from the DEC GATS policy). All of our staff were trained on how to use scaling as part of our recent Staff Development Day on the ‘Solutions Focused Approach’.
3. Teachers look over their self-assessment using the list of ‘Collective Commitments’, and identify one that they wish to work on this year. This will become their PLC PDP goal for 2015 (we only need one in 2015, as it’s the first year for the PDF). Teachers will either email me their PLC PDP goal, or give it to their head teacher who will then pass them on to me.
4. PLC Teams will be created around shared PDP goals – for example, four different teachers have all identified ‘differentiation’ as an area of their teaching they’d like to improve, and they become a PDP Team. These teams will be cross-faculty, based on self-identified learning goals.
5. Staff Development Day for term three will introduce the idea of the PLC Teams to our staff. The day will loosely be based on the following structure: in the morning session I will give a 20 minute presentation on the PLC framework, using the flowchart above as a reference point and explain how the teams will work. An invited guest (hopefully Tony Loughland) will present on action research, because essentially all teachers will be engaged in action research as part of their PLC team (action research is the fancy term for teacher PBL, lol). He will especially be focused on three areas: accessing current research literature to support the ‘plan’ or ‘inquiry’ phase of the project; collecting evidence/data using a range of methods during the ‘implement’ or ‘create’ phase; and analysing the data to discover the impact their intervention (this is a fancy word for ‘strategy’) has had on student learning – this occurs at the ‘review’ stage. The middle session will see teachers moving off into their teams to plan their action research project – they will be provided with some quality resources to support this task, as it is really, really hard. Tony, myself and the senior executive will be supporting a few PLC Teams each. The last session will see each PLC Team briefly present their PLC Team action research project (is that too much of a mouthful? Haha!) to the rest of the staff.
6. This brings us to the final part of the ‘plan’ stage of the cycle – research. Each teacher will spend time researching an intervention (teaching strategy) that they have chosen to implement. This might involve: broadening their professional learning network – think Twitter, blogs – to connect with others who have use the strategy before; finding resources online; reading academic articles; attending conferences or participating in online workshops; reading books about their PDP goal (e.g. ‘differentiation’). As HT T&L, I will be supporting teachers at this stage through directing relevant resources to each team and teacher – I get A LOT of flyers, emails and phone calls about all sorts of PL opportunities, and this framework means that I know exactly who these opportunities are most suited to. Using this new information, teachers then design a series of lessons that incorporate this new strategy – this may be one week, or the length of a unit.
7. Implementation: this is where each teacher acts on their plans, using the resources they accessed or created during the ‘plan’ phase. Each teacher will collect a range of evidence to help them identify whether learning is being positively affected by the intervention – this might be a pre and post test, observation of student behaviour in class, a brief interview with one student, or a focus group, samples of student work, as well as the mandatory peer-observation (one of the PLC Team observes another to see how they are implementing their chosen strategy, with a short debrief afterwards).
8. Review: After each PLC Team member has implemented their intervention, and collected their data, the team will meet again to review their findings. This will be both formal and informal – I foresee it as being a structured conversation, where each teacher shares their ‘findings’, backed up by evidence/data. I will be providing teams with resources to support this process to ensure that the conversation is solutions-focused and forward-looking, rather than focusing solely on problems. A lot of the resources and strategies used for PBL teamwork will be super useful here.
9. Celebration of learning: This stage is integral to the PLC model, and that’s probably why I love it so much. The end of the PLC Team action research projects will see them potentially celebrate their learning in three different ways. Firstly, all teams will share their learning (not their success or failure, remember, because we’re only focused on learning here) through a Pecha Kucha presentation at a whole school staff meeting. This means that we are learning from each other – if I see a team has seen improved learning outcomes after using a formative assessment strategy, perhaps I’ll try that with my students. Secondly, teams will be invited to present at conferences – if calls for papers/presentations happen to come across my desk, and seem relevant to specific teams, I’ll encourage that team to apply to present at the conference. Finally, teams will be given the opportunity to present their findings at a TeachMeet to be held at MSC in Term 4, as well as any other local TeachMeets they are keen to attend.
10. The final stage in all of this is for teachers to reflect on their own learning. This means going to the PDP document and filling in the required 200 word reflection statement, and having a meeting with their supervisor. Following this is the establishing of PDP goals for 2015. Note, not all PDP goals will be targeted using the PLC Team model. Teachers will have 3-5 PDP goals each year, however one of those goals will be drawn from the Collective Commitments which, in turn, are drawn from the school plan. Teacher will, as mentioned previously, have other goals related to their specific content area, as well as their career aspirations. The PLC PDP Goals, are specifically about improving pedagogy and practice in line with the school’s agreed vision for student learning (also known as strategic directions).
Just a final word about why I think this style of whole school professional learning plan might work. My last school didn’t have a whole school professional learning plan – well, if there was one, I didn’t know what it was. That’s a bad thing. Why? Because if the teachers don’t know why they’re doing something, why will they do it? Learning needs to be goal-oriented, otherwise learners are disempowered and feel that the learning is ‘happening to them’, and that’s not a good thing. I want the teachers at my school to work together to LEARN BY DOING. We need to be active learners, and model that for our students. The introduction of the Performance and Development Framework, the School Excellent Framework and the new School Plan structure, provides us with an exciting opportunity to change the way schools work. I know that sounds like I read it from a BOSTES policy document, but I truly do believe it. There are bound to be hiccups – finding time and resources, supporting our casual staff, establishing expectations and systems to support the documentation process are some that come to mind – but the benefits to student learning, and having a shared vision for our school’s direction, is surely worth it.
This, of course, is still just an idea, and a draft of an idea. It wont’ become reality until I’m sure that all of the staff at school have contributed to it, shaped it and feel happy to go ahead. The success of a PL plan like this depends entirely on the buy-in of staff – if they feel it’s just another ‘thing’ they have to do, well, it’s just not going to be a community, is it?
PS: Here’s another flow chart that might be handy for your staff to understand the relationship between all of the policies that impact what we do in the classroom and why… much credit to my inspiring head teacher of English, Marisa Carolan who helped design it.