The sharing of skills and experiences with colleagues can be a rich vein of potential learning opportunities and, in the right environment, is surprisingly easy to promote
Conducting a skills and experience survey of your fellow teachers can be interesting and enlightening. Training, experience and ability will be both varied and extensive. Unfortunately many schools do not provide sufficient opportunities to make the most of this ‘in-house’ expertise. Perhaps you have walked into the staffroom after a particularly challenging lesson or session with a specific student and declared, ‘I’ve had a terrible time with…today,’ only to have someone reply, ‘Well I never have any trouble with him.’
This not only makes a massive dent in your self-confidence, but also fails to capitalise on an opportunity for skill sharing. If your colleague doesn’t have any trouble with the class/student, rather than let them brag about it and attempt to boost their own self-esteem, why not use the opportunity to get them to share their successful techniques with you or any other staff experiencing similar difficulties.
Emotionally literate environment In order for true skill sharing activities and ‘in-school’ support systems to be successful, the school must create an emotionally literate environment among the staff. Colleagues should feel comfortable enough to identify and/or declare problems and value the skills and expertise of their colleagues.
Skill sharing and professional development opportunities should be provided in both informal and formal situations. These should range from meeting the needs of individuals following lesson observations, cascading information to staff groups, and providing the opportunity for skill sharing to take place where members of staff are able to shadow or work alongside colleagues.
A particularly successful method of sharing ideas and techniques is to joint plan subject matter, delivery techniques and individual education plans (IEPs) for students with identified learning or behaviour difficulties.
Rather than trying to revise existing arrangements and attempt to provide new and different learning opportunities for members of staff, it is probably easier, and more successful, to look at the day-to-day opportunities that present themselves to all staff.
- Joint planning, either in departments or year groups. Staff should consider not just the content of the curriculum, but also the mode of presentation, techniques and strategies. With all staff contributing to this process, new strategies can be considered and old ones can be refreshed.
- In-school agreements and time allocated to lesson observation and feedback sessions. These can be formally organised or operated in an informal process when staff are “team teaching”. This informal system works particularly well when a teaching assistant and teacher are working closely together. Obvious questions to ask at this point are:
- 1) Do you have allocated time to discuss techniques and strategies?
- 2) Do staff feel comfortable to engage in this type of activity?
- 3) Are outcomes of the discussions acted upon?
- 4) How are the outcomes monitored and evaluated?
- Regular and pre-planned staff meetings for information, strategies, etc, to be cascaded to and shared with all staff.
- Ensure that the “Arrangements” section of all IEPs (Individual Education Plans) and PSPs (Pastoral Support Plans) are discussed with all teachers and professionals involved in the case.
- Use some of your “non-contact” time to shadow colleagues. Obviously not all colleagues have these opportunities on a regular basis, but where possible take time to observe the styles and strategies of other members of staff. Remember, behaviour can be taught and caught! When shadowing colleagues, it is probably more useful to take a structured approach. Rather than simply watching in the hope that something will jump out at you and change your own practice, focus on specific issues such as body language, tone of voice, and specific behaviour management techniques.
It is all too easy to be negative in our observations of our colleagues. Just as we immediately spot the misbehaving student in a classroom rather than those actually complying with our expectations, so we tend to be negative when watching our colleagues. Maintain a positive frame of mind. Look for good practice that is clearly successful and work out how you can incorporate this into your own practice. Use all the learning opportunities presented to you and remember the myth that many teachers operate under:
‘I can manage all situations on my own with no need for any support!’
You cannot manage every situation and colleagues continue to be the most accessible form of professional development available to you, so try using them.
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This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2007
About the author: Dave Stott is the author of Behaviour Matters. He has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years at headteacher level. Dave has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a successful consultant and trainer.