The role of self-review is gaining in importance. Cliff Jones considers why teachers need to look at their own practice and presents a useful tool for critical professional learning.

Regular readers may have noticed the frequency with which mention is made in these pages of critical analysis of professional need, self-assessment, critical reflection, reviewing professional learning and the development of authentic professional voices. If we are ever to establish the ‘thinking professional’ in the ‘thinking school’ or, to put it another way, move from old ideas of in-service courses to new ideas of critical professional learning we shall have to establish rigorous and systematic baselines for CPD.

This applies to all who work to the children agenda, not just to teachers. Unless all become participants in the process of making sense of professional life we shall fail to learn together. And when we learn together it is usually because we have allowed others to develop their voice and been prepared to have our own views and opinions subjected to criticism.

This is not new. Socrates gave us the notion that value comes from the examined self. This means critical reflection and asking serious questions about or interrogating our own professional learning. Had he been a member of your staff you might have thought Socrates a very irritating colleague because his questions were not only uncomfortably searching but usually went right back to the foundation upon which the learning was based.

It is usually the case that when professionals critically reflect upon their own practice they discover that they have achieved far more than they realised. Even the process of looking systematically at what might be thought to be failure seems to shrink problems, restore self-esteem and point a way forward. So all CPD should be critical: ‘critical professional learning’.

Mistakes and professional learning go together

Concentrating CPD on targets can make professional learning very narrow. If targets are easily attainable there is little point to them. If it is realised too late that they are unattainable the result will be unsatisfying. Either way, they do not encourage adventure, discovery and unconstrained professional learning. Mistakes and learning go together. It is still important to plan, though! After all, it may only be because you started Plan A with an open mind that you discovered the better effectiveness of Plan B.

Even when CPD includes definable events, the process of professional learning is, or should try to be, continuous and inseparable from work. The development of educational professionals is not confined to so many hours in a year. It does not come in a box. It is sometimes, therefore, untimed, untargeted and untidy. Picture the professional learning process as a climbing spiral in which it becomes a basis for, and leads naturally into, further learning.

Professional penicillin

Professional penicillin (personal and whole-school) will only be discovered if we examine the significance of unexpected evidence for unintended outcomes of professional learning. In education we often find out things that we did not expect to find out. The job, then, is to examine this evidence to see what it means. It might be ‘professional penicillin’. You cannot discover unexpected evidence and examine it for significance if you only chase targets.

Working and learning together, whether in a large group or with one colleague, may not guarantee that you ‘get it right’ but it does mean that there is a possibility of better questions being asked. Working and learning with others means that you will have to allow your own views to be challenged and it also means that you will have to allow others to state their views. We may have Excellent Teachers (ETs) and Advanced Skills Teachers (ASTs) with responsibility for the professional learning of others but this does not prevent them from learning from, say, a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT). Teachers also learn from learners.

The self-review checklists

We cannot emphasise enough the part that will be played by self-review in the forthcoming performance management review process. To begin the performance management review cycle without doing some serious preliminary thinking will be to waste the opportunity for professional learning. Here you may note the attention given to support staff.

We are grateful to Ann Bridgland of the East Sussex School Improvement Service for providing us with insight into the work they are doing in partnership with the Centre for British Teachers (CfBT).

What follows is adapted from guidance provided by East Sussex for support staff and for CPD coordinators. Any inaccuracies in presentation are the fault of the editor.

Using the self review checklists

The East Sussex School Improvement Service has produced a file of self-review documents that aspiring, as well as serving, teaching assistants, new and experienced teachers, middle and senior managers can use to celebrate their strengths and target their continuing professional development (CPD) needs, using the National Standards in a palatable and practical way. Where National Standards do not exist (for example, for G&T or CPD leaders), local standards have been written, adapting the national subject leader standards.

In the light of the current national review of some of the National Standards, revised updates of some of the materials are currently being produced, ready for the new academic year.

East Sussex recommends that the self-reviews be used for needs analysis as individual (or joint) preparation for a performance management review and ongoing, less formal reviews. They may also be used to focus preparation for moving to a new role. In all cases, they support the development of professional portfolios and CPD planning for staff. The process may be shared with a ‘professional partner’ who acts as a critical friend and discussed with a line manager.

Guidance for using the East Sussex self-review checklists

CPD coordinators

The self-review checklists set out the standards and invite participants to consider the appropriate response:

  • I am confident I do this well
  • I do this satisfactorily but there are aspects I wish to improve
  • I can do this when I need to
  • I ought to be able to do this better
  • I have no experience of this yet

Support staff

This self-review checklist enables support staff to reflect on their ongoing practice, against the East Sussex Support Staff Standards, based on original work undertaken at Ringmer Community College.
The checklist sets out the full range of Standards within each key area. For each area responses are indicated by ticking and dating the appropriate box within the needs assessment column – there are five levels:

  • I am confident that I do this well
  • I think I can do this well and would like to help others
  • I do this satisfactorily but there are aspects I must improve
  • I ought to be able to do this better
  • I can’t do this yet but will need to

Self-review: CPD coordinatorsNeeds assessment

  • With my colleagues, I develop policies and practices for CPD which are committed to high standards of achievement
  • I create a climate of confidence with my colleagues by acknowledging and using their experience and expertise.
  • With team leaders and SMT, I analyse, understand and interpret relevant CPD and PM information and data to inform practice, expectations and targets.
  • I involve my colleagues in strategically setting long, medium and short-term challenging CPD targets for improvement.
  • The school’s strategic CPD plan is underpinned by sound financial planning, which is evaluated for effectiveness.
  • I monitor and review progress made in achieving CPD targets and evaluate the effects on teaching and learning, leadership and management.

Supporting evidence and notes for further CPD

Strategic direction and development of CPD

  • What is my evidence?
  • What are my CPD needs?

Self review: Support staffNeeds assessment

  • I have high expectations of all pupils and am committed to raising their educational achievement.
  • I respect pupils’ social, cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic backgrounds.
  • I treat pupils consistently with respect and consideration and am concerned for their development as learners.
  • I expect, demonstrate and promote positive values, attitudes and behaviour from pupils.
  • I communicate sensitively and effectively with parents and carers.

Supporting evidence and notes for further CPD

Professional values and practice

  • What is my evidence?
  • What are my CPD needs?