The excitement of the election campaign may be over, but the future path for education hasn’t yet been revealed. So at this stage of uncertainty, what message do we want to give politicians on professional learning in our schools?pdf-6528667

CPD Week Info sheet – Professional learning opportunities.pdf

‘We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.’
George Bernard Shaw

The wish list for professional learning in schools is long, but it’s not complex. Great professional learning hinges on relatively few fundamental concepts. Yet in a time of political change there are few certainties (especially at the time of writing, when no announcement on the next steps following the election had been made). So by way of a gentle yet insistent reminder to education policy makers of the not-too-distant future, these would be positive steps in the right direction:

  • Professional learning can happen through a number of means, most important of which is having the time to reflect on professional practice. Time can be generated in a number of ways, but without a commitment to reducing class sizes and workload any such attempts are likely to be short-lived. Time will enable greater effectiveness and efficiency; it will open doors to professional learning.
  • We know that children learn well when there’s a sense of awe and wonder about what they’re learning. Let’s try to replicate that for teachers and other school staff too. That means access to great quality professional learning which enables staff to meet the learning half-way. Let’s reject terms such as ‘delivery’ – learning cannot be ‘delivered’! This is about encouraging a degree of enthusiasm in professional learning which means it is sought out and pursued relentlessly.
  • It seems that teachers learn best when they learn from each other. Professional dialogues between school staff members and between staff from different schools both consolidates learning and leads to new learning. It is simple, inexpensive (free in most cases) and incredibly effective. Federations have a head start over other schools, as professional dialogues between staff of different schools already have a contextual framework. Regardless of whether they are federated or not, what all schools need are solid links with other schools so that all staff have the opportunity to be part of wide-ranging professional dialogues.
  • Respect for teachers as educators means that politicians need an incredibly light yet supportive touch. Learning and development are a core part of the job, requiring dedicated time and focus. Cram a teacher’s working day to the extent that development gets squeezed out, and the profession suffers. Let’s recognise the value of professional learning in raising standards and outcomes and prioritise it more formally.
  • Reflection, and opportunities to develop skills of reflection, seems to enhance teachers’ experience of the job no end. But great reflection cannot happen in a vacuum. Staff need the time and space to gain sufficient distance from their work in order to reflect on it fruitfully. Coaching and mentoring can help to facilitate this, but supervision and co-supervision (of the kind that happens in other professions such as healthcare and medicine) could be far more effective. It’s time to devote resources to making supervision a reality for teachers and other school staff.

All of these ideas hinge on the creation of opportunities for professional learning and development, and these opportunities do not need to be costly or complex. First and foremost, this is about the priority that we give professional learning, and it’s virtually impossible not to argue that the higher the priority we give it, the better.

Find out more…
This information sheet takes a look at the opportunities for professional learning which can easily be nurtured in schools.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2010

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.