What purpose does professional learning have in your school? Does it fulfil its purpose or is there a disparity between the ideal and the reality? This week we take a close look at these issues with a view to preparing for the next academic year

Practical Tips

The role of professional learning in your school

We may not be at the end of the academic year just yet, but we’re certainly in the home straight. Now is a great time to consider meaning and purpose in your role as professional learning leader in preparation for next year. Focusing to this extent on the role and its purpose helps it to be targeted and geared towards the specific development needs of your school as a whole, with a view to improving teaching, learning and consequently standards.

A good place to start is to identify what role professional learning currently has in your school. These questions provide a useful focus:

  • Is personal development balanced with professional development?
  • How closely is development of any kind aligned with the drive to raise standards?
  • Is it linked to the specific needs of pupils?
  • How systemic is development in your school?
  • Does it have a purpose in the retention of staff?
  • Does it broadly emerge in-house or is it brought in from outside?  

Refining your role as a professional learning leader and enhancing the use and value of professional learning in your school can be an excellent way of ensuring that all your hard work, not to mention that of the professional learners in your school, has maximum impact. Here are some tips to help you achieve that goal:

  • Work with recruiters in your school to help ensure a focus on professional development in interviews for new staff. The emerging expectations of teachers and other staff in your school can usefully be discussed right from the word go!
  • Aim to draw on each member of staff’s personal philosophy of education when working with them to devise development plans. This means spending time talking about their passions and attitudes, beliefs and desires, and working out how these might feed into development goals to help ensure success. This is more about values than specific skills.
  • The mutual vulnerability which comes from professional conversations between staff members is thought to lead to one of the most effective forms of professional development. You cannot over-use this most cost-effective development tool!
  • Help staff members to think of their career paths as ‘latticed’ as opposed to linear. This helps to ensure depth, breadth and meaning as opposed to blinkered forward progress and helps to avoid the problems associated with ‘arriving’ at a goal only for progress to stall.
  • Aim to identify for the start of the next term the main external factors that hinder pupil progress (for example, the social context in which they live; current prevailing anxieties; behaviours and trends). It is important for these to form part of the basis for development in your school, combined with pupil progress needs. Failure to consider such environmental factors will render much professional development invalid.
  • Help staff to determine their key ‘drivers’ for development as the new academic year commences.
  • Be wary of ‘trends’ in development. Bandwagons are usually money-making machines, as opposed to genuine tools for development which are anchored in the experience of children and staff members in schools.
  • Make sure that the links between the induction period for newly qualified teachers and their early professional development are as seamless as possible.
  • Make sure that departing members of staff have an exit interview with a member of your senior leadership team. Use the knowledge gained from exit interviews to develop an antidote to the main reasons why staff members leave.
  • Aim to make the development of ‘community’ in your school one of the main outcomes of professional learning.
  • Reinvigorate the use of learning mentors in your school and work on the development of a learning community.

Aim to develop links with neighbouring schools with a view to sharing the load of professional and personal development of staff where practical.

Find out more…

Issues and information

The Teacher Learning Academy

The Teacher Learning Academy offers public and professional recognition for teachers’ learning, development and improvement work. All GTCE-registered teachers with QTS are eligible to enrol.

The aim of the Teacher Learning Academy is to lead teachers to the kinds of learning experiences which have the most potential to positively affect them and their pupils. To this end, it aims to support learning communities both within and between schools.

To enrol, you need to know:

  • Your teacher reference number (TRN; formerly DfES number)
  • Your TLA partner, if you have one
  • At which stage you wish to enrol: see TLA website for details
  • The date you intend to submit your presentation, if known

You can enrol using the TLA online enrolment form

This in-depth article about the TLA describes the opportunities available

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2008

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