Editor’s Comment - Transforming practice

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Graham Handscomb spotlights the challenge placed upon professional development to transform practice, and the particular implications this has for school leadership.

IIf we are to make a difference for children and improve our schools the focus must be on the classroom. There is now a wide consensus that professional development that counts should involve clear benefits for improved teaching and learning. In short, professional learning must deliver classroom dividends. This somewhat daunting expectation provides the context for this issue of Professional Development Today.

■■■ Leading teaching and learning

The challenge of how professional development can help bring about classroom transformation has wide ranging implications, particularly for school leadership. This is the focus of a number of articles as well as of our HOW TO section.  School vice-principal and former Advanced Skills Teacher, Marcella McCarthy begins by emphasising the importance of leadership focussing on the “front line.” Here senior school leaders enable the modelling of good pedagogic practice through fostering a “bottom-up” culture which develops and energizes teacher leaders. She looks in a very grounded way at the pressures on classroom teachers, with congested teaching loads and little space for reflection on how their lessons might be improved.  Against this background she argues that the regime of scrutiny and lesson observations by senior managers can prove additionally stressful and counter-productive. Instead we are presented with a rich alternative picture which combines “open classrooms”, virtual lesson observations, “plenary swops” and a collaborative approach to performance management.

■■■ Transformation through collaboration

In their article Gary Holden and colleagues examine how the energies and dynamics of collaboration between schools can be harnessed to transform teaching and learning. A great deal of expectation has been generated around the prospect of how collaboratives of schools themselves can sustain and improve the education system. But what will this actually mean in terms of improving the quality of what happens within participating schools and their classrooms? This article reports on work done within a multi-academy Trust to practically explore “how a self-sustaining school-led system can be made to work effectively so that all children achieve good or better outcomes in their learning.”  They describe a coordinated approach which combined three professional development strategies to promote effective collaboration across schools:  putting coaching and mentoring at the heart of the appraisal process; promoting joint practice development through peer challenge; and using action research as a means of embedding evidence-based practice. 

The article is refreshing in its candour about problems encountered, as well as its successes.  So, for instance, we read that willingness to take part in joint working cannot be taken for granted, and that initially there was insufficient investment in creating a rationale for joint working, and a need for this to be embedded in senior leadership practice. What comes through powerfully is that any framework for effective collaboration must be underpinned by compelling shared values such as “the entitlement of all staff to exceptional support and challenge.

■■■ Leaders transforming practice

In the HOW TO section I provide a range of pieces on the contribution of leadership to the transformation of practice. These include:  the ingredients of successful leadership; the difference school leaders make to pupil outcomes; the vital contribution leaders need to make to teaching and learning; and the importance of teacher leaders. All the HOW TO pieces include a variety of professional learning activities to help readers apply the material to their own practice.

■■■ A rationale for professional learning

In the first research article Karen Edge also looks at the potential impact of school leaders on practice. Her focus is on what is perceived to be a new generation of leaders, the so-called Generation X leaders, born between 1960 and 1980. In research carried out in the “global cites” of London, New York and Toronto, she examines the lives, leadership and aspirations of small cohorts of such leaders. Amongst some early findings claimed from this research are a criticism that much professional development of these new leaders is too traditional and slow to respond to the demands of modern day school leadership, and an outlook of Generation X leaders which places a higher premium on work/life balance.

Headteacher David Sands then gives a rich account of his doctoral research into the impact of a school-based Master-level professional development programme. Significantly the research found that such a programme, whilst being bespoke and school-driven, incorporated the rigour of M-level development. It provided significant benefits related to teachers’ sense of self-efficacy and in turn resulted in clear reported improvement in classroom practice. There were also reported improvement gains in school leadership, policies and procedures. Perhaps most important was that, in an era which extols school-led professional development, with the potential danger of fragmented and uncoordinated provision, this Masters programme was judged to have provided the basis for a rationale or framework for school-based approaches.

■■■ Personalised, bespoke development

The last two articles concentrate on some fundamental practitioner concerns. In the second of her articles, Diane McDermott provides practical approaches to A Level teaching. Whilst using the particular context of teaching English, her grounded advice will prove valuable to teachers of all subjects and key stages. It spans preparation and planning; research techniques; marking and assessment; writing techniques; and learning activities.  Finally, Glenys Hart explores the world of professional development potential that is opened up through on-line learning.  This provides the prospect of genuinely personalised teacher development that can be honed to each teacher’s needs and specific classroom context – which is the fundamental aspiration at the heart of many of the contributions in this issue of PDT.



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