School improvement & professional development

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Martin Beedle describes how he used the General Teaching Council’s Teacher Learning Academy programme to nurture a professional learning community and fuel whole school improvement.

The Teacher Learning Academy

The Teacher Learning Academy (TLA) was established as a pilot by the GTCE to provide a national system for teacher learning and professional development. Following the successful pilot phase the TLA now forms part of the core business of the GTCE and is being rolled out nationally in partnership with Cambridge Education.  Te TLA does not offer pre-designed courses or programmes. Instead, it provides support and recognition for individual teachers and groups of teachers engaged in professional development which is centred on actual classroom practice and leadership of learning. 

As professional development continues to diversify from the traditional model of INSET days and external courses, the variety of activities available under the CPD banner brings greater opportunities but also greater challenges especially for CPD leaders.

One of the key challenges for CPD leaders is to ensure coherence, not only at the level of the individual institution, but also across professional learning networks and the wider education system as a whole. Te TLA provides an ideal mechanism for facilitating this with its four-stage framework for professional recognition, founded on six core dimensions which underpin a ‘learning journey’, ensuring a personalised, collaborative and rigorous approach to professional development.

School context

I work as Assistant Headteacher at Ossett School and Sixth Form College, a large specialist Technology and Sports College in Wakefeld, West Yorkshire with 120 teaching staff, 60 associate (support) staf and around 1800 students on roll. I also lead the TLA development in the school. Ossett school has been described as a ‘flagship’ for the TLA and is part of the first wave of TLA Pilot Centres for support and verification in the new ‘Open System’.

This article describes how the school’s use of TLA framework and processes to enhance professional learning opportunities for colleagues. Te approach demonstrated a commitment to developing the school workforce to build a vibrant professional learning community in order to secure continuous whole school improvement.

I undertook initial TLA leader training in March 2006 and since then engaging with the TLA has had a significant influence on the development of a professional learning community within my own institution, and on my own personal professional learning and development .  Strong support was given from the Headteacher, (a National Leader in Education), other Senior Leadership Team colleagues, and the Governors who recognise the value of the TLA in supporting the drive to secure continuous and sustainable whole school improvement.

Why get involved?

One of the main reasons for getting involved with the TLA was simply to give staff the recognition they deserve for the improvement and developmental work in which they are involved on a daily basis in leading learning in a variety of school based contexts. As leader of professional learning, it also enables me to bring coherence to the wide range of professional learning activities in which staff are involved, including programmes with national partners such as the TDA, NCSL and SSAT.

At Ossett, staff are encouraged and supported to take advantage of the varied opportunities available to share good practice and their professional learning and development to promote high quality learning experiences for their students. These include whole staff training and staff meetings; curriculum and community team meetings; professional learning workshops; focus groups; pilot initiatives; mentoring and coaching; and also through involvement in local, regional and national initiatives and networks. Colleagues are actively encouraged to lead professional learning sessions and present their developmental work, both within the school and beyond.

There is an increasing emphasis on collaboration and personalisation of professional learning activities, with clear links to the performance management process. To ensure that professional learning is valued by teachers and supports students’ progress, staff are constantly reminded of three key questions:

  • What’s in it for them as individual teachers?
  • What’s in it for their team and the whole school?
  • What’s in it for the students?

These were the principles on which engagement with the TLA was founded.

Embedding the TLA in professional learning and development

In implementing the TLA at Ossett, the intention has been to use it to support and enhance the existing strong professional learning culture at the school to enable colleagues to gain national recognition for their work. As one teacher commented: ‘Te beauty of a TLA presentation is that it stems from the work in which teachers are already engaged rather than being a ‘bolt on’ activity. It focuses on teacher learning and its impact on student learning, and contributes to our philosophy of leadership of learning at all levels’.

The TLA’s six core dimensions provide an ideal structure for promoting effective professional learning, linked to the performance management and school self evaluation and development planning processes:

  • Engaging with the knowledge base
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Planning the learning
  • Carrying out the plan
  • Sharing the learning and infuencing practice
  • Evaluating the learning and its impact

Staff at Ossett are actively encouraged to build a TLA presentation around a performance management objective.

Getting started and building momentum

The school’s strategy for embedding the TLA in staff development involved a number of features.

There was a deliberate focus on staff concentrating on the first stage of the TLA process: Stage 1 presentations (submissions) so that they could get to know and understand the processes, structure and framework of the TLA.

Following TLA Leader training I formulated a TLA Action Plan, targeting specific groups of staff who were already involved in developmental work through the following:

Initial Teacher Training programmes as mentors and host teachers – the school has strong partnership arrangements with a number of providers and was operating as a Lead School for the TDA’s Partnership Development Schools initiative, working in collaboration with four other schools across three Local Authorities. Recognition with the TLA formed a key part of the cluster action plan;

  • Induction arrangements for Newly Qualifed Teachers – in 2005-06 the school had 14 NQTs each with a dedicated mentor;
  • The National Strategy pilot initiative, ‘Leading in Learning’, in which six colleagues were working in two trio sets led by a project leader. This involved joint planning, observation and feedback, co-coaching and evaluation. Subsequently, all teachers were involved in this initiative.

Added to these targeted groups were individual members of staff who built a TLA presentation around specific improvement work including mine which was based on developing my role as a TLA Leader.

Consequently, at the end of the first year of engagement with the TLA (2005-06), 22 teachers had made a successful presentation, a figure which easily surpassed the initial target of ten.

This first ‘pioneer’ cohort of staff was instrumental in helping to build the momentum and capacity for further TLA presentations. They acted as ‘advocates’ for the TLA within the school and were able to support other colleagues with their presentations.

In 2006-07 a further 22 colleagues made successful stage 1 presentations. This second cohort included colleagues undertaking a variety of roles and responsibilities at different stages of career development, and their presentations were based on an even wider range of professional learning foci. Significantly, this second cohort included the Headteacher and several other colleagues with senior or middle leader roles. Te TLA was fast becoming a strong feature of the school’s professional learning and development strategy, a fact which was not overlooked by the GTCE.

National recognition

As the TLA began to develop rapid momentum at national level, the school was invited to become a ‘Fast Track’ TLA pilot centre for support and verification to assist in further developmental work to enable the TLA to become even more widely accessible. Both the Headteacher and I have been involved in actively promoting the benefits of engaging with the TLA at local, regional and national levels, and the school has hosted a number of TLA Leader and Verifier training events.

The programme has given recognition that we are engaged in some innovative and high quality professional development work. Now our job is to keep the momentum going, encouraging and supporting more staff to become involved. In order to meet the criteria for full badged status as a TLA Centre, we are now focusing on presentations at stages 2 and 3 as well as continuing to promote presentations at stage 1.

Further groups of staff are being targeted to move things forward. These include a number who are undertaking national leadership development programmes or undertaking Master’s level work.

In order to build further capacity as a TLA Centre, and promote sustainable leadership of the TLA both internally and beyond, the school now has an additional trained TLA Leader and four TLA Verifiers. A further two colleagues have been identified to undertake Verifier training.  The verifier’s role is to assess on behalf of the GTC the TLA submissions of other colleagues.

Associate (support) staff recognition

One of the things we were keen to do was to involve associate or support staff in this exciting development. This was a key feature in developing the school as a whole learning community. Te problem is that the GTC’s TLA programme is by definition only available for people with qualified teacher status. So we decided to utilise the TLA framework and processes to develop for ourselves an internal Associate Staff Learning Academy. In order to ensure it is robust and has the same credibility as the Teacher Learning Academy, associate staff have to meet exactly the same verification criteria as teacher colleagues. Te response has been extremely positive.

During 2007-08, seven associate staff members (cover supervisors and teaching assistants) worked in collaboration with teaching colleagues, who acted as their coaches, as part of a TDA funded Effective Practices in CPD project entitled, ‘Supporting learning and teaching through the 3 Ps (Pedagogy, Personalisation and People). All the associate staff participants made a successful presentation based on their individual improvement priorities in relation to developing their practice.

In addition, several other members of the associate staff team with a variety of roles presented work for recognition across a range of learning foci. As with the TLA, this cohort of staff has acted as a ‘pioneer’ group and other associate staff colleagues have expressed a desire to become involved in this initiative.

Celebrating staff achievement

An important part of building a vibrant professional learning community is through formal and public celebration of staff achievement. In October 2007, the school held its first twilight staff celebration event at which awards and certificates were presented to recognise staff achievements across a wide range of professional learning activities and for significant individual personal achievements. This event brought an extremely positive response from staff.

The event was repeated in October 2008 with equal, if not, more success and included the award of certificates for successful submissions to the GTCE Teacher Learning and the Associate Staf Learning Academies.

Next steps

The vision is to create a hub of professional learning activity based on the newly formed Education Ossett Trust working in collaboration with the other eight Trust member schools and partner HEIs. Engagement with the TLA will form an important part of this exciting development.

The school is also working closely with colleagues from the Local Authority to develop a Wakefeld Learning Academy for teachers and associate staff. As part of this development we have been involved in organising and facilitating TLA Leader training for colleagues across both the primary and secondary phases with a view to developing hubs of TLA activity based on the existing ‘pyramid’ structure within the LA. Around 40 schools in Wakefeld now have a trained TLA leader.

The Value of the Teacher Learning Academy

We believe it is well within the compass of most schools to become TLA Schools or be involved as part of a TLA hub. For Ossett School I believe there is no doubt that it has had significant impact. Engagement with the GTCE Teacher Learning Academy has brought so many benefits to the school and has had helped create the professional learning environment for the whole school workforce.

The TLA has been a catalyst for extending and enhancing mentoring and coaching relationships within the school, helping to develop reflective practitioners and action researchers, and promote the notion of collaborative and personalised professional learning. It has been instrumental in helping staff to address and evidence professional standards and has proved to be a fantastic motivational tool. Te TLA has really helped the school to develop the idea of the school as a learning organisation for both students and staff.

We are proud to be involved with the GTCE through the TLA and its Professional Networks. We are extremely grateful for the support and encouragement we have received from colleagues at the GTCE and look forward to further extending the opportunities which the Academy has created.

Martin Beedle is Assistant Headteacher (Professional Learning) Ossett School and Sixth Form College

Taken from Professional Development Today

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