At UWCSEA, our educational ambition to be a leader in international education compels us to continually reflect and adapt. To support this, our approach to professional learning has evolved to ensure our teachers and leaders can implement our major projects, for example, approaches to Concept-based Teaching and Learning across the five elements of our learning programme.
Educational research and institutional experience tells us that the teacher is the most significant variable in students’ learning. Supporting Professional Learning is, therefore, a critical strategic tool in maintaining and enhancing excellence.
It turns out that it doesn’t matter very much which school you go to, but it matters very much which classrooms in that school you are in. And it’s not class size that makes the difference, nor is it the presence or absence of setting by ability—these have only marginal effects. The only thing that really matters is the quality of the teacher.
In the classrooms of the best teachers, students learn at twice the rate they do in the classrooms of average teachers—they learn in six months what students taught by the average teachers take a year to learn ... as Michael Barber says, the quality of a country’s education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.
Dylan Wiliam from (2009). Assessment for learning: why, what and how? London: Institute of Education, University of London.
As a result, we attempt to put in place the best possible systems for the professional learning of our academic staff. As we consider how we can best support their professional learning, and success in moving towards fulfilling the College's Strategy and ambition, we also recognise the need to understand the context. This is perhaps best explained by the McKinsey report, How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better (Mourshed, Chijioke, Barber, McKinsey Education 2010).
This report identifies which strategies are most effective at different stages of school improvement. As can be seen in the ‘good-to-great’, and ‘great-to-excellent’ categories, the strategies that we should be pursuing have a heavy emphasis on building capacity and increasing professional responsibility. This is in contrast to the heavier emphasis on external accountability in the 'poor-to-fair' column.
The nature of highly effective teaching is a combination of strong knowledge and understanding of curriculum and pedagogy, coexisting with the ability to inspire and motivate a wide variety of students through caring and learning-focused relationships. We also wish for these relationships and the learning in classrooms to be aligned to our mission and values.
“The craftsman teacher understands that they are continually perfecting their craft and are willing to work toward attaining their own high standards through the pursuit of ongoing learning. They seek precision, mastery, and refinement in their craft. They generate and refine clear visions of student learning goals and professional goals, and strive for exact critical thought processes. They use precise language for describing their work and make thorough and rational decisions about the actions they take. They test and revise, constantly honing strategies to reach their goals. In short, they persist in the service of their craft.”Modified (slightly) from Costa and Garmston (2013)
- We need to get things done!
- Rule-bound. Large policy manuals. Prescribed consequences for infractions
- No mission (no connection)
- Little trust (contractual)
- Plans based on external accreditation
- PD seen as implied criticism
- Teacher evaluation is one size fits all (checklist)
- Conflict resolved by power with a winner and a loser
- Mission shared by those who wrote it; values are external
- Pseudo-trust, congenial loyalty and conviviality
- Long-term planning reflects external trends; common practice = best practice
- Jumps from one ‘latest idea’ to the next—not coherent
- Teacher supervision = checklists to encourage; little feedback
- Conflict avoidance
Self Authoring Stage
- Mission is shared and guides decision-making
- Relational trust; expectations and obligations are clear
- Strategic plan reflects values, often overwhelming
- PD is considerable and coherent but informational, separate from daily craft
- Supervision focuses on behaviours and learning with some feedback
- Conflict is mostly cognitive
Self Transforming Stage
- Stakeholders select the school because of the mission
- Values drive daily decision-making with shared norms and beliefs
- Opportunities to develop relational trust are sought
- Strategic goals are clear and broad but strategy is fluid and flexible
- Professional learning in everyday practice; action research and pilots
- Conflict is embraced as a chance to learn, and managed sensitively to build relationships and trust
Framework for Professional Learning
Our Professional Learning Programme (PLP) takes place within a framework where we:
- employ professionals who are highly competent, well-qualified and well-referenced, who are passionate and values-driven
- are committed to ongoing professional learning as an organisation and invest heavily in professional learning related to our strategy
- prioritise human-centred organisational decision-making
The framework also embeds a mindset of continuous improvement; a methodology to address any identified gaps in teacher performance; heavy strategic investment in teacher development; and guiding pathways for career progression, both internal and external. Our wellbeing principles of connectedness, autonomy and competence underpin our approach to the wellbeing of all.
The broad focus for professional learning can be considered within five main domains:
teaching: improve pedagogical practice in order to directly improve the learning
leadership: building the capacity for collaboration, coaching, facilitating and presenting within our staff and positional leaders in order to indirectly improve learning
management: building the knowledge and skills of staff and positional leaders so that they feel confident to develop, maintain and improve the structures supporting the school, e.g., its policies, processes, practices
culture (underpins the first three): develop values, attitudes and competencies aligned to our guiding statements, e.g., the mission, the skills and qualities of our profile, in order to strengthen a culture and behaviours aligned to our mission and improve learning in some hard to measure but nevertheless critical areas
networking and thought leadership: reputation, recruitment, innovation