Professional learning for the new curriculum: tools and approaches – an Advisor ‘Head’ speaks!

Read this post in Welsh

So Mark, how did the switch of roles come about – from Headteacher to ‘Professional Advisor’?

I was previously a ‘pioneer’ for digital and Maths and Numeracy, and have done a lot of work on collaboration. That might explain why I had a phone call out of the blue last January inviting me to help develop professional learning resources for teachers – to help schools prepare for the new curriculum.

I discussed it with my chair of governors. They felt it was an opportunity for my own professional learning as well, and agreed to support the secondment.

Q: You’re a fan of the new curriculum then?

Absolutely. The new curriculum brings schools the opportunity to be creative, to develop learners’ understanding in more flexible ways and to modernise the way teachers work in the digital age. I think it’s brave and teachers will appreciate the difference.

Q: So if you have a mantra, what is it?

We need to work together in schools! Collaboration is key. We re-invent the wheel too much in Wales.

Q: This is a big project. Is the work shared across a team?

Yes indeed, I’m one of four secondees and our work naturally overlaps.

I work on my own for some projects such as making the Professional Learning Journey an accessible tool, helping with the National Professional Enquiry project and making resources to share practice between schools.

Mark Ford from ERW focuses on pedagogy – his ‘talk pedagogy’ project will link teachers across Wales and be an important part of the Professional Learning Journey.

Ann Bradshaw from Ysgol Aberconwy is leading on expanding the Schools as Learning Organisations model so that it reaches all schools. It’s the first step in the professional learning journey for schools.

David Egan from Cardiff Metropolitan University brings an enquiry and international research perspective.

(Note: All the Advisors’ work will feature in future posts)

There’s a series of virtual ‘policy insight’ events running this autumn where people can delve in to the work being done. They’re just an hour long, and you can find out more and register now!

In different ways, we also work with Estyn, regional consortia and the Hwb team.

Q: How does your and their work fit with the pioneer school work – are pioneers still working?

The professional learning pioneer schools have evolved to become ‘lead enquiry schools’, focusing on developing enquiry to improve standards in schools. Some have been working with me on the Professional Learning Journey to explain their development journeys as they’re preparing for the new curriculum.

Q: So tell us more about your specific area.  And how does that work get shared?

I’m involved in several projects, but was appointed to focus on two main projects:

  1. Develop professional learning resources for the new curriculum
  2. Rekindle the Digital professional learning framework to support the DCF

To make the most of the professional learning resources, we realised that we needed to integrate the various projects and approaches to help schools navigate through change to implement the curriculum. We’re recommending the use of the Schools as Learning Organisations model as a school’s starting point, which will give a guide into the Professional Learning Journey – a way to make the best use of the guidance and resources that have been developed.

Q: Have you managed to make progress even during Covid? How?

Yes – actually it helped me focus on the project. The resources for the Professional Learning Journey were completed by the end of February, and quality assurance by the digital communications teams happened remotely, so they were up on Hwb by May.

Working from home has also meant that I have been saving a lot of time that I would normally have spent travelling. So I’ve been able to meet school leaders virtually to share their experiences of distance learning, preparation for re-opening schools, blended learning and more recently how they intend to use the new ‘recruit, recover and raise standards’ grant.

It’s been a very busy time – there are currently 35 playlists consisting of over 250 video clips on the ‘sharing our experiences’ site on Hwb with more to come next week!

Q: Do you think the sheer volume of professional learning options and material is daunting for some school leaders?

Yes. This was the main reason for bringing together all the elements into a linked ‘Professional Learning Journey’ (PLJ) for schools. School leaders have their day job to do and don’t have the luxury of being able to devote masses of time to work through all of the materials.

It’s also difficult to visualise how this can look in schools, which is why we’ve captured a series of case studies: They show how schools who were part of the pioneer process have addressed different development issues, such as developing their vision, managing change, developing aspects of staff professional learning, looking at purpose-led curriculum etc. I feel it’s my job to try and simplify things and help schools navigate though the developments whilst keeping flexibility and freedom to choose their own approaches and development pathways.

Q: In 1 minute or less, explain how any head or teacher should navigate the professional learning approaches in Wales

Q: Just nailing that down on paper – so it’s…

Schools can choose their own approach, but if I was to look as this from the viewpoint of a headteacher just starting out on the development journey, I would do the SLO survey to give me an idea of how developed my school is as a learning institution. I would then create a clear vision for the school, agreed by all stakeholders. Next we would go through the relevant sections of the PLJ, looking at the case studies and accessing regional consortia support programmes. I would look at developing teaching and learning and engage with the talk pedagogy project as well as looking at how schools have used enquiry to address improvement by looking at the enquiry case studies that are on the National Professional Enquiry Programme site.

Next year I would use self-evaluation and improvement to prepare further for the new curriculum and develop my school as a learning organisation.

Q: And can the learning be done virtually, or does it take teamwork and clusters?

I wouldn’t say that these are mutually exclusive. Teamwork and cluster approaches can be done physically and virtually. A blended approach would work well but we need to do more work to improve the quality of virtual learning so that it catches up with the quality of face to face learning that we’ve developed in schools.

Q: What’s the most exciting thing about all this for your teacher colleagues out there – people like you who’ve spent 20 years pounding the classrooms? Will it really change teaching styles?

If led properly in schools with appropriate systems and structures in place, yes, this can be very exciting. We’ve become a bit stagnant in schools, focussing more and more on narrow accountability measures and teaching to the exam. Now there’s the opportunity to make learning and teaching relevant for the needs of the learner, be flexible to deepen understanding and develop skills and produce more rounded individuals who will be better prepared for a changing world of work where job roles change multiple times over their careers. We will not help learners achieve the four purposes if we continue with the traditional chalk and talk didactic teaching. A different approach, supported by appropriate structures in schools, collaborating with other schools for the benefit of the wider system, is the way forward.

Q: What do you miss most about school?

Doing yard duty on a wet, windy Thursday!

The only downside of this work is you’re another tier removed from the learners. Even as a headteacher you become a bit removed from seeing direct day to day impact of the developments you lead. With this level of work, the developments go through regions, schools and teachers before reaching the learners. With the Covid-19 situation, this has also meant I have had less contact with practitioners. This is something that we could look at, for example aligning with a school and meeting more regularly to see how they’re implementing different aspects of Welsh Government policy. This worked well when I was a link adviser to a school – you were able to get a feel of how the place was running and seeing the developments first hand.

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