Talk about good practice

You've got to hand it to Fraserburgh Academy's principal teachers - they know how to collaborate, says Jean McLeish

An informal forum for principal teachers at Fraserburgh Academy is encouraging staff to work more collaboratively and attracting interest from other schools.

The forum meets each term over lunch in school and was set up after the Aberdeenshire secondary began holding training days for principal teachers two years ago. Now teachers say the results are better team working, improved relationships and greater understanding of each other's role.

The get-togethers have also encouraged greater co-operation between different departments and more effective sharing of good practice.

"One of the things about teachers' talking shops is they can become girning sessions," says Elaine Bryson, principal teacher of information technology and the current chair of the PT Forum.

"That doesn't happen and that's one of the reasons that I think it keeps fresh every year, because it's not people sitting around moaning. It's people learning to do their job better, based on other people's experiences and it's hugely positive."

Headteacher John Noble says they decided to focus on training for principal teachers in 2009, when some staff changed role from subject PTs to faculty PTs.

"We felt that we needed to give them support, particularly in what was expected of a faculty PT. But we didn't confine it to faculty PTs - we brought in subject PTs, support PTs and guidance PTs as well," says Mr Noble.

PT training days are now an annual fixture and forum meetings each term allow teachers to continue their discussions and suggest themes for training days, concentrating on areas of shared interest. The objectives are to encourage good leadership and management, identifying and sharing good practice, motivating and inspiring other teachers and pupils, and building on improvement.

Gordon Young, PT health and well-being, says his hardest adjustment for this role was time management. "I am working with eight staff and trying to support them. If you don't manage your time effectively and manage that split between supporting colleagues and getting the work done, then you end up with a mountain of work."

The first training day was delivered by outside providers like former Ellon Academy rector Brian Wilkins and staff from Aberdeenshire's Training Unit. But the event has evolved over the years and teachers now run it themselves.

"This year, most was delivered by PTs sharing good practice and encouraging each other and promoting professional debate and dialogue," Mr Noble says. He feels it's important staff have a shared understanding of each other's roles: "So they can get a better understanding not just of what each other does, but also of when they need to work together."

Depute head Don Hawkins has seen the strategy strengthen team working: "The priorities of a guidance teacher are not necessarily the priorities of the PT faculty. So having that shared understanding of what each of the principal teachers does means there is more of a team mentality, a team ethos and the principal teachers can work together for the pupils' benefit."

Forum meetings are voluntary and attract between 50 and 70 per cent of 21 principal teachers. They take turns of chairing. There are no minutes taken and no senior management team present, but afterwards the head is given a verbal update highlighting action points.

Faculty PT Gordon Young thinks the PT training day is his most useful CPD opportunity. He has delivered a session on the role of duty manager and benefited from a session on preparing pupils' appeals.

"It's sharing good practice and you are not going away to some course where someone's giving you hypothetical situations with hypothetical kids," he says. "They are giving you: `This is what I have used in our school with our kids and it works.'"

The bottom line for Mr Noble is simple: "Our core activity is learning and if we don't inspire the kids to want to learn, then we're not doing our job as well as we should be."

`It's wonderful, it's cross-fertilisation of different things'

In a school on an extensive site with more than 90 staff, networking lunches once a term provide an opportunity for senior teachers to get to know each other and talk about mutual concerns. And it's not just the younger or newly-promoted staff who benefit.

Jennifer Beveridge, the faculty principal of English, has been teaching for more than 30 years and feels the forum meetings encourage co- operation: "I find different ways of doing things. I find a young member of staff coming up with something I have never thought about and it's wonderful, it's cross-fertilisation of different things.

"We are learning from each other and we are all quite happy now to share. There is not this idea that `this is my faculty, this is what goes on in here, so you're not getting to see what we do.' We share all our ideas round the school and figure out different ways of doing things."

Colleague Ian Berstan, PT guidance, says the training days and forum have clarified principal teachers' different roles. "I think it has been a benefit. It could turn into a greeting meeting at times, but people try to focus in on trying to get a solution to what the issues and concerns are, and try to be much more positive about an outcome, as opposed to just a chance to air their concerns."

Teachers who were comparative strangers now pop in and out of each other's classrooms and they're less reluctant to ask for advice. "So when you see each other in the corridor it's like seeing a friend, rather than a stranger from across the school," says Elaine Bryson.

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