Learning and teaching in tandem
The role of school leader encompasses many duties, but the one that is perhaps most often overlooked is director of learning for staff.
For schools to be successful, staff have to be constantly pushed to develop their teaching and their learning. The school leader needs to take charge of that - providing the tools, the support and the direction to make staff development part of the fabric of the institution. This can be done in a number of ways but one school we visited showcases best practice in this area.
Every job description states that learning progression is the right and responsibility of all teachers, so continuing professional development (CPD) is part of how a teacher is deemed to be meeting the obligations of their position.
Of course, schools have to provide the resources for this to occur. In their first three years at the school in question, every newcomer has a personally allocated budget to spend on CPD and is put through a general induction programme as well as one tailored to their faculty. As part of this, each teacher is asked to suggest a feature they encountered in their earlier employment that they felt was exceptionally good for motivating staff or students. They are also forewarned that at their first annual "development of performance" meeting, which is scheduled for six months after their arrival, they will be expected to identify what they think is the weakest feature of the school.
And this is just the beginning. In talking about his institution's CPD practices, the school leader describes a bewildering array of initiatives: bursaries for staff to attend conferences; opportunities for recent recruits to do stints in senior leadership teams and other groups; an expectation that everyone will become an external examiner; a school-based "action research" master's group run by the local university.
All staff have an opportunity to observe colleagues' classroom practice and sometimes, through the use of videoed sessions, their own. They also view other schools at work: every other year, one of the five professional days at the school is used to allow staff to visit another school in twos and threes, in order to research and report back on a feature of curriculum or school life that they have agreed to observe closely. This is followed by a residential conference during which the school seeks to learn from that process.
In addition, the school offers two fellowships each year to staff who want to pursue a small action research project in curriculum development or pedagogy. If successful, the "fellows" receive a personal honorarium of pound;1,000 plus pound;3,000 to be spent on visits, time off and resources to support their idea.
And the budget for these initiatives? The school leader explains that the 5 per cent earmarked for all this, including part of the cost for advanced skills teachers, is sacrosanct.
His school is not alone, of course. Another one we visited introduces "sharing good practice" as the first item on the agenda of every departmental, middle management and staff meeting. A member of the senior leadership team is responsible for organising which teacher is to present on what topic at each meeting, thereby ensuring a broad range of contributions from different subject disciplines. All the slots are short - a maximum of 10 minutes - and colleagues are encouraged to be as interactive with their peers as they would be with their students. Many of the presentations are subsequently published in the staff bulletin and uploaded to the CPD section of the e-learning platform.
The impact has been very powerful indeed. Staff come away from meetings with practical ideas that they can use in their lessons the very next day, and it has proved an excellent way of initiating cross-subject working arrangements.
Another remarkable development is that although the policy began with senior staff, it has gradually been expanded to everyone so that, for example, second-year teachers offer ideas to more experienced colleagues. In this school, everyone provides an example of learning. It is particularly effective for staff development and the improvement of learning and teaching.
There are no doubt many other instances where staff development is at the forefront of the staff agenda, but likewise there are plenty of schools and school leaders ignoring it. If we want teachers who inspire, are knowledgeable and are constantly striving to be better, we cannot expect this to develop organically. Schools, and more importantly their leaders, have to provide the framework and support to make it happen.
This is an edited version of the chapter "S is for staff development" from The A-Z of School Improvement: principles and practice by David Woods and Tim Brighouse, published by Bloomsbury at pound;24.99. To claim your TESS subscriber 20 per cent discount, visit www.bloomsbury.comeducation and use code GLR 8RW