Looking Back, Looking Forward: The Benefit of a ‘Joined-Up’ Approach to Professional Development

By Chris Nash –  Principal at Beijing Changping Xinxuedao International School, Beijing. 

The end of term is a busy time with all sorts of social activities or extracurricular events that can easily take up all of your leadership and management attention. However, it is critical before the end of term that you have at least the agreed framework of your School Improvement Plan SIP) with priorities which have been communicated to your staff. Alongside this, I would argue very strongly, from my experience, should be your Staff Professional Development Programme. 

Turn this year’s data into next year’s PD

Why is it preferable to complete this process before school closes for the summer? Firstly it’s a way of demonstrating your commitment to be a learning organisation. If you’ve been working at full potential, the whole school will have spent the year collecting important quantitative and qualitative data about the quality of Learning and Teaching. Working with your subject leaders to efficiently turn all of this data into next year’s PD is a great way of recognising the commitment the school has shown to this difficult process. By efficiently and effectively linking the monitoring and assessing of teaching to related professional development opportunities you will be modelling the ‘find a gap, fill a gap’, mastery learning strategies you want to see used by every teacher. At the same time, I am confident that teachers will be motivated by the clear determination of the school to pay good attention to their needs as teachers and to provide training actually aligned to these needs. 

The logistical reason for publishing a Professional Development Plan is that you can give due consideration to the programme delivery. One aspect of this might mean you have the time to find the best external trainers for particular skills. This can be particularly important in an international context where some trainers may need to be flown in from abroad. However, I would advise you very strongly to look at your own internal resources. It is a sign of real confidence in your own school and education programmes if you can find teachers within the school to lead training sessions for their colleagues. I believe too, that such a strategy is a contribution to your retention policy for high-achieving and aspirational teachers. By growing them as guides and mentors for your school, you are raising their self-esteem and sense of intrinsic value which I have always found more critical to keeping teachers than putting a price on their heads. 

Sooner rather than later

There are also team psychology reasons why I think it’s advantageous to share a professional development plan sooner rather than later. The beginning of a new school term is a very interesting time, with lots of competing agendas. Teachers are happy and excited about sharing holiday takes. Teachers are focused on setting up classrooms and getting their heads around their new classes. I don’t think that teachers have the right amount of head-space to give serious thought to a newly announced PD programme. After years of experience, I’m doubtful that first day back ‘training days’ have the amount of impact you will be looking for. Next, I have found that teachers benefit from an overview of the PD programme as much as students benefit from a ‘big picture’ understanding of their academic courses. One of my biggest criticisms of much teacher training in schools is that it is not ‘joined up’. A day in the autumn term on ‘digital learning’ doesn’t make connections with the spring term focus on ‘wellbeing’, thereby weakening staff understanding and implementation. Publishing a PD Plan now alongside a School Improvement Plan increases the possibilities of staff growing a holistic understanding of the year’s programme. 

Finally, we should never underestimate our teacher’s commitment to their own professional learning. We send off our students on their summer holidays with high hopes that they will follow a summer study programme of independent learning. Equally we should have high expectations of our teachers. Of course, we want them to relax and de-stress after a year of hard work, but I have found that if you create the culture of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) in your school, then colleagues will use some of their holiday time for self-study following the topics of your PD programme. That’s why it’s always worth publishing a resource list of reading and audio-visual material to accompany the programme. This will serve as a form of ‘flipped learning’ with the objective that teachers go into training sessions with at least sone of the theory already absorbed, ready to focus on the more important matter of how to apply these theories in classroom practice. 

Good luck with your PD planning for next year!

Chris Nash is Principal at Beijing Changping Xinxuedao International School.

Connect with him on LinkedIn HERE

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