Cultivating a positive professional learning culture is essential for every school, but it can be complex. Here are 10 easy to implement tips to help schools move towards a culture where improvements in teaching and learning can thrive. These tips also support the implementation of the Department for Education’s Standard for teachers’ professional development.
1. Stop and think about classroom culture
As a school, take some time to consider the culture that you want to see in classrooms and how your professional learning culture can reflect this. For example, if schools want to nurture a culture based on growth mindset then arguably teachers need to embrace this concept too.
2. Work as a collective to create a common, learner-focused, vision
Think carefully about the way in which learner needs are identified and consider involving all teachers in evidence gathering. Referring to data and using tools, such as video can support this. Whatever approach, clear communication about the process and vision is key to developing social capital.
3. Build, gain and sustain momentum through a structured, systematic approach
Work back from desired goals and plan accordingly. If developing Growth Mindset is the aim for example, then ask: What do we need to know? How will teaching have to change? Which professional learning activities will support this? How will we know if our changes are effective? How can we refine our work?
4. Create small, collaborative learning project groups
Schools tend to be incredibly hierarchical but for project teams to be most effective, established hierarchies might need to be left at the door. The most suitable project lead is not necessarily the most senior. Whoever leads, they need to be empowered with the full support of the senior leadership team (SLT) and have time capacity.
5. Establish norms for positive professional dialogue
Build trust, openness, and tolerance. Embrace differences of opinion; focus on the teaching not the teacher, the learning rather than the learners. Video can be a great way of initiating teacher led professional dialogue and collective analysis of teaching and learning underpinned by respect for all involved, including any teachers and pupils.
6. Focus on real practice rather than best
A culture focused on the dissemination of ‘best practice’ can lead to a directed, top down approach where teachers are told what good practice is. For a truly collaborative, professional learning culture, everyone needs to feel they have something to learn and something to contribute. Teachers should be actively involved in interpreting and constructing knowledge rather than being expected to accept and enact ideas dictated to them by others.
7. Reduce risk and anxiety
It’s important to understand people’s concerns and meet them where they are. Video is a powerful tool for becoming more reflective about teaching and learning. Creating a video club for a small group of teachers using existing classroom footage for collective reflection can encourage reflective practice in a non-threatening, non-judgemental environment.
8. Underpin professional learning and dialogue with evidence and expertise
To be relevant and effective, dialogue must be driven by evidence from the classroom and academic research. Expert input can be important for gaining critical perspective, imagining alternative possibilities and becoming acquainted with others’ practices.
9. Practice what we preach
A school’s professional learning culture should be driven by the culture they want to see in their classrooms and vice versa. Take collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking. If we want our learners to embrace these skills then we need to model this in our own professional learning.
10. Share challenges and celebrate success
Remember to schedule regular check-ins and updates. Consider ways of involving the wider community too by sharing developments and achievements with those outside of school - parents, governors and other schools. Video can be a powerful collaborative tool and an excellent way of capturing evidence. Utilising social media can also help you to reach a wider audience.
Is there anything you've found works for creating a positive school culture? We'd love to hear from you in the comments section.