The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

A great leap forward for professional learning

The coronavirus crisis has disrupted our lives but, as the dust settles, it presents a golden opportunity to rethink and reframe our approach to professional development and seize the opportunities of online.

The last few months have seen a seismic shift in how schools teach and how pupils learn. The move to online learning from home for most was rapid and a great organisational, as well as pedagogical challenge and we will continue to deal with the changes it has wrought for a prolonged period. Yet an upheaval of this nature also presents opportunities: to rethink what we do and how we do it; to challenge some of our long-standing thinking and practice.

This is clearly true of the classroom and there is scope too, to streamline some management and administration tasks. The same applies to professional learning: this crisis presents a chance for a radical rethink of how we conceptualise and deliver training and development so that it is tailored to individual needs, contexts and schedules. It is difficult to do at the height of a crisis but clarity emerges as we come through it.

What do we know?
Studies have attempted to distil what characterises effective professional development and while there are different shades of opinion, the general consensus seems to be that teacher professional development is more effective when it is:

  • sustained
  • collaborative
  • subject-specific
  • draws on external expertise
  • has buy-in from teachers
  • is practice-based

The question now is how we take what we already know about good practice in professional learning and development and apply it to the new education landscape.

Online
There are already many areas where learning online offers a better and more immediate experience for the learner. Equally, those who need flexibility about when and where they learn, such as people with family responsibilities, can benefit from support online which can be timed to suit them.

Access to expertise – in our community, in our region, nationally and internationally – is far wider online, as is the potential for collaboration. For schools too, releasing them from the administrative burdens and costs of the management and coordination of much of face-to-face professional learning makes sound practical and financial sense.

What we want to retain from our previous era are collaboration and the sense of community, learning from the very best in the profession, coaching and networking, and scaffolding our experience and understanding. Perhaps most importantly, we need to be ever more focused on keeping the teacher, their need to be able to access training and development as soon as they require it, and the direct link to school improvement, at the heart of training and development interventions.

The BlueSky/CST and NTA programme
A plethora of materials – from training webinars and TED talks to live-streams, masterclasses, online coaching, video resources and podcasts – has emerged to help teachers and leaders deal with their ‘new normal’. Yet, just as with finding the right classroom resources, the choice and the variation in quality can be overwhelming.

To help, we have joined forces with the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) and NTA (National Teacher Accreditation) to curate a specific programme of free CPD webinars, drawing on the skills, knowledge and experience of the best specialists in the sector. The aim is to provide a programme of support for schools and trusts directly relevant to their needs as they navigate the challenges COVID-19 presents and manage the recovery period that follows. It is focused on what we feel are the key issues for leaders and for NQT and early career teachers.

The programme, based on a profession-led, research-based approach to professional development and featuring experts such as Professor Rob Coe and Professor Daniel Muijs, is built around a number of core principles:
• Keeping the individual at the centre of the engagement – participants can build up a professional record of their webinar engagement, linking it to their own needs and their school’s context and priorities.
• For leaders, a focus on working with other leaders and a professional coach to help them navigate these uncharted waters.
• Harnessing the very best of the profession to provide insight and knowledge to help frame the way ahead and inform decision-making at all levels.
• Supporting NQTs and early career teachers who have missed key elements of their own development and support them as they prepare for their next steps.

BlueSky is providing free access to a ‘lite’ version of the platform for non-BlueSky members and this will remain in place permanently even after the current crisis has subsided. Participants will also have the opportunity to engage with networks in the BlueSky community, sharing best practice and learning from others.

…this crisis presents a chance for a radical rethink of how we conceptualise and deliver training and development so that it is tailored to individual needs, contexts and schedules.

Denise Inwood

Clearly, it is not only education and the teaching world which is facing up to a period of rapid change which we neither sought nor expected. However, change has long been a fact of life for educators. Despite the upheaval this crisis has precipitated, we are still well placed as a profession to seize the opportunities it has created for real, long-lasting transformation.

Click here to register for the CPD programme.

BlueSky is a CST Platinum Partner.