Professional Learning Part Two

Why should school leaders prioritise professional learning at this time – not only for their colleagues, but for themselves?

In Part One I transcribed my presentation on this subject at the Teacher Development Trust conference on 1st July 2020.  In this second post I include some of the responses of the 50 delegates to the questions I posed in the session.

A huge thank you to all contributors for their openness, their honesty and their insights

  1. What are the most important things you have learnt in the last few months about any of the following: a) remote teaching and learning b) remote pastoral care; c) leadership?

Remote teaching and learning:

  • The importance of keeping good contact with staff and students, and being warm and encouraging
  • That virtual CPD sessions can be just as, if not even more, effective with the use of breakout rooms and Jamboards. Also, venue size is not an issue
  • That giving feedback to students in a timely and meaningful way has been really challenging. Managing parental expectations about what feedback is / how often students should be receiving it and in what form has been tricky
  • That engaging parents effectively in their children’s learning is crucial, especially in a very disadvantaged area where parental engagement at the best of times is thin
  • The need for additional support for various students has been highlighted and shown to be particularly acute
  • The power of streamlining meetings with colleagues to remove operational/administrative bits! Also “not trying to do too much” or use too many different platforms
  • The ways in which you can make a personal connection, either through live lessons, voice/video recordings on PPts, letting them hear your voice…
  • The dynamics around the home learning aspect of ‘blended’ learning have made us realise more than ever the disadvantage in our community – increased insight into what our pupils are facing
  • That it’s really important to be empathetic, proactive and flexible with lesson delivery and expectations for students’ learning
  • The huge range of experiences that students, their families and our staff are having in response to the learning and teaching approaches we are providing. It is highly polarised
  • The challenge in getting all students to be able to access the work, as for many they have lost their ‘safe place’ in the school
  • That the amount of sharing of resources and best practice online, both within the school and from the wider educational community, has been heart-warming and impressive
  • That teachers need feedback from the students. They need to know how pupils are getting on so that they can support their engagement with the work. Some have several siblings at home and one laptop. Accessing the work for some is a massive challenge and we can’t underestimate this
  • How remote learning has brought out confidence in some pupils that we barely knew existed – the quiet ones who never demand our attention
  • That staff ICT training is needed prior to ensuring more explicit lessons can be developed
  • The power of online collaboration. This has made us reflect on how we can reduce the impact of travel, time etc. and work together more smartly. People have warmed to Zoom and other online platforms and it has transformed practice for us regarding CPD and also home/school learning
  • Considering which platforms/apps work well across all subjects to make accessing work and home learning as simple as possible for students
  • Going on a super quick learning journey: how to use Google Classrooms; reflecting on lessons and delivery to pupils; moving to live learning; connectivity with colleagues and having professional conversations and then developing from this

Remote pastoral care:

  • That the level of disadvantage was beyond what we expected and thought we knew in our locality – which affected the response to remote teaching, too
  • The difficulty of balancing the professional learning of adults when staff are dealing with the logistics of feeding their pupils and providing them with hard copies of work where there is limited access to technology
  • That this continues to be an ongoing challenge and it can be very difficult to find remote or online solutions to support students in need or who are suffering from deprivation
  • That although it’s wonderful connecting with some students and their families, it’s more difficult to get a sense of how the harder to reach pupils are coping at home
  • The awareness that some pastoral issues aren’t clearly visible in the online world – need for particular vigilance
  • That, despite being in lockdown, I have learnt there are so many avenues to establish and then build on that ‘connectedness’ with pupils, families and the community. This can be achieved through phone calls, support packages and social media which has been extremely successful for our school
  • The lack of awareness amongst some parents of the diversity of our community and levels of deprivation


  • The importance of the most effective communication – with staff (teaching and support), parents and pupils
  • The primacy of compassion and empathy with respect to the impact of the lockdown and wider pandemic on staff, students and families
  • The importance of strong professional relationships with other senior leaders
  • The need to ensure we keep on top of both staff and pupil well-being and adapt in the light of this where necessary
  • Maintaining a community, albeit online, has been vital. Staff and students welcome the chance to hear and be part of key messages. Also the need for more individual check-ins with staff to see how they are coping in these circumstances and what adaptations are necessary
  • Every decision involves not only thinking about what is best for the pupils and families but also what is best for staff and families in challenging times. Distributed leadership is also vital
  • The importance of strong consideration of individual needs and ensuring a balance between working from home, family circumstances, being fair and protecting health
  • How crucial it is to have understanding and empathy for colleagues who are balancing many varied roles and expectations
  • The importance of a team approach. Our team of senior and middle leaders have really been a rock for our Academy and for me as the head. The hard work involved  in growing and developing this team has been a wise investment
  • Learning to sit comfortably with the idea that you don’t know what is going to happen next. Planning for multiple situations. Deciding what to share with whole staff and what you don’t need to
  • CPD: the wealth of quality professional development resources during this time has meant that we could provide a tailored package of support to individuals. Not a one size fits all. Huge considerations for individual circumstances and needs
  • That holding firmly to strong values has helped with ethical and fair decision making
  • That leadership can at times be too centralised and it should be distributed to ensure a wider range of input
  • The value of reducing whole-school communication in a way that has been beneficial. Communications shared by the head have been clear and strategic and have given staff confidence
  • Being aware of staff well-being and concerns/anxieties and balancing them with pupils’ needs
  • That maintaining relationships and connectivity is essential both for staff and students
  • That effective structures for communication are everything (with staff, students and the wider community). During this time of remote teaching and working it is easy for something / someone to be missed, leading to all sorts of unintended consequences. Looking at what we can take from this to continue to build clarity and effectiveness of communication for when (if!) things return to normal


2. The opportunity to reflect on and process your recent learning encourages you to stop and think, to select, to articulate your learning and to share it.  How can you offer other staff the same chances to do this?

  • A virtual & physical INSET day reflecting on the last few months coupled with a staff, parent, pupil questionnaire has allowed us to capture some of this
  • Using a Padlet and asking staff for learning points, things they would keep and what they would lose compared with pre-lockdown approaches
  • Use the Keep, Grow, Change model
  • Virtual, through Google forms, and also through discussion on INSET days at the start of next academic year
  • Some form of reflective writing and time to complete it
  • In a range of ways: using forms, faculty time, staff Q&A sessions…
  • Asking departments to reflect on what they have learned and share that between them and SLT. Use that to think about the period ahead
  • We need to build some form of reflective time into the process of professional learning
  • We have changed our CPD delivery for next year and have reflected on how we can build on the use of learning platforms in school to upskill pupils and parents with Teams etc. We have sent Forms surveys out to staff and all key stakeholders and reflected on the feedback
  • By creating small hubs of staff to have a platform to discuss/reflect, Record these thoughts on Google docs and then disseminate to the full team
  • Our school has continued to meet weekly in our professional learning hubs so we have frequent opportunities to share successes and to reflect on barriers and how we might overcome them
  • Our school has done staff surveys to allow staff to reflect on recent learning. We have also had a staff INSET day to share thoughts
  • We have been communicating on our own staff Google classroom and this has proved a great way to share our thoughts on online PD etc informally. We have a reflection session booked for us all to reflect on what we have learned this last term which will be really useful going forward
  • Using our Middle Leader meetings to provide an opportunity for colleagues to reflect and discuss key questions in breakout rooms. Ideas are recorded on Padlet as a way to collate personal thinking, links and useful documents. We aim to retain our sense of community, to share approaches to challenges and provide the opportunity to celebrate successes / barriers overcome
  • Initially through MS Forms. Use to reflect in staff meetings
  • Narrated resources / CPD on OneDrive, via MS Teams and via email
  • There are some benefits to virtual collaboration and so moving forward we will take a blended approach to professional learning where there are times for face-to-face but also virtual sessions and discussions
  • Weekly sharing from curriculum leaders with the SLT following their Teams meetings about best practice and challenges
  • Google survey – names optional. Share findings in September inset. Make people feel heard, valued and opinions respected
  • CPD should follow a similar process of learning that occurs for students. There should be allocated significant time to focus on one strand and reflect on best practice
  • Pupil voice and staff voice through a structured forum where the positives and negatives are shared and we move forward with the opinions and strategies that have had sufficient impact and achieved success
  • We have weekly learning hub meetings to replicate the school meetings. Groups of 4-5 staff members meet on Zoom. Head of T&L sends out a ‘think piece’ the day before – it contains research, video clips, reflections, etc and then staff discuss. They add a reflection to a spreadsheet which is fed back to SLT to plan for professional learning the following week
  • Small staff hub group opportunities (non-departmental/faculty) to consider and discuss think pieces weekly on teaching and learning. Opportunities provided to share thoughts and discussion ideas


3. Now consider how we move on from reflecting on, processing and sharing within our schools, to sharing more widely and building on the learning.

  • By engaging in discussion with ITT providers, and by networking with local schools though Local Authority channels
  • We have started a group across our Trust to discuss digital learning and sharing resources, videos and guides
  • Through engagement with national groups (i.e. TDT / ResearchEd / SSAT). Working with established networks – secondary heads, ITT provider, local Trust. Working with online subject networks (formal or informal)
  • There could be mentoring and coaching sessions across local schools
  • Share approaches and ideas through local partnerships and existing Teaching School networks. Finding critical friends who are trusted in the local community
  • Linking through Teaching Schools as well as across our MAT – sharing practice through online leader networks, particularly core curricular leaders
  • We have held weekly CPD best practice sessions across our sister schools, inviting all staff. We have covered both pastoral and T & L areas, such as Microsoft Teams and grief, loss and separation. These have been really-well attended and appreciated
  • Form a hub across the county for CPD, Teaching School Alliance meetings, Research School meetings, meetings across the MAT. Clarify, articulate and share actions to spread best practice as a result
  • Local #Teachmeets & networks
  • We have a MAT T & L group who have been meeting regularly to share ideas and approaches
  • As a stand-alone academy, this always proves difficult for us. Going forward, I think online networking would be a very good way of sharing/collaborating. However this will take some time. We engage with several organisations to help make connections
  • Make the most of our local learning partnership
  • Collaboration has been a real help and so necessary in the current situation. Our town’s headteachers and those of the diocese have come together and supported one another with ideas and resources. The LA have also stepped up and become involved. Careful use of Twitter and reading other educators’ blogs has helped too
  • Flipped learning opportunities for staff to consider and reflect prior to any meetings, and follow up with specific criteria to work on
  • Using existing networks and town-wide project work
  • Set up a digital learning website with videos from staff showing what’s working.
  • Sharing practice at conferences like this one, and through discussion with local schools
  • Collaborating with ITT providers and local schools to develop a comprehensive RQT programme to support this year’s NQTs and assist them in making professional connections in other schools
  • Utilising local Research Schools and prioritising effective practices


Final question:

What are you most proud of when you look back at the last four months?

  • Balancing home-life with live teaching and learning
  • Making far more contact with students’ homes, something I aim to continue
  • Upskilling myself quickly as T&L lead so that I could support staff with tech and digital learning
  • Development of my IT skills
  • Learning about and taking on live online teaching
  • Keeping our staff accessing CPDL in a low-pressure manner
  • Having high numbers of staff engaging in their own professional learning
  • Connecting with pupils, families and the wider community
  • Making decisions daily that I know may need to change the next day, and knowing that is good enough
  • Reframing thinking to avoid getting bogged down in the operational
  • How our school has worked together to support our students
  • How students and staff have been resilient
  • The number of staff who want to engage in their own learning while on lockdown
  • Trying to remain outward looking despite the more immediate pressures – some of the online conferences / webinars have been great and have given me the opportunity for some wider thinking

Thank you to everyone who shared their experiences and ideas.  I hope reading these responses may help you to reflect on your own professional learning, on how you are sharing this learning within your school, with other schools and more widely across the educational community.  Consider what you can both contribute to and gain from the collaboration process.

Thanks to David, Rachel, Maria, Bethan, Michelle and Ian, the TDT team, for welcoming me to the conference and supporting the session.

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