Principal, John Bangma:
We are dealing a lot with professional development in terms of being the leaders of the school and leaders of the learning. And our focus has been, in the past looking at things such as teaching as inquiry. And for us the first step was making a differentiation between teaching as inquiry compared to the inquiry teaching model. For us teaching in the classroom is very much influenced by what the teacher is doing therefore our focus is on trying to improve for us the teachers and their ability. So to that end we have been working on different things including reciprocal visits and looking at learning walks.
Deputy Principal, Jenny Washington:
Reciprocal visits, we’ve developed over a period of a couple of years, where over a term teachers get to go into classrooms and professionally learn from another practitioner. And the teacher for example can go into the classroom, complete some observations, and then they have a post observation discussion around what was happening in the classroom, why specific things were happening, and we call it a reciprocal visit because both the observer and the person being observed have to, or learn from the experience they have had.
When the teachers have their post conference, part of that is linking in what quality practice they have talked about or seen in the classroom, and also maybe supported by some research that we have been working on within the school. Firstly their first visit is around the professional development that the school is currently undertaking, and the second visit that they undertake is around an interest that the teacher has.
One of the key aspects that we have at Mairehau are learning walks and it’s a real focus for our evidence based assessment, it is totally data driven. And our leadership team sweep through the school and they go through every classroom and they focus on a particular aspect that the staff and the leadership team have agreed upon.
We’ve used Michael Absolum’s book “Clarity in the Classroom” and he has a section called ‘effective practice’. So for example if we have done professional development in reading we break that down into aspects of good quality reading practice. And then as a staff, as a senior staff we select an area we expect to see in classrooms. We come in and we analyse that data together as a leadership team. We never ever look at classroom teachers’ names or classrooms, we just gather facts, yes or no, just evidence of whether we saw what we saw and we collate all that data. As a staff we then in staff meetings go back to the staff with the analysis of that data and we give feedback to the staff explaining for example how many classrooms we saw a particular learning intention in.
The staff can choose what they like to do with the data, we have no expectations, but what we’ve found is that our staff look at the data that we have handed to them and actually start to question their own practice and go ‘oh was that happening in my class, was I part of that part of the data?’ and we believe that it links back into the pedagogy and research that we have learned in our professional learning, then we have expected to see it in their teaching practice, then as a senior leadership team we look for it in our learning walks. Then they as a teacher, or a teaching practitioner look at it and go, ‘actually what can I do better, what have I done well, and where could I head to next?’
So for us, the learning walks and the reciprocal visits are an integral part of what we do at our school. Professional development is a key to making a difference in the classroom. It is one of the facts that are contributing to our successes that we have been able to enjoy. As John Hattie’s research has shown us the ability of the principal and the deputy principal to be fully involved in the professional learning of the school does make a significant difference. So we as leaders do drive this whole process, however we use the strengths of the various staff members to support that happening.
We ensure that all our professional development is linked together so our decisions that we make as a leadership team around about term four of the previous year will influence what we do the following year. So we ensure that our professional development is aligned and linked in with our annual targets, our curriculum targets, and we also link them in with, as was explained, our learning walks and our appraisal process so that all of those things fit together and dovetail together rather than trying to cover lots of different fields in one year. Another key for us is our professional development, we have been fortunate to be selected as a trial school to try the Ariki Project a result of the work of David Stewart on the effect of conversation as opposed to the compliance model of appraisal. So for us we have set each teacher up in a professional learning group, and they meet twice a term and they share what they have been working on with a group from across the school, so we ensure that we treat our staff across rather than in specific learning areas or levels of the school. Our action research that the teachers are working on, the greatest problem we have really was trying to get our teachers to narrow the focus down to make it small rather than trying to take on too much. So that was an important factor for us. And just knowing that teachers are changing their teaching and learning programme because of the research that they have been doing. And having the opportunity to share that amongst their peers has been really successful for us.
As a principal I am involved with a group of four other principals where we are doing similar things of sharing our own practice that’s happening, and all of this is contributing towards us accepting teaching as inquiry to continually make changes.