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Professional learning groups to support school wide e-learning at Epsom Girls Grammar

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Claire Amos, Director of e-learning at Epsom Girls Grammar School, discusses how learning area professional learning groups support teachers with e-learning.


This year, we have gone with the approach of developing learning area professional learning groups and also establishing learning area based e-mentors, so a staff member who supports their specific curriculum learning area. And what we’re doing this year is that those learning area professional learning groups are actually developing what we refer to as e-learning action plans. It’s using the teaching as inquiry model from the NZC and we’re using that cycle to form a year long action plan - where they actually start with the student outcomes and what they want to focus on in terms of their curriculum area and the student learning outcomes and then they look to create a plan that goes throughout the school year and follows through thinking about what are the ICT strategies and tools that we could use to support those particular student learning outcomes.

Last year they were focused on schoolwide e-learning goals and this year it’s been shifted into a learning area structure. What we’ve found is that’s allowed people to focus on the teaching and learning in their classroom and to embed it and contextualise it in their curriculum area.

Each learning area had to submit an e-learning action plan for a year just to signal what they were thinking of doing and what they were going to focus on. Part of that initial plan they had to signal what they felt their specific needs were in relation to their specific e-learning action plan. From that initial feedback we’ve formulated a range of ten different professional development workshops. Staff selected a professional development workshop according to their needs and then they were given three slots of professional development time which was given to them.

The first session was focused on upskilling, so learning some new skills. The second session was around them coming together as a group playing and practicing with what they’d learnt with support on hand and then the third session was an opportunity for them to go back to their professional learning group and to share their learning and to cement and embed what they’d learnt.

Each learning area has a specific person who is an e-learning mentor and they’re actually given three extra hours of non contact time as well as released from tutor teacher duties, which just makes them more available to their learning area.

It’s actually made the teachers think about what is going to work for the students and it’s come back to what’s going to serve the students best. It’s also been an opportunity to develop new skills and that’s often led to renewed creativity in the classroom. Of course it’s just adding to that toolkit that every teacher has and for a lot of teachers I think it’s refreshing their toolkit.

The way that we’ve approached it, as a teaching as inquiry cycle and as an e-learning action plan that primarily focuses on student outcomes, it means that what we’re doing for teacher professional development is very squarely focused around the needs of the students and the student outcomes. And as a result I think the students are also improving their ICT skills - we know this is an incredibly important skill for tertiary and for life beyond and also it means that possibly they’re getting exposed to more creative approaches and more student centred approaches for teaching and learning.

One of the key things for me about leading the ICT PD this year, is that the whole framework and the process was as transparent as possible for people. It began with sharing a really clear vision of where we were going, why we were doing it, really straightforward discussions about the ICT PD contract and the fact that we had goals and commitments and that was the reason we were doing this. But also that the real reason we were doing this was to benefit our students, by giving them a really clear framework and timeline and a set of tools to go off and then do it for ourselves. And for me, what I feel like has been the key for this process is the amount of ownership that the learning areas and the professional learning groups have had of the process.

First and foremost my advice for making this work - is make it about the student and make it about student outcomes because at the end of the day that’s what we are all here for and that’s what we care about. I think as soon as the student is the centre of the whole process there’s buy in. The other thing that I think is really important is ensuring that the staff have a really clear understanding of what it is they’re doing and why it is they’re doing it, what is going to be expected of them, how are they going to do this, when are they going to do it and what’s the expected outcomes. And then combine that with a real level of genuine ownership of the task.

Published on: 15 Jul 2011