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Growing and supporting professional learning communities at St Margaret's College

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Angela White, Head of the middle school at St Margaret's College, outlines her school's approach to supporting pedagogical change. Angela expands on the steps involved in introducing the change, integrating the change, and then sustaining the change.


So implementing pedagogical change, it can oftentimes be the more difficult things to change as opposed to upskilling staff etc. So the way, our approach to that, has been very, we’ve got a fairly structured approach to it in terms of a series of steps. So initially introducing the change, integrating the change and then sustaining the change. And within each of those there’s a series of steps which can go in different orders and we’ve identified these steps through practice really.

So we identify key people within the staff who will be responsible for initiating the change and we’re developing a PLC (professional learning community) so that’s people who are passionate about whatever the change is, for example, ‘The Habits of Mind’, teachers who value the ‘The Habits of Mind’ have heard a little bit about it, who believe it will change their practice, will enhance learning - because that’s their ultimate goal. So within that small community there’s shared efficacy, common goals and shared practice. So it’s about deprivatising the practice of those teachers. So there’s an element of risk involved for the teachers and trust. So a lot of time has to actually be spent on developing that trust community.

Within that, they trial and practice some of the pedagogies that we believe are going to enhance learning. They have the time to develop those lessons and they share them with each other. Talk about what went well, what went terribly and just develop a community of learners themselves. From there, that’s the introduction of the change and then integrating it into the whole staff. From there, it’s about making that change visible, having posters around the school, having it on the intranet, having it on the website, having it visible as to this is what we’re doing and this is what we’re about and then having those staff in the PLC share their practice beyond the learning community to the rest of the teachers. So it’s sort of a ground up - it is a snowball but it’s a bit of a controlled snowball until it gathers some momentum.

So at no point does somebody stand up the front and say, ‘We’re now doing this. This is what we’re now doing.’ Instead it sort of flips that really on its head and says, ‘Here’s six or ten teachers who really think that this is going to change their practice and enhance student learning. This is why they’ve been trying this and they now want to share that with us.’ So it creates almost a buzz and the students in that class talk about it as well. So with ‘The Habits of Mind’ students ended up saying to teachers, ‘How come we don’t do The Habits in this class?’

If you’ve got a range of people on that PLC - from geography teacher to chemistry teacher who are speaking the same language of persistence (if we’re talking about ‘The Habits of Mind’), what does persisting in chemistry look like? What does persisting in geography look like? And here by changing this pedagogical approach slightly I’m getting better results, then sharing that with other staff it has a ground up effect until teachers are saying, ‘Oh that sounds interesting’. Then we get other teachers on board until it gets to a point where it can then go into the reflective practice expectations or our appraisal expectations. So now we’re at the point now with ‘The Habits of Mind’ where it is a whole school goal - so therefore it’s become a department goal and HoDs are responsible for reporting back on it. But it didn’t start that way, it came up to it.

The benefits for teachers is that they don’t actually feel like this is another thing coming down on me that I have to do. We show a lovely picture about how teachers feel like they’re sitting on the edge of a cliff and they’ve got another thing on top of them - whereas we want them to feel like they’re in a professional learning community where they’re supported, they can take risks with their practice, they’re in a trusting community. We’re all learners.

Published on: 10 May 2012