01 SES 09 B, Connections, Reflections and Complexity in Professional Learning
In complex education environments, professional learning must be the responsibility of individual professionals. There can be no single way of defining or determining the best or most effective approaches. Models of professional learning emphasise different elements (Boylan et al, 2018) and much professional learning is implicit and highly personal (Evans, 2019). What works in one case may not be effective or relevant in another.
It is accepted now that professional learning, and its component, professional development, are not linear processes (Strom and Viesca, 2020) and that multi-dimensional interpretations are needed (Jones, 2020). Opportunities to engage with multiple professional learning approaches must therefore be available to individual educators, a process referred to in Wales as 'the professional learning blend' (as distinct from 'blended learning' which is often seen as a two-part mixture of online and face-to-face learning approaches) (Jones et al, 2019).
However, while the momentum and motivation for professional learning must lie with the individual, it is both possible and essential for leaders at all levels to provide the support and the stimulus for this engagement. At the very least, leaders must be aware of individual needs (including their own), create and encourage interactive learning situations, stimulate critical engagement with practice and ensure that they do not inhibit their colleagues' take-up of professional learning opportunities through restrictive policy and practice.
The way in which leaders build supportive cultures of professional learning is central to ensuring continuing learning and improvement. Jones (2015) argues that "Professional learning involves active learning: it is a continuing process; it focuses on enquiry, analysis, reflection, evaluation, further action; it should be professionally critical; in its best forms it is collaborative ...' While the first principles may be achievable by professionals working as individuals, the interactive, collaborative nature of most professional learning needs to be managed and led.
The research which forms the focus of this paper highlights the leadership of professional learning in schools. There is a significant body of international literature exploring models of educational leadership (Bush, 2020) and an increasing literature on the leadership of professional learning (Hallinger and Kulophas, 2020)., but to discover how these two come together we need to look closely at practice in schools. That is the key purpose of this research, undertaken in Wales but with resonance for European and global priorities.
From the literature, it is possible to identify a number of hallmarks of well-led professional learning, including:
* a focus on learner outcomes and well being (Porritt et al, 2017)
* it is rooted in school improvement and curriculum development (Cordingley et al, 2020)
* it is planned strategically, with a longer term focus (ASCL, 2018)
* it is designed and aligned to support active professional learning (Hall and Wall, 2019)
* it allows opportunity for learning to be applied in practice (Harris and Jones, 2019)
In order to support and sustain well-led professional learning in Wales, the National Academy for Educational Leadership has commissioned this research to identify the principles that underpin good practice in the leadership of professional learning in schools. The hallmarks listed above were used as a basis to construct the focus of the research and it was initially intended to provide research outcomes by early 2021. However, the closure of schools in Wales during the Covid pandemic has provided both an obstacle and an oppurtunity. The research team has to extend its timeline for completion, but it can also examine how the need for a new approach to online professional learning in response to the pandemic situation has been led and accommodated by teachers and leaders at all levels.
Professional learning is influenced and affected by many forces. Some are relevant to the personal situation of individual teachers (including individual well-being, career stage, education background, motivation, teacher-leadership responsibilities and age-group teaching) others are external to the school (including national requirements for curriculum provision, networking opportunities and access to professional learning communities). This is a significant moment in time for education in Wales with the introduction of a new curriculum and the implementation of a National Approach to Professional Learning, including a new national Masters programme in Education to support this. The research is underpinned by a review of relevant international literature to identify key models of practice in the leadership of professional learning. This is accompanied by an analysis of current policy documents relating to education in Wales which have a bearing on both leadership and professional learning. The desk-based research will identify themes or principles that underpin good practice in the leadership of professional learning in schools. This will be complemented by a deeper examination of the leadership of professional learning in practice. For this, the perspectives of a cross section of professionals are being gathered to provide an insight into how leaders at all levels in schools are shaping professional learning practice. Telephone and face-to-face interviews are being held with leading professionals including policy makers in national government, regional professional learning coordinators, providers from higher education and from other groups, and with school leaders and teachers themselves. Focus groups consisting of senior school leaders, linked with the National Academy for Educational Leadership in Wales, are being used to gather cross-Wales perspectives of practice. In addition, from a large sample of 80 schools identified by regional coordinators as demonstrating good practice in leading professional learning, a smaller sample of 12 schools will be visited (three schools in each of the four regions in Wales) providing coverage of primary, secondary, Welsh medium and faith settings, as well as at least one special school/pupil referral unit. The school visits will resume at an appropriate time for teachers and leaders following the re-opening of schools in Wales after lockdown.
A research report will be produced and disseminated through the National Academy for Educational Leadership in Wales. The report will highlight international theory and practice in the leadership of professional learning and provide an insight into practice in schools in Wales. It will: identify examples of professional learning activity linked with school improvement/transformation plans; highlight strategic approaches to planning, implementing and evaluating the professional learning cycle within schools; explore how current professional learning activities link to existing professional standards; and identify key obstacles and challenges to the provision of professional learning support. It is intended that while the examples used will emerge from practice in schools in Wales, the findings will have relevance internationally across Europe and elsewhere.
ASCL (2018) Leadership of Professional Development and Learning https://www.ascl.org.uk/ASCL/media/ASCL/guidance_paper_leadership_of_professional_development_and_learning-(1).pdf Boylan, M., Coldwell, M,. Maxwell, B. and Jordan, J. (2018) Rethinking models of professional learning as tools: a conceptual analysis to inform research and practice Professional Development in Education 44.1 120-139 Bush, T. (2020) Theories of Educational Leadership and Management (5th Edition) London: Sage Cordingley, P., Higgins, S., Greany T., Crisp, B., Araviaki, E., Coe, R. and Johns, P. (2020) Developing Great Leadership of CPDL, CUREE http://www.curee.co.uk/node/5214 Evans, L. (2019) Implicit and informal professional development: what it ‘looks like’, how it occurs, and why we need to research it Professional Development in Education 45.1 3-16 Hall, E. and Wall, K. (2019) Research Methods for Understanding Professional Learning London: Bloomsbury Hallinger, P. and Kulophas, D. (2020) The evolving knowledge base on leadership and teacher professional learning: a bibliometric analysis of the literature, 1960-2018 Professional Development in Education 46.4 521-540 Harris, A. and Jones, M. (2019) Leading professional learning with impact, School Leadership & Management, 39:1, 1-4 Jones, K. (2015) Professional Development or Professional Learning ... and does it matter? Son: Education Workforce Council http://www.ewc.wales/site/index.php/en/about/blog-archive/93-ken-jones-professional-development-or-professional-learning-and-does-it-matter.html Jones, K. (2020) Multi-dimensional professional learning: a leadership perspective European Educational Research Association https://blog.eera-ecer.de/multi-dimensional-professional-learning/ Jones, K., Humphreys, R., Lester, B. and Stacey, B. (2019) National Approach to Professional Learning: Research Report. The Professional Learning Blend 2.0 https://www.ewc.wales/site/index.php/en/statistics-and-research/research-and-policy/published-research.html Porritt, V., Thomas, K.S. and Taylor, C (2017) School Leadership and Education System Reform: Leading professional learning and development, London Bloomsbury Strom, KJ and Viesca, KM (2020) Towards a complex framework of teacher learning-practice Professional Development in Education https://doi.org/10.1080/19415257.2020.1827449 Welsh Government (2017) Education in Wales: Our National Mission: Action Plan 2017-2021 Cardiff: Welsh Government Welsh Government (2017) Professional standards for teaching and leadership Cardiff: Welsh Government Welsh Government (2018) An introduction to the professional standards for teaching and leadership Cardiff: Welsh Government
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