Exploring and refining practice

We've all been to ‘professional development' sessions that are pitched as a chance to work together, but in reality turn out to be an hour or two of listening silently.

Quality Teaching Rounds (QTR) is an approach that combines collaborative, local learning communities with a focused pedagogical framework – and it's producing positive results.

Professor Jenny Gore, of the University of Newcastle, developed the model with colleague Julie Bowe in 2008. Several research studies involving Australian schools have measured its impact.

‘[Teachers] are telling us that they find that it's some of the most powerful professional development they've ever done,' Gore says. ‘What we've found is once people have this experience they often say that they can't go back without thinking through this lens.'

QTR sees teachers come together to form small, focused, professional learning communities. ‘It doesn't have to be everybody in a school, and it very often isn't,' the academic explains.

‘Often QTR [will] start with a small group of teachers in a school having a go at it, but there needs to be that willing group of people who are interested in exploring and refining their practice. We say that it has to be at least three people in a group; we think at least four is preferable.'

Each member of the community teaches a lesson that is observed by the other members. The observation, feedback and collaborative planning process is guided by the New South Wales Quality Teaching model. Gore explains this focused framework helps guide teacher's analysis and refinement of their practice.

‘It's not a rigid framework to be applied unquestioningly; it's a framework to guide the analysis and the professional conversations among teachers.

‘We like teachers to interrogate the applicability of the framework to their own context, not simply apply it. It's got some core principles that are fundamental to its implementation, but it's also very adaptable to context.'

Gore adds QTR is as much about the process of professional development and how teachers work together in ways that are supportive and respectful.

If we consider our own experiences of PD, just as frustrating as the sessions that promise participation but turn into a lecture are those that do have opportunities for input, but are allocated a time slot that's much too short – often the first to be cut from a busy schedule.

Gore says time is the biggest commitment that needs to be made when introducing QTR but the research to date suggests there's a high pay off.

‘What we're hearing from our teachers who've participated in the studies at least is that it's an investment worth making.

‘If you've got four teachers working as a group and can free those people up for a half day each (a full day is preferable) ... even with that relatively small intervention or investment of giving people time to work together, it then seems to have an impact on their ongoing practice.'

Gore will be sharing the results of her research into QTR at the Excellence in Professional Practice Conference (EPPC) in May, where she is a keynote presenter.

‘[I'll also be talking] about the practicalities of conducting rounds and also the potential applicability to extend the process, not just to lesson observations but to refinement of the assessment tasks.'

EPPC 2015, part of the Australian Council for Education Research Rolling Summit on Assessment Reform and Innovation, gives educators a platform to share successful approaches that are making a difference in their school.

The theme of this year's conference is Improving assessments of student learning.

How often do you get the chance to observe colleagues teaching?

When you observe others, do you have a focus?

What forms of PD have you found to be beneficial to your own learning?