Leadership: Growing school expertise

It is known that effective staff collaboration – including through Professional Learning Teams and Professional Learning Communities – can help teachers improve their own practices and, ultimately, student outcomes. We're sharing how three schools in the Northern Territory are prioritising this way of working and the impact it is having on staff and students. You can read how Professional Learning Teams are being used at Bradshaw Primary School and Alice Springs School of the Air by clicking the links.

After surveying staff to assess where the school's strengths and areas for improvement lie, Principal Daryll Kinnane, of Maningrida College in the Northern Territory, began working on the next steps for growing the school as a Professional Learning Community (PLC).

Kinnane employed the use of the Professional Learning Community Questionnaire (PLCQ), developed by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). The survey is delivered online for all teaching staff and assists in identifying aspects that may need to be strengthened.

‘The PLCQ showed there was a great strength in planning time that was given to teachers with other teachers,' Kinnane says. ‘And in terms of next steps, it pointed out that teachers didn't get a lot of opportunity to go and observe other teachers or be observed in their class.'

The P-12 school, located in Northern Arnhem Land, is still in the first stages of developing their school as a PLC, but owing to the survey results, they have already begun implementing a number of adjustments to professional learning.

For instance, the perception of what exactly professional learning involved is being worked on amongst staff. There was an understanding, Kinnane says, that a lot of their professional learning came from outside the college, when educators left and travelled to Darwin (over 500 kilometres away), or another central area. ‘When you're talking about living remote, it's quite a big shift [and] mindset change,' he says. ‘We've adopted the idea of growing our own experts, and all of our leadership team have done introductory courses in coaching.'

Also in direct response to the survey data, time has been organised to have teachers visit other classes: ‘We've given teachers the opportunity to visit other classes for [a] purpose, whether it be for the school improvement plan or the AITSL Teaching Standards, just to get them to get feedback from a peer.'

Another successful implementation was team charters. These were designed for the college's existing professional learning teams after it was recognised that not all staff members knew the details of each team. ‘So we thought, to make everything visible, we wrote very, very simple charters about each of the teams,' Kinnane explains.

The charters cover details such as the team members, the member selection process, the team's purpose and their meeting times. This way, staff are now more aware of when the meetings for each team occur, and how and where reports or notes from the meetings are published.

‘We're also getting some support from growth coaching to do peer observations and peer coaching,' Kinnane says, ‘so we've had our first professional learning event at the college halfway through this year [2018].'

In 2019, the school intends to expand on this by providing more professional learning onsite about peer observations. They also plan to develop a formalised guide of what peer observations look like, the Maningrida way.

Maningrida College has created charters for its professional learning teams. Thinking about your own school context, how could the use of charters be a useful communication tool for staff?

The Australian Council for Educational Research offers a customised service to schools giving a snapshot of where they stand in relation to the characteristics of a PLC. To find out more visit this website.