In this case study, Bethany Stewart describes what effective professional learning has meant for her as an NQT.
As you’re reading this case study, consider how Bethany’s experience compares to your own. You may like to identify what changes you might make to your engagement with professional learning as a result.
Why do I engage with professional learning?
Back in March 2018, I secured my NQT position as an English Teacher at Meols Cop High School, a research school in Merseyside, and quickly found that the culture at the school was everything I could have imagined. All staff are supported to enhance their practice using the best research, continuous reflection, and opportunities to learn from each other. My NQT year has been focused on professional learning and I have taken every opportunity to learn from more experienced and knowledgeable educators in a variety of forms. Not only does engaging with research or interacting with educators make me feel more knowledgeable about what I am doing inside the classroom (Tharby 2017), it leaves me feeling empowered and confident that my practice is constantly being refined to lead to the best outcomes for my pupils (Sherrington 2019). I will be forever thankful to the senior and middle leaders at my school for the support and guidance I receive in relation to my professional development. The following quotation by Dylan Wiliam exemplifies how I feel about professional learning:
‘Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be better’ (Wiliam in Quigley 2016).
What form does this professional learning take place?
In our school, our Assistant Headteacher for Teaching and Learning has created a number of ways in which to support professional learning: learning hubs, breakfast jams, reading briefings, staff libraries, and NQT training. Luckily, there is a wealth of knowledge from which to learn, and many staff willing to share their use of research in the classroom. From the Head of Maths supporting me to implement interleaved recall (Jones 2019), to the history department sharing their use of Knowledge Organisers (Birbalsingh 2016), a large portion of my professional development within school comes from the kindness of my colleagues (Meols Cop Research School 2018).
My school has supported my desire to learn outside of school by buying new educational research books of interest; allowing me to participate in the Accelerate programme; allowing me to attend conferences and supporting my MA study. The Accelerate course (Accelerate 2019) is funded by the Department for Education - a ministerial department responsi... More and run by Education Development Trust and the Chartered College of Teaching and is mostly online, whereas my MA course is taught at a university and is self-funded (Liverpool Hope University 2019). Although this learning takes place in a range of places and on different platforms, I believe the variety supports my professional development and allows me to learn from a wealth of experience that I can bring into the classroom.
How does this translate into practice?
I aim to only try one idea at a time, especially if it is task-based, in order to ensure it is implemented properly and does not confuse my pupils. Using Twitter (Webb 2019) and reading a range of educational research (Sherrington 2019), I believe it is important to be specific in what I want to trial in the classroom in order for it to be successful and measurable. For instance, after reading Love to Teach by Kate Jones (2019), I listed the activities I wanted to try and evaluated them as I went, rather than trying to do them all in one lesson. However, not all professional learning leads directly to the creation of resources or lessons. A lot of the professional learning I have experienced has resulted in a change of mindset for me. For instance, after attending the Chartered College’s Early Career Teacher Conference (Chartered College of Teaching 2018), Amjad Ali’s sessions led to a change in how I think about differentiation in the classroom (Cowley 2018). In order to summarise what I learn and evaluate its effectiveness, I use my reflective journal to keep all notes and ideas together in one place.
How is my workload impacted by engaging with professional learning?
When considering the impact on my workload, I firmly believe that my workload is much better now compared with that of my training years. The school I work at founded Flash Marking (EEF 2019) which is a skills-based marking system. By choosing to use this style of marking this year, I have found that my marking has heavily reduced due to the precise nature of flash marking and the increased independence from pupils. Similarly, I have found that by taking the time to read educational texts, such as Making Every English Lesson Count (Tharby 2017) and How to Teach English (Webb 2019), my knowledge of how to teach particular aspects of English has improved, therefore my ability to create resources with this knowledge has become quicker.
The only aspect of my professional learning that can occasionally impact on my workload negatively is my masters study. This takes place on a Monday evening, from 5-9pm, and it can often be difficult to get there on time and then set additional time aside to complete reading and assignments. However, since starting the Accelerate programme, the reading provided has made me more mindful of how I plan my time in and outside of school (Ross 2018). To ensure that I can effectively teach, plan and mark, as well as engage with professional learning, I timetable my PPA and NQT time so I use this time to its full potential. This means that the majority of my weekends are my own and that, other than any university assessments, I do not have to work during the holidays.
How do I evaluate the impact on my practice?
Being only in my NQT year, I am in the habit of continually reflecting on my Abbreviated to ITT, the period of academic study and time in... More. However, since educational research and professional learning have dominated the way in which I improve my practice, I have also changed the ways in which I evaluate the impact of this professional learning. As an NQT, my observations are more frequent and during these I take the opportunity to show what ideas I have been implementing from my learning, such as integrating Quigley’s Freyer model (Quigley 2018). The conversation allows me to evaluate the impact of my professional learning with my Assistant Headteacher and to explore how and if this is having the desired effect for my pupils. I am also fortunate enough to have access to IRIS Connect, a video observation tool. One of my colleagues has created an effective checklist to use which allows your observation of your own lesson to be focused on a specific technique or task. I have used this tool to evaluate the ideas that I have implemented, to see how effective this has been. Paired with using IRIS, I have used results from assessments and questionnaires from my pupils to measure the impact on their academic success, but also their confidence with a task, or knowledge about a text (Tharby 2019). Combining these approaches, as well as keeping a reflective journal based on my reading, I consistently evaluate what is working and what needs adjusting to ensure that I am continually working towards improving my practice.
Accelerate (2019) Accelerate Teaching Programme. London. Available at: https://accelerate-teaching.co.uk/ (accessed 20 June 2019).
Binbalsingh M (2016) Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way. Woodbridge: John Catt.
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Cowley S (2018) The Ultimate Guide to Differentiation: Achieving Excellence for All. London: Bloomsbury.
Education Endowment Foundation (2018) FLASH Marking. Southport. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/projects-and-evaluation/projects/flash-marking/#clos eSignup (accessed 20 June 2019).
IRIS Platform (n.d) The market leading professional learning platform for teacher CPD. Available at: https://www.irisconnect.com/uk/products-and-services/our-lesson-observation-platform/ (accessed 20 June 2019).
Jones K (2019) Love to Teach. Woodbridge: Jon Catt.
Liverpool Hope University (2019) Education MA. Liverpool. Available at: https://www.hope.ac.uk/postgraduate/postgraduatecourses/educationma/ (accessed 20 June 2019).
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Quigley A (2018) Closing the Vocabulary Gap. London: Routledge.
Meols Cop Research School (2018) Meols Cop Research School: 6 Months In. Research Schools Network. Available at: https://researchschool.org.uk/meolscop/blog/meols-cop-research-school-6-months-in (accessed 20 June 2019).
McGill R (2018) 26 Tips to Make Teacher Workload Manageable. Teacher Toolkit. Available at: https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2017/04/17/26-workload-tips/ (accessed 20 June 2019).
Sherrington T (2019) Rosenshine’s Principles in Action. Woodbridge: John Catt.
Tharby A (2017) Making Every English Lesson Count: Six principles to support great reading and writing. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing.
Tharby A (2019) How To Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Anyone: The art and science of teacher explanation. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing.
Webb J (2019) How to teach English literature: Overcoming cultural poverty. Woodbridge: John Catt.