By Shannen Doherty
At the start of my career, teacher development wasn’t something that people in schools really talked about, and it certainly wasn’t something I felt I was getting. I knew that CPD existed, but I probably didn’t know what it stood for. I’m not embarrassed about it. You don’t know what you don’t know. This isn’t a criticism of the school or the leaders I worked with. It’s merely a reflection of the system I grew up in, as a new teacher.
But this wasn’t just the situation for new teachers. Experienced teachers and leaders were working in this environment, too. Looking back, professional development didn’t feel joined up or cohesive for any of us. We didn’t have a shared idea of what good teaching looked like so how could we develop teaching effectively?
So, in September I started a new role (alongside teaching) leading on teacher development across schools in the Aquinas Church of England Education Trust. We have 11 schools: two secondaries and nine primaries. Conversations about subscribing to Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli’s WalkThrus as a trust were happening last academic year and naturally, I showed my excitement and enthusiasm for what I think is a fantastic set of books.
For anyone who doesn’t know (where have you been?!), WalkThrus are five-step checklists designed for instructional coaching in schools. There are currently two WalkThrus books available to purchase, but number three is on the way! These checklists are breakdowns of good, solid teaching and learning techniques and strategies. They cover a range of areas that span age ranges and curriculum areas. This is our toolkit for teacher development, which means teachers in our schools have a shared set of principles and a common language, so we are all on the same page.
While WalkThrus has been designed for instructional coaching, there’s no way that we can start on that journey until there’s a solid understanding of what makes good teaching. So, we’re holding off while we lay the groundwork!
When I started this work, I knew I had to be clear about the vision I had for teacher development in our trust. Through discussions and lots of thinking and rethinking, it boiled down to these principles:
• Teacher development is purposeful.
• Teacher development has an impact.
• Teacher development improves outcomes.
• Teacher development requires granular and incremental steps.
• Teacher development is part of a continuous learning model.
• Teacher development is non-judgemental.
• Teacher development is not about accountability and tick boxes.
• Teacher development empowers teachers.
I wanted our teachers to know that their best interests were at heart, along with the best interests of our pupils. Our pupils deserve the best teachers, so our teachers deserve the best development. But that development needs to be carefully thought about. We had to move away from one-off training sessions and expecting overnight successes.
For me, teacher development is about small steps, revisiting them and building on them (much like what we do for our students!). We need to invest the time in our teachers, so they know they are valued. It’s no secret that teacher retention is an issue nationwide, so now is the time to reconsider how we show staff that they are appreciated. We can do that by reducing workload, but we can also do it by investing in their development.
So how were we going to do it?
The Trust knew that to make this a success every school should have its own teacher development lead. Headteachers and senior leaders put their heads together and chose the right person for their school. I have to say the team are fantastic. I am so fortunate to work with this group of educators. We have differing levels of experience and knowledge, so it isn’t just an echo chamber of yes men!
We knew WalkThrus would be our toolkit, but how should we roll this out to schools? I created a three-year plan of how I saw it being implemented. The key for me was that we didn’t rush. You can’t rush the implementation of anything. If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing well.
Our primary schools identified three WalkThrus that they wanted to focus on to begin with. We found that most schools worked on Deliberate Vocabulary Development and quite a few chose Live Modelling. Other chosen WalkThrus included Open Response Tasks, Positive Framing and Weekly & Monthly Review.
As a Trust, we didn’t want to dictate how schools rolled this out, so part of my role has been consulting and supporting the different schools on what would work for their school. What works in a three-form entry school might not work in a half-form entry, so we wanted flexibility. Some schools introduced all three WalkThrus at the start, while others are phasing the rollout.
As I said, schools are keeping their autonomy by choosing how WalkThrus works in their school this year. They’re exploring how it works and trying out different things. For some schools, this meant moving away from the old-style termly formal observations and moving to a collaborative and continuous development model of weekly learning walks where every member of staff gets to be involved and everyone reflects and works together. This has been particularly exciting for me to see because I have always disliked the three observations a year model.
The impact of weekly drop-ins or learning walks that enable teachers to continuously develop is far greater than waiting a whole term between observations to see if the areas of development have been worked on. This way, teachers are focusing on one thing at a time and can get incrementally better rather than feeling overwhelmed with three ‘even better ifs’ to work on at once!
While I know this is just the start of the journey, I feel incredibly proud and excited about what we’re doing. I hope that teachers feel the shift in culture, too. We are changing the face of teacher development in our Trust. It’s so important that we get this right for our teachers and our pupils. As I said earlier, our pupils deserve the best teachers, so our teachers deserve the best development.