Delivering staff training that resonates, maximises teacher learning time and delivers measurable improvement can seem an impossible and onerous task. A little planning can get you there.

How many times have you sat through a professional learning session, or watched the participants in one that you’ve organised, nodding away but absorbing very little?

Eyes glued to phone screens, everyone counting down the minutes until it’s over.

Staff leave the meeting and grumble among themselves. Not a whisper of critical feedback is relayed back to the session organiser or leader.

Feedback that might actually result in better targeted, and better run, professional learning programs that drive actual improvement and best practice.

When educating our students, we do so against a range of stringent, measurable syllabus outcomes.

We understand that the teaching and learning cycle starts with identifying and setting goals. Clarifying what we want our kids to understand, do and learn. Knowing the bars they need to clear and, ultimately, knowing whether or not they’ve cleared them.

So why do we seem to stop paying attention to this basic philosophical principle when it comes to teaching teachers?

Back to school

Just as we do with our students, we must think of our staff as learners, each with their own levels of experience, personalities, and individual knowledge entry levels.

Most importantly, we need to devote the same amount of effort to monitoring professional growth as we do to fostering it.

Given the limited hours we have access to our teachers for professional learning each year, this point is the one that really drives me mad because it’s the one most often overlooked.

Taking the time to properly strategise this vital element of school planning is, in my experience working with school leaders around the country, the single most important factor that leads to professional learning success or failure.

Because if you’re serious about achieving the best outcome for every student, then every member of your teaching staff must be committed – individually and as a group – to meaningful professional learning that makes them the best teachers they can be.

It is planning that decides whether or not this happens.

Your school plan must have priorities and goals built around the identified individual needs of each teacher. It should be designed in a way that evidence of the growth and improvement you’re seeking can be easily identified and captured.

And it needs to be structured to allow individuals the opportunity to give open and honest feedback that, in turn, allows you to ensure they’re fully engaged and understanding the point of what they’re doing – at every step of the process.

These points may seem obvious. But too often I see school leaders proudly pointing to the training they’ve delivered but unable to show whether it was appropriate or effective.

Learning goals

The best way to overcome this problem is to approach staff development planning as you would your student learning programs.

Simply substitute student syllabus outcomes with the most relevant teaching standard descriptors – the ones that align most closely with the growth and improvement goals that your teachers need to achieve.

Then set the means by which you’ll ultimately measure the impact of the process and program you build around these descriptors. Know your baselines and where the evidence of improvement and growth will show up so you can record it.

Finally, make sure your teachers understand the plan and are on board by providing the most appropriate opportunities for them to be involved in program or session planning, to voice any concerns and to ask questions.

This will vary based on the size and type of your school as well as your staff mix. But, for example, it might mean facilitating small groups, ideally led by highly accomplished teachers. If participants are too afraid to give honest feedback and voice their opinions to school leaders and managers, you won’t be able to make the right changes – including providing additional support – as needed.

All of this is about driving engagement, seeing evidence of growth and improvement, and achieving consistent best practice across the school.

Start your plan with these 4 steps

As a quick exercise, take a few minutes to consider the following four questions that I consider essential in effective professional learning school planning:

  1. What are your school’s unique professional learning needs?
  2. Based on your answer above, what standard descriptors best align with the key needs you’ve identified?
  3. What kinds of professional learning sessions and programs do you need to put in place to achieve improvement against those descriptors?
  4. How will you know what the impact of that professional learning has been?

Pausing to actually ask and answer these four questions – at the start of your process – simplifies school planning around professional leaning and teacher accreditation at any level.

It also results in clear, streamlined school review processes that are less onerous. And it keeps you and your staff on the path to effective professional learning and better student outcomes.

Need help developing your school plan? Our resource, Evidencing Impact, will give you a step-by-step process for developing your school plan. Find out more here.

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