Five steps to building a culture of learning… for your teachers

Jane Basnett

Jane Basnett is head of MFL at Downe House, a successful Independent Girls School in Berkshire. She has been teaching for almost 20 years and is still learning. She achieved an MA in Digital Technology for Language Teaching at Nottingham University.

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These days, as often seen on Twitter, there seems to be examples of great CPD going on all over the place. Inset is delivered by teachers expressly for teachers, TeachMeets are organised and carried out by colleagues all over the country for other like-minded staff keen who go to learn from each other and take home great ideas.

It seems easy, thus, to believe and accept that there is a healthy culture of learning in our schools amongst educators. Is this really the case, though? It cannot be denied that there are pockets of excited teachers who attend TeachMeets, take part in #ukedchat and perhaps deliver inset. Indeed, the number of participants in these events is growing and with each event a few more participants join the party. However, this culture has not yet permeated fully across entire staff rooms. There are colleagues who are happy with their status quo and who do not see the need to keep growing and learning as educators. After all, if it has worked up to this point, why make any changes? Why is there any need to consider other approaches?

If you are reading this then I imagine that you are one of those growth mindset teachers who understands the need to keep developing as a teacher. What follows, then, is a five point plan to effect a change of culture in those staff who may not be so willing to learn.

1. TeachMeets

Embed a short, weekly in-house TeachMeet expressly for your staff. Focus on areas that you know are of interest to your colleagues and canvass them for ideas for future meetings. Get a few keen colleagues on side to contribute their ideas to the meeting too so that eventually all you need to do is organise the meeting while your colleagues bring the ideas to share. It is vital to keep the meetings short. Many colleagues cite lack of time as a reason for non-attendance at such events, so knowing that the meeting will not take more than 20 minutes is a bonus. Even better if you can provide a mug of tea/coffee/hot chocolate and a biscuit as a sweetener...

2. Blogs

Create a staff teaching and learning blog. This links in perfectly with #1 on our list. Once your brief internal TeachMeet is over, blog the shared ideas. The benefits of this are two-fold. Firstly, colleagues can learn about the great ideas discussed and see just how much can be covered in such a short time. Secondly, colleagues can begin to recognise that there is no monopoly to great ideas; we can all have them and we can certainly all learn from each other and value each other’s ideas. This is not about inset being delivered to an audience, but great practical ideas being shared amongst teachers. The blog is merely a journal of the event and there is nothing to stop you developing this as appetites for learning grow. A page on a series of lessons by a particular department, for example, a guest blog page or teaching and learning sharing wall.

3. Try out Tuesday

This idea is simple, and aims to avoid that annoying situation when colleagues hear a good idea and then fail to implement it in class. Designate a day when colleagues attempt something new. It may be that colleagues implement an idea over a period of a few weeks or that they quickly recognise after one trial that the idea is not for them. Either way, they have trialled a new method or teaching technique and perhaps added to their repertoire. Of importance in this process is feeding back both successes and failures to others in the staff room. The blog could really come into its own here, as colleagues write a short note for the blog explaining the idea, what went well and even better if. If a blog is too time consuming then prepare some postcards with the same headings for colleagues to fill in and pin up on a shared notice board. The postcard might look like this:

Teacher:                               Date:                                                  
The Idea  
What Went Well  
Even Better If  

4. Book group

This might sound time consuming, but if well planned this idea can really help colleagues develop their desire to learn and develop still further. Start small and choose some chapters from books that tackle similar issues such as coaching or classroom control. Meet up to discuss the different approaches outlined in the readings. Do not forget there is a wealth of pedagogical information out there which is not limited to books - there are YouTube videos, blogs, and research articles to name but a few. Once the idea of book club takes off and becomes more popular, then it will be possible to build still further with small groups tackling a different book (yes, a whole one!), implementing some ideas and then feeding back to each other. Perhaps thoughts on readings and ideas shared can be posted on the staff teaching and learning blog in number two?.

5. Whole School Mutual Observation

Set up a programme where colleagues are paired off with another member of the staff room. They work together in a supportive manner as co-partners. These pairs can be organised by you or you can let colleagues select their own partners. Whichever route you go down, ensure that you provide a framework on which to build some good learning. This will be a clear formula to follow whereby colleagues discuss a point of focus, observe each other and provide feedback in a non-threatening manner. This is not about what went wrong and is not a formal observation; it is a conversation that will inspire growth and development in teachers and a desire to build on what is already happening in the classroom. Again, time will be an issue, so the observations do not have to be for the full lesson - it can simply be a ten minute slot at an appropriate point in the lesson. The feedback can take place over coffee and once an ethos of sharing is truly embedded in your school why not consider sharing the feedback in this way:

Teacher: (optional - preserve anonymity) Date: Year Group observed:
What I saw:  
What I liked:  
What I would add/change:  

Great teachers do want to do all that they can to become even greater teachers. Sometimes they are so bogged down in the job that they cannot find the time to keep on learning. I hope this five step programme might help re-ignite that passion in a way that is not too time consuming and is totally manageable. Let me know how you get on.

How do you create a culture of learning with your teachers? Let us know in the comments.

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