School-to-school support is becoming more widespread and valued than ever before. This is great news for schools and experts across the country who are eager to share their high-quality, evidence-based practice.
Supporting others to implement new practice is an excellent opportunity to assist colleagues, while simultaneously developing and re-affirming your own systems and practice.
But how should you go about this? And what elements are required to make sure your support to another school will have a sustained, positive impact? In this article, I will consider three key steps that you should take when supporting colleagues in other schools with their CPD:
Identify their learning needs
The desire to support your colleagues in another school is a great ambition, and one which can have many benefits for your own school or organisation. However, these good intentions will be completely misplaced if you do not take the time to first analyse the needs of the school and its learners. Before any training or support is put into action, you must work with the teaching staff in the target school to look at the specific areas for development in their classrooms.
This doesn’t mean asking them to judge their own practice or to discuss external factors like Ofsted, instead, encourage your colleagues to highlight the particular learning needs of their pupils. You can then contextualise and prioritise the support you will give according to what is most likely to help their students.
It will also help both you and the target school to maintain focus. For example, the first step for teachers taking part in Lesson Study as part of the Teacher Development Trust’s National Teacher Enquiry Network (NTEN) is to select a particular learning need from their own classrooms. This ensures that their ongoing cycles of research maintain a specific and, more importantly, relevant goal with a greater likelihood of success.
Sustain your input
The second key to success is to plan a sustained programme of support and follow up. If you are helping a fellow school to implement more or less permanent systems of collaborative planning or teacher-led research, like the NTEN Lesson Study cycles mentioned above, you will need to consider how the initial implementation phase will be followed by regular, continued input on your part.
Setting up a medium to long-term framework of support such as this will allow you to help the target school not only navigate any logistical issues that may arise, but also maximise their impact and progress thanks to your tailored expert advice and professional challenge.
If you plan to share your expertise by means of a course, conference or resource, it still needs to be embedded within a framework of sustained support. You might consider arranging a series of themed sessions, which over the course of the school year, are looked at multiple times from a variety of angles. Alternatively, you might provide an initial session, book, or resource which forms the basis of a longer-term coaching or mentoring scheme.
With time for reflection on both sides in between, providing sustained support will allow you to adjust your work where necessary, better support the target school, and increase your chances of helping them improve their practice in the long term.
Build their internal capacity
Sustained support will make it easier to check-off our final suggestion: everything you do must help the target school build their capacity to help themselves, to continue improving once your expert input has decreased or ceased.
A report last year by Andrew Hobson and Angi Malderez stated that in order to be as effective as possible, in-school mentoring between teachers should focus on “scaffolding” – that is, supporting the mentee to develop his or her own ability to enquire, challenge, and take charge of their own professional development.
The same is true of school-to-school support. As an “expert” school, it is useful to give practical advice and tips to your target school, but to support further future development you must also help them to develop the habits and understanding they will need to go on improving.
Try to use your work with the target school to develop their skills in key areas, including the following:
Use of research
Your programme of support might not be focused on “using research” per se, but you can nevertheless take the opportunity to develop your colleagues’ use of evidence and research to inform their everyday practice.
Act as a professional model – give them an example of how your school has used action research or research evidence in your own context. Alternatively, encourage them to use external research alongside your hands-on support.
Research shows that professional development is most effective when it is done collaboratively by teachers together, but this can be a new and daunting concept to some schools. If your target school does not have an existing culture of collaborative planning and formal, constructive discussion, you can help foster this by structuring your support around small groups of teachers who you will ask to work together, providing the resources and advice they might need to put this into action.
When trying a new intervention or approach, it can be easy to rush through without reflecting on what is happening and what may or may not be working. This could limit the effectiveness of any changes they make to their practice. Over the course of your work together, encourage your colleagues to reflect professionally and constructively, using these reflections to shape their ongoing practice.
To understand the impact an intervention is having, it must be evaluated using the relevant pre and post-data. The target school may not have the structures or culture required to rigorously evaluate the impact of the work you will do with them, but rather than carry on regardless, help them to put these in place.
Initially, provide the necessary tools and support the ongoing evaluation of your particular intervention. Then, as they become familiar with using these, encourage the target school to introduce this as a standard across the board, supporting and advising as necessary. You will be able to evaluate the impact of your own work, and sow the seeds of a better culture of evaluation and improvement.
However you structure your support, using it to encourage transferable skills of good practice will make your input not only more dynamic and engaging, but also sustainable, wide-reaching and long-lasting.
Building the support you offer to colleagues or other schools around these key principles will help you to create relations which are not only more useful but also sustainable and based on trust.
It will allow for whole-school development, not only in the specific area being addressed but also more widely, helping your colleagues to improve skills and understanding for future, more general use.
Further informationAccess the TDT’s free CPD database at http://goodcpdguide.com and for more on the TDT-run National Teacher Enquiry Network, visit www.teacherdevelopmenttrust.org/teacher-enquiry-network
Sarah Coskeran is GoodCPDGuide support officer at the Teacher Development Trust (TDT), an independent charity for teachers’ professional development.