Sharing good practice doesn’t work.
This is what Professor David H Hargreaves told delegates at a recent National College event. What he meant by this was that actually it works for the sharers; it just does not help or work for recipients.
And yet sharing best practice is recognised as one of the most effective ways to develop teaching and learning practice. So what does this mean for CPD?
It means finding a more effective way of improving practice, one that moves away from one-off training courses and INSET days run in isolation towards one that is linked with whole-school improvement, is continuous not occasional, and where everyone is an active participant, fusing learning and development with practice. This model is increasingly being called joint practice development (JPD).
It is also an approach that needs to be prioritised and actively modelled by senior leaders. This may seem obvious, but it is worth highlighting. Research carried out last year by Professor Viviane Robinson made it very clear that it is leaders promoting and, significantly, participating in the professional development of their teachers that makes the biggest difference to pupil outcomes.
I believe that JPD is a great way to do this. It moves us away from the more traditional knowledge transfer approach of CPD, and ensures that leaders and teachers are working together in pursuit of raising standards, trying and testing approaches that lead to improvement through the day-to-day work, with constant reference and feedback from those who have the relevant experience and expertise.
It is a far cry from the sort of CPD sessions that Prof Hargreaves described as “occasional activity that is sharply distinguished in time and space from routine classroom work”, where you listen to or read about some great ideas but then struggle to implement these in your own school or classroom.
And it can work. A group of Teaching School Alliances, together with the University of Sussex, recently undertook a number of JPD projects. These projects involved cross-school groups looking at structured peer observations between teachers, training students to give feedback on teaching and learning, and specific activities based around themes such as transition and numeracy.
Their experience of JPD is highlighted in Powerful Professional Learning: A school leader’s guide to joint practice development and, interestingly, all five of the alliances conclude that they will now work to replace CPD with JPD.
However, both the Teaching School Alliances and Prof Hargreaves in his latest thinkpiece, A Self-Improving School System: Towards maturity, recognise that while JPD is not something radically new, it can be difficult to establish and embed in our schools.
The role of leaders is therefore important. Both within your own school and in your partnerships, you need to be clear what development areas you need to work on and who has the skills, experience and also capacity to lead specific JPD projects, whether they are in your own school or elsewhere in the partnership. The culture has to be outward-facing – we cannot limit ourselves in the pursuit of even better practice – so leaders and teachers work across classrooms and indeed across schools in a constant pursuit of what works for children.
In this way, you are finding ways of sharing your best teachers so that their expertise is contributing to the professional development of all those who can benefit from it, while their own expertise is being developed at the same time.
Other conditions need to be in place so that JPD can truly flourish. This includes ensuring the culture is open as well as outward. There has to be a climate of trust and support within and between the schools involved, where everyone feels they have something to offer and gain, rather than feeling that they learning from the “expert”. Alongside this, there has to be a collective moral purpose among participants, with a common understanding and professional commitment to really make a difference to all pupils, not just those in your own classroom or school.
Evaluation and challenge is also critical. Professional development has to serve a purpose, and that purpose is to raise pupil achievement and contribute to school improvement.
It is essential to create a culture of profession-led accountability, where everyone, at every level, develops a sense of what needs to be done and how it can be done, welcoming opportunities to gain feedback in the pursuit of continuously developing better practice.
Although the Teaching School Alliances concluded that JPD can be very powerful in improving practice, many identified a lack of time to engage in it as a real barrier to its success. Leaders therefore need to ensure that this sort of development is in the life-blood of the school, ensuring it remains a collective priority.
On a practical level, this may require rethinking how you use INSET days in order to integrate the work across a full school year – some schools have gone so far as to replace theirs with more twilight and short training sessions.
JPD has a lot to offer. In the words of those who have embarked on JPD projects, it has the potential to be a powerful tool for developing professional practice. With the right culture, commitment and challenge in place, it has the opportunity to take professional ownership of both personal and wider school improvement to a whole new level. SecEd
Further informationFor more on the JPD projects and to download copies of the publications referenced in this article, visit www.nationalcollege.org.uk/joint-practice-development
Maggie Farrar is interim chief executive of the National College for School Leadership.