Teacher learning: What’s in it for students?
Guest Blogger, Dr Deborah Netolicky, Dean of Research and Pedagogy.
At Wesley College we support staff professional learning because we know it strengthens us as individuals and as a learning-focused organisation. Ultimately, teacher learning improves our ability to best serve our students and community, including the academic success of our students. Because the quality of teaching in classrooms has been found to have a notable impact on student learning, much of our professional development time is focused on developing our teachers’ teaching, or on developing our leaders’ capacities for leading outstanding teaching. This includes our well-established coaching model for all teaching staff, as well as mentoring, consulting, courses, conferences and regular opportunities for goal setting and performance review. It includes harnessing both external and internal expertise. However, education is not a recipe or an exact science; it is also human and relational, social and emotional. Staff learning of best theory and practice is therefore balanced with professional judgement and praxis (the wisdom that comes from lived experience).
Our Strategic Impacts at Wesley College are at the core of our work. The College is committed to supporting students and staff to become Strong Thinkers, Purposeful Doers, Powerful Self Activators and Positive Connectors. We are committed to ensuring all students and staff develop and reach their full potential in academic, professional and personal arenas. We nurture individual talents, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and excellence. Although we are in the service of our students and community, our Strategic Impacts are also things we want for our staff. Wesley supports staff in being self-efficacious, empowered individuals in control of their own professional growth and development, within the overarching umbrella of our organisational vision, mission and strategy.
Some schools and education systems work from a deficit model, trying to improve or even ‘fix’ their staff. At Wesley, we are a growth-focused organisation that believes in the capacity of everyone in our community to grow and improve, and we use micro and macro data as vehicles for reflection and improvement. We know that no matter how experienced or expert we are, we can always do better, as individuals and as a school. Research tells us that it is not superstar teachers or energetic individuals that make the difference to a school, but rather the collaborative expertise of the group; a staff learning and working together. This is our focus: trusting staff as professionals and supporting them in their growth, individually and together.
We therefore value shared professional learning gained through collaborative experiences in which staff positively connect with one another. For example, a group of our Mathematics teachers have been participating in an online course run by Stanford University called ‘Mathematical Mindsets’. The course unpacks a research-based teaching approach found to raise the achievement of students learning Mathematics by the equivalent of 1.6 years of school. Our Junior School teachers have been working closely and collaboratively with inclusion expert Kylie Bice in order to best address the varied academic needs of our younger students.
Staff from Technologies, Science and Languages are right now attending the School Learning Space Design conference in Melbourne in order to refine our future-focused pedagogical approach to our stunning new learning spaces. Our leadership team have been attending the Wesley College evening Leadership Forums, where we have welcomed guest speakers from other independent school and world-renowned professors in education, including Dylan Wiliam and Pasi Sahlberg.
Our College vision ‘to be an innovative learning community in which students are empowered to lead purposeful lives’ extends to our staff. Staff professional development benefits our students by supporting teachers and school leaders in their growth and development, keeping them abreast of current educational best evidence and best practice, and making sure our professional community hums with the energy of continuous learning. By valuing the collaboration and learning of our staff, as well as our students, we nurture a learning community in which students and staff are empowered to pursue excellence and reach their individual potential.