Community of Professional Learners
Meaningful learning occurs when we productively interact with others, developing relationships that simultaneously grow and support. These empathetic relationships can expand one’s vision of teaching and learning by offering different perspectives whilst respecting each other’s intelligence, skill, intentions, and pressures. Working together can help alter practices through a deeper understanding of the complex work of teaching, and serve to keep teachers in the profession.
Core to the programme, is teachers establishing together a culture of collaborative learning in which all perspectives are valued. By drawing on teachers’ shared classroom experiences, teachers solve the problems of teaching and learning that are important to them.
The characteristics of a successful collaborative community of professions can be summed up within five dimensions.
Teachers establish a community of professionals with a shared vision
It is important that the lead teachers, as well as the teachers, position themselves as learners. This fosters a more equitable situation. Teachers are more likely to speak out if they can see their views are being listened to and valued. Everyone, including the lead teacher, should teach each lesson. This will help cultivate a shared identity as both learners and teachers.
Sharing concrete experiences that go beyond finding out about the theories of learning
Useful discussions are likely to emerge when the focus is on concrete, shared events rather than focusing on just theories. Within the programme, there are multiple opportunities for shared experiences – from planning, observing and reviewing a lesson, to watching videos of others teaching a lesson. Not all teachers will interpret the experience in the same way, which adds to the richness of the discussion, and can promote a deeper understanding.
The mathematics focuses on five key areas of GCSE mathematics
For teachers to adopt new ways of teaching requires a certain amount of risk taking. Developing safe spaces for them to do so is crucial to the success of the programme. A culture needs to be carefully fostered that allows teachers to speak their minds, without feeling judged. This requires a recognition by all members of the group that there is no ‘one right way’ to teach. One’s knowledge, beliefs and practices are personal, and dependent on experiences, outside pressures, and training.
Many teachers find being observed by others stressful, this is understandable. They may be accustomed to being judged and graded in an observation. This experience can isolate teachers, and undermines attempts to develop a collaborative community of professionals. Moreover, it encourages compliance rather than risk-taking.
Observations within the programme require sensitive consideration of a teacher’s attitude and skills. Planning a lesson together helps foster a culture of shared responsibility, allows teachers to take risks and breaks engrained habits by adopting new strategies. Observers focusing on student thinking rather than teacher practice can also help.
When trialling the materials, we found further education teachers particularly skillful at developing safe spaces.
Echo teaching strategies
In the professional development sessions, teachers practise what they enact in the classroom
Often there can be a disconnect between the teaching strategies learnt about in professional development sessions and the teaching strategies employed by the facilitator of those sessions. For example, facilitators may use a lecture-style approach to tell teachers about pedagogies that focus on not telling students about a maths method, but instead allowing them to figure it out for themselves.
This is not the case in the Maths-for-Life programme. Lead teachers are expected to 'practise what they preach'. The collaborative strategies used by the lead teacher in the professional development sessions echo the strategies they are encouraging teachers to use within the classrooms.
Professional development over a year
New practices are likely to be maintained if professional development is not simply a one-off introduction to a new teaching strategy but sustained over several months. Developing new ways of working, is not easy, particularly when there is a need to by-pass engrained habits. It requires time for teachers and students to get used to a new culture in the classroom. Sharing set-backs and successes with colleagues during its establishment can help keep the process on track.
Lead teachers from the Maths-for-Life programme talk about the value of participating in a network of colleges.
Lead teachers from the Maths-for-Life programme discuss what they learned and how they learned about teaching mathematics.