Tailored professional learning – It works!
Monica St Baker, Principal at Hanwood Public School, shares the success of the innovative teachers’ professional learning journey at her small, remote school in the Riverina.
The road to achievement
In 2018 at Hanwood Public School, for the first time since the inception of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), Year 5 students achieved an average of a Band 6 in writing and were placed above the national average.
We were able to achieve this by changing the mode of teacher professional learning. We came to realise that best practice for students was also best practice when teaching educators. For our school, this means point of need relevant content that is then modelled in context.
Professional learning journey
Two years ago at Hanwood Public School we embarked on a professional learning journey. We live in a rural area where it is difficult to access quality professional learning for teachers. The cost is also prohibitive as, not only do we pay for casual costs and course fees (like all other schools), we also have the added complexity of travel (often flights), accommodation and food costs. This then takes up a vast portion of our professional learning budget.
We decided to try a new model. We brought the experts to Hanwood!
We soon realised that this was cost effective. We were able to expose the entire staff to the learning, which alleviated the need to decide who would attend the courses. This was an ideal solution because the ‘teach the teacher’ model doesn’t work in our school context.
The model we adopted utilises the two last professional development days scheduled at the end of the scholastic year. Let me explain.
All teachers, and interested school learning support officers, attended four three-hour sessions that were presented after school hours throughout the year by an expert in their field. We focused on metacognitive teaching and learning with an emphasis on increasing students’ writing skills and outcomes.
Metacognition involves students focusing on their thinking, that is, students actively thinking about their thinking and understanding what they do not know. This is a powerful skill which supports students to use higher levels of thinking and increasing proficiency with problem solving.
Dr Kate Bricknell from Crossroads Education presented this concept to teachers and showed them what it looks like in classrooms from kindergarten through to Year 6. We also focused on the ‘end game’ in Year 12, and the importance of our students being proficient as they leave us for high school. As a staff, we have a shared commitment to K-12 student learning, not just infants and primary.
Think it–write it
Dr Bricknell commenced with her first presentation on Think it - write it, which was ‘designed to support the development of autonomous writing skills by guiding students through metacognitive processes as they develop into independent and mature writers’ (Bricknell, 2017, p.5). To begin this process, all teachers needed to know what they did not know, when considering high quality instruction on writing. There were many lightbulb moments at this beginning point.
During the next three days following her presentation on the theory of metacognition, Dr Bricknell team taught, coached and mentored all teachers at their individual levels of need. Essentially, it was imperative that teachers could see this theory in practice, in their classrooms, with their students. It also negated the teachers’ preconceived attitudes like:
- this will not work in my class
- I have a low achieving class and this is too complex
- I teach kindergarten and this is too higher order.
The work the students produced during these sessions was nothing short of outstanding. The students called Dr Bricknell ‘The Writing Doctor’.
Key to success for teachers
The most valuable component of the changes we made was to acknowledge that all teachers have different levels of knowledge and expertise. Consistent teacher judgement is hard, if not impossible, to attain if our teachers have a varied knowledge bases. We set about growing all our teachers, starting at their instructional level, which for beginning teachers is vastly different to that of experienced teachers. This was the key to our success. It proved unequivocally that tailored, differentiated professional learning works.
In the past year, professional learning with Dr Bricknell has specifically focused on teacher need.
What about our students?
Focused metacognitive teaching and learning with an emphasis on increasing students’ writing skills and outcomes has resulted in measurable improvement. Students are expected to develop skills at automaticity. Once a skill is learned and developed, the expectation is that it will be maintained with 100% accuracy in all written tasks. The skill moves from the short term memory, which can only hold from seven to nine pieces of new information, to the long term memory which has an infinite capacity.
Our school-based assessments are demonstrating great success as we triangulate our data. Our frustration is still demonstrating this consistently with external-based assessments such as NAPLAN. Our continued goal is to reduce the gap between the two.
We will be very interested to see our NAPLAN results later in the year!
Bricknell, K. (2017). Crossroads education: paving your path to success.
National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). (2016). Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).
How to cite this article – St Baker, M. (2019). Tailored professional learning – It works! Scan, 38(6).