Creating a positive and developmental professional learning culture

Whitecote Primary School is a 2 form entry school in Leeds. They have successfully developed a culture of openness and trust, and supported staff to analyse and discuss teaching and learning more effectively. To find out how we caught up with year 6 teacher Dan Sheffrin and were sent some videos from the other staff with their thoughts about it too.

IRIS Connect: Why did you feel that you needed to change your approach to CPD?

Dan Sheffrin: We wanted to move from a top-down model of staff development to one that was altogether more reflective. Top-down models, whether they intend to or not, are quite confrontational. People are faced with a situation where someone with authority is telling them the things wrong with their practice. This can naturally trigger feelings of defensiveness amongst staff – they may feel that they are not being represented fairly, and will often focus on this, rather than on accepting the things they need to do to improve.

We wanted to move to a more reflective approach, built upon mutual collaboration, by encouraging staff to open up, to share and to be a critical friend to their colleagues. This is more likely to lead to a genuine desire to improve – teachers generally want to improve, they want their pupils to learn more effectively. By building upon this, the introduction of new ideas to spur improvements and by creating the right framework for collaboration, change in practice is more meaningful and more sustainable.

IC: Why did you choose video CPD as your vehicle for change?

IC: How did staff react to the idea of being videoed for professional development?

DS: Some staff had real hang-ups about seeing themselves on camera or hearing their own voices – one said that she hadn’t even wanted a photographer on her wedding day because she hated it so much. Many were also wary of what was going to happen to the videos and who was going to be able to view them.

IC: How did you deal with these concerns?

DS: Barriers and fears had to be removed first – the terms and conditions of the system reassured people that no-one would be able to access their videos apart from them unless they chose to share them. Even then, this sharing could be withdrawn at any time and those they had shared videos with would no longer be able to see them.  

We made it clear that the first videos that they produced were only ever intended for their own viewing – they would not have to share them with anyone. When we did introduce sharing with others it happened on a piecemeal basis. At this stage, only a few videos were shared in a very limited capacity and teachers could share videos as an alternative choice to observation. Some videos of good practice were shared amongst the phase (2-year groups). And the teachers chose which videos they shared – there was no pre-existing task or aim, nor any points for improvement at this stage – it was all about building confidence in the system.

IC: How did staff feel about it?

IC: What happened next?

DS: We heard about the EEF funded research project on using IRIS Connect to improve the use of feedback in lessons. We joined the project because we wanted our use of IRIS Connect to be more purposeful. We wanted to move on to using it to improve teaching beyond what was mostly self-reflection.

IC: How did the project help you?

DS: The project introduced us to IRIS Connect film club. This provided us with rich materials which we could use a springboard for improving teaching. It also gave us the opportunity to expand the use of IRIS Connect into sharing videos with the specific aim of identifying areas of strength and improvement, and use it as a tool to instigate school-wide improvements.

IC: Tell us about film club…

DS: Film club provided a powerful way of introducing new ideas to teachers. The high-quality video clips provided examples of the concepts in action: they were actually working models, not just theories from an inset session. The discussion questions gave an opportunity to unpick what aspects of provision allowed the pupils to engage in deeper learning. In combination with the video clips, this created a fertile ground for rich, face-to-face discussions. Teachers could also be critical of the video examples, picking apart what wasn’t as successful. While those discussions were carrying on, staff were writing text comments using the commenting system built into IRIS. This meant they could see what other groups were saying, and reply to those comments. In concert with the face-to-face discussions, this created a powerful combination of formats which worked really well for developing our thinking, and ultimately our teaching.

IC: What do staff think about film club?

IC: Were all staff involved?

DS: All teachers and HLTAs attended film clubs and were grouped into triads. By putting staff members into triads, the more experienced staff members could share the wealth of experience with other members of the group, whilst younger members of the group could contribute their energy and any knowledge they may have of the latest ideas in education.  By splitting up Year Groups, it meant that both members could come back with different ideas about the same topics, thereby increasing the breadth of ideas going into those Year Groups.

IC: Why do you think film club is effective?

DS: It works because it ties into what we are already doing, becoming part of the whole picture. For instance, yesterday we had a meeting on Maths, and we referred back to the learning from a film club session about dialogic teaching. The clips are high quality and lead to fantastic face-to-face discussion during the film club screening. The online comments function is very helpful for sharing thoughts beyond the triads. This combination of formats works really well. Like with anything in school, you need someone with the capacity to keep this going and it must have support from leadership.

IC: Is that because of the specific content of dialogic teaching or the flexible format of film club?

DS: It’s both. The content, which was really useful in itself, and the format of film club. The ready-made modules or episodes really help because half the job is done for you. One of the most beneficial aspects of the IRIS/film club/triad model is that it is completely adaptable to our needs. We are able to use the same model in the introduction of reciprocal reading, as well as some work on Bloom’s Taxonomy. The use of this model ties into everything we do. What is discussed in film club sessions comes up in many other contexts e.g. other training sessions.

IC: Has using film club affected the professional learning culture at all? If so, how?

DS: Definitely! The culture is less top down, people are more open and it’s created an atmosphere of trust between teachers.

IC: What are your next steps?

DS: In future, whatever new ideas of areas of focus we want for the school, we know we can use that model to help us achieve it. It does so in a way that is responsive to our needs while allowing staff to try out new ideas and improve based on the feedback of their colleagues. It feels like a very sustainable approach to embedding whole school priorities.

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