Shaping an environment for shared professional learning

Altona P-9 College shows us how a shift in attitudes toward professional learning led their teachers and leaders to a culture of shared excellence.

In 2014, Altona P-9 College faced many challenges, ranging from negative community perceptions and declining enrolments to inconsistent outcomes for students. When it came to developing staff, the college had also not established a consistent approach to professional learning – and was seeing a plateau in student achievement as a result.

But by seeding a cultural transformation among staff, the college's leadership team has prioritised shared professional learning and led the school step by step toward positive growth.

Recognising a problem in practice

Principal Julie Krause reflects that her teachers previously thought professional learning was going offsite to a PD, and advancing one's own personal teaching practice. She realised it was important to reframe staff perceptions and understandings of professional learning.

Professional learning needed to be understood in the context of the whole school and to be seen as an opportunity for staff of all levels to work and share with their colleagues, evaluating and reflecting on their practice.

'It was necessary for us to break down our problems and start small,' said Julie.

'Professional learning needed to encompass Prep to Year 9 and direct us toward a shared vision.'

'We needed to show the whole school community that we were one school, and we needed to all go on that journey together.'

Identifying the appropriate direction for the college

In high-performance learning cultures, teachers are inquisitive, increasingly knowledgeable, and well-informed about becoming better practitioners together. Assistant Principal Matthew Kelly remembers that when the school leaders decided to make a concerted effort to change their approach to professional learning, they didn't really know where to start.

'Trying to create professional learning teams (PLTs) that work effectively when you've got such a wide range of teachers meeting together was really difficult,' said Matthew.

'There were a lot of PLT meetings around administration, and there wasn't any real targeted teaching and learning [development] going on.'

A functional structure for whole-school collaboration

As a result of staff feedback, the college reviewed the PLT set up, and adjusted the make-up of the teams. The new PLTs were made up of staff teaching within similar levels or learning areas, for example Level 3 / 4 PLT.

This enabled staff to feel more connected and to build a greater understanding of the learning continuum and learning growth of students. A specialist team was created so staff could focus on developing consistent collaborative learning strategies, vocabulary and common planning documents.

'By choosing these teams, we feel like we've reduced the range of abilities and the number of students this group will be attending to within a PLT,' said Matthew.

As a result, teachers have built their collective capacity; more confidently identifying problems in practice within their PLTs. They are also able to share their professional learning through learning logs and to set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based) goals to incorporate into their own practice.

Creating consistent growth through collaboration and professional learning

Effective professional learning is a catalyst to school improvement, with principals and school leadership facilitating changes to support collaborative teacher learning, teaching practice, and in turn, the learning trajectory of students.

The newly focused PLTs at Altona P-9 College enabled staff to be better prepared to evaluate and prioritise the professional learning they undertook.

Teaching and Learning Coach Amanda Elmer noted that the school had adopted a new mindset toward professional learning. Through working in teams the school was able to see a clear path forward for their improvement work and put in place steps to change practices at their college.

If you value it, give it time

'From the moment our professional learning mindset shifted, we created enabling opportunities through our PLTs,' said Amanda.

'Whenever we had a curriculum day, we set aside a whole hour and dedicated it to giving teachers that time to converse about their practice.'

'We wanted to show them that we valued their practice, and that was how we bring those values to life and to show that we are actioning things.

To listen to Altona P-9's complete presentation to the 2018 Regional Leadership Conferences, watch the video below.

Make the most of your own professional learning in your teams​

Professional practice note 10: Effective professional learning

The Department has developed a professional practice note emphasising the value of effective professional learning for establishing a high performance learning culture and supporting strong student learning outcomes. 

Review the teacher tip
A quick guide to Professional practice note 10: Effective professional learning

Supporting FISO Priorities: Professional leadership

Great school leaders have a significant effect on student outcomes because their leadership influences the environment and conditions in which teachers teach and students learn. Effective leaders are distinguished by t​​heir competence in planning, delivering, and evaluating teaching and learning programs.

To learn more about professional leadership and its supporting dimensions, see Excellence in teaching and learning​.