Published 19 Oct 2021
Enhancing professional learning communities through Data Wise - Caledonian Primary School
Engaged in and applied professional learning
Ben Moody - Principal
Caledonian Primary School
Schools and early childhood services across Victoria continue to provide quality learning experiences across all levels. The VIT’s Professional Practice team is privileged to see this work first hand on visits to workplaces around the State. Here is just one example spotlighting the great work happening in a Victorian school.
We spoke to Ben Moody, Principal at Caledonian Primary School, about how his school developed (and continue to apply) its approach to professional learning communities.
Q: Can you give us some background to the development of your approach to the initiative, including any research or established strategies that your approach is based upon?
A: While the professional learning community (PLC) processes at Caledonian Primary School were quite evolved, we identified some gaps in both practice and process. Short cycles of inquiry assisted in direct work with children, however we discovered a deeper long-term model would be needed to develop teacher knowledge.
The philosophy within our school is that improved outcomes must come from teacher practice, knowledge and learning, and as part of our school review, we identified some key actions with training staff in Harvard Data Wise as a significant step towards a deeper level of inquiry.
The Data Wise model has provided a range of tools including new modes of operating staff meetings, introduction of new protocols for sharing and the ability to collectively design professional learning in response to teacher needs. While the introduction of the Data Wise model was initially intended to enhance our inquiry, we are now going through an organisational restructure to utilise the approaches in all aspects of teacher work.
Q: What structural things are in place to ensure that the initiative has its best chance at success?
A: As with any initiative in a school, the current context must be explored and reviewed. Organisational structure, timetabling, resourcing and staff preparedness are all elements of change that can have positive or negative effects.
To ensure the viability of any initiative in a school, there must be an investment in human resources. Professional learning in Data Wise required a substantial investment of time in which those trained could experiment and makes mistakes. It would be naïve to think we could get things right from the start. Enhancing and developing middle leaders to sustain our initiative was, and continues to be, a major focus. Human resources continued to be important as we invited teachers to be part of the team, and as a new model is not necessarily easy to adopt, we took the approach of actively recruiting amongst staff to find those willing to embrace and lead the change.
School organisational structures are designed to ensure change is possible. Making sure the teaching teams can meet regularly during non-teaching time, were able to access support when needed and continue to be properly resourced is a priority.
Restructuring all meeting schedules to reflect the value of the work on inquiry and professional learning must be prioritised. We are currently expanding the approach to redefine the roles and responsibilities, meeting and team structures for 2022.
Q: What are the benefits of this approach to staff development?
A: Teacher inquiry models have been known to help improve practice through data analysis, peer coaching, planning and reflection. The way we have employed our model has allowed for all staff to have a voice and to contribute to the decision-making process whether that be reevaluating an assessment schedule or setting the learning framework for writing.
Placing value and dedicating time to professional reading has helped frame a common language across all year levels, as well as a shared understanding of the vision for improving outcomes.
The implementation of Data Wise has also allowed for deeper exploration and monitoring of student learning outcomes. One of the first things we identified as an area for investigation was writing. Through regular and sustained discussion, analysis of student work and trialling teaching approaches and tools, we have been able to collectively agree on a sequential learning framework to support student writing development with all staff committed - as all staff were part of the process!
Q: What have been the benefits of this approach to learner outcomes?
A: As much of our work this year has been focussed on English and writing, we have only initial data to indicate improvement. We have incorporated elements of the Writing Revolution, which included staff engaging in professional learning sessions at 7am for 8 weeks before school, and have demonstrated a significant improvement with specific case study students, particularly amongst year 3 - 4 students. It is in this group we have seen students effectively employ strategies to record more complex sentences, use planning tools to frame their pieces and combine sentences using appositives, pronouns and conjunctions. Additionally, our work on annotation is also applicable in our readers notebooks, but that’s just an added bonus.
Q: What plans do you have to take this approach forward?
A: An organisational restructure to set two PLC’s working through inquiry as a whole staff requires time. We have completely done away with the conventional staff meeting and will also move forward to remove smaller ‘implementation’ teams that focus on maths, English and wellbeing. Having all staff take part in investigating data, exploring assumptions and developing a professional learning and implementation plan, while may take longer, is far more effective at developing consistent understanding and impact. We will move forward with a formalised PLC lead role in Maths and English incorporating welling, voice and agency into each inquiry.
To ensure a succession plan is in place, we'll undergo additional Data Wise training for middle leaders and development of new roles within the school will create new opportunities for staff to lead the process. Rolling facilitators ensure all staff will be able to contribute and grow in their professional practice.