PRACTITIONER ENQUIRY AT GSA
Since 2012 we have replaced the professional development target in each appraisal cycle with a practitioner enquiry target. We have continued to do this and a number of the Alliance schools are trialling this approach too. Since 2015 we have allowed teachers to undertake practitioner enquiry under the two areas of action research or lesson study. This has enabled staff to focus on joint practice development within their own curriculum area and thus strengthen subject based pedagogy as well as conducting research.
Practitioner Enquiry aims to:
- provide, through investigation, answers/potential solutions for practice-based or systems-based concerns/questions
- foster transformative teaching and enhance student learning
- allow a community of teachers, working with a knowledgeable other, in a sustained way through cycles of inquiry that focus on how teaching practices can better support student learning
- promote learning communities and structured opportunities for professional conversations about teaching and learning
- ensure data and evidence are used for decision-making and influencing strategic direction and improvement planning
Given that practitioner enquiry is not meant to be a solitary activity we group related enquiries by pedagogical themes and more recently faculty areas e.g. collaborative learning, and ask that group to meet regularly through the year as a Teacher Learning Community (TLC). There may be between 10- 15 TLCs in any one year. Each TLC is 'challenged and supported' by an Enquiry Leader. TLCS meet approximately five times a year and follow an enquiry cycle:
Impact on teachers and school culture - staff feedback on action research (November 2014)
Almost 1 in 4 (n=19, 24%) reported that their enquiries helped them to improve their practice as a teacher and/or leader 'very significantly'/ 'a lot'. More specifically, undertaking practitioner enquiries was seen by:
- 62% (n=51) as having helped to improve a shared commitment to high standards of teaching and learning in the school.
- almost 1 in 5 (n=16, 19%) as having 'very significantly' improved the school's approach to learning.
- more than 1 in 5 (n=18, 22%) as having 'very significantly' improved a shared commitment to collaboration with colleagues to improve their professional practice.
Evidence also shows that the majority of the staff at the GSA believed that the structure and systems worked well and that an enquiry-led, evidence-based professional culture was beginning to bear fruit:
- Close to all (n=75, 91%) felt that they had access to useful professional development opportunities in the school and 89% (n=74) agreed that they had access to support to help improve the quality of their enquiries.
- The vast majority reported using research evidence to inform their teaching practice (n=73, 88%) and the focus of their enquiries (81%, n=67).
- More than one in three (n=29, 35%) agreed 'very strongly' that collaborative activity between staff had a positive impact on standards of teaching in the school.
Qualitative data from the survey provided more detailed evidence on how practitioner enquiries helped to improve many staff members' understanding and awareness of the process of learning. For example,
- They [practitioner enquiries] have allowed me to understand using different approaches to differentiation to help to stretch the higher achievers; to further understand the trends in student participation in extracurricular activities.
- It has enabled me to assess whether the exam or coursework (c/w) options of Cambridge International Exams (CIE) are best for borderline students; ... and to plan interventions for borderline students. It has led me to ask further questions about the impact of exam or c/w relating to gender.
75% saw undertaking practitioner enquiry as a useful professional development activity for them.
Benefits of lesson study (to date - January 2016)
- Increased collegiality between teachers as a result of collaboration in planning, observing and reflecting on lessons.
- Enhanced personal skills of the teachers and an increased capacity for critical analysis, for creative design, and for linking practice to goals.
- The opportunity to develop a better picture of what constitutes good teaching from close observation of learning as it takes place in the classroom.
- The teacher-led nature of the professional development, which keeps students at the centre in ways that have immediate practical value in teachers' classrooms.