Maesyrhandir CP School is situated in Newtown, Powys with just over 100 learners on roll. The school’s motto is “Everybody’s Somebody” and this embodies their whole approach to the educational experience of all learners, staff and community. The schools is in an area of deprivation with 54% free school meals and 54% of learners have identified ALN.
Teaching in Maesyrhandir is not an easy job, but it is rewarding. The needs of our learners mean that we often end the day emotionally as well as physically drained. Any professional learning that we do must be relevant, worthwhile and impact positively on our teaching and learning.
We are a relatively small team of 10 teachers (8 FTE) and 15 LSAs, with only two teachers on the SLT. Over the past seven years we have moved our approach to professional learning to become much more of a whole school approach where there is strong collaboration between staff.
Our first step towards this was completing the Visible Learning Programme (John Hattie) over an 18-month period, stretching over three academic years, starting in 2015. This professional learning enabled staff to try out research activities with their classes, measure impact and refine strategies. Although it was the teachers that attended the training, the practice and research projects were shared with the class-based support so that they could move forward with us. As part of this programme two teachers were given mentor training which allowed them to play a key part in supporting colleagues. Following on from this, further teachers have accessed training in coaching and mentoring through the OLEVI programme.
From this point on we recognised that as a school we needed to continue this whole school collaborative approach as a model for our professional learning, in order to provide support to the staff and have the greatest impact.
We have restructured our performance management so that teachers have just one target to work on rather than the three-target model that we previously used. Performance management meetings are held with the head and two teachers who then provide each other with support, allowing them to mentor one another. Time is allocated half termly for the pairs to meet and there are termly progress review meetings. Feedback from the staff is that they much prefer working in this way, having just one target allows them to focus in more depth and bounce ideas off one another. Often the staff will arrange joint visits to other schools to gather ideas and information, as well as sharing research sources.
Supervision for support staff has been another positive step towards developing professional learning with this group of staff as well as supporting their well-being. Supervision meetings are now held termly between the head and individual support staff and are approached in a relaxed and supportive manner. Through these meetings staff have been able to talk about the way that they wish to see their career progressing and how the school can support them in developing their learning as well as supporting them emotionally.
Since beginning this approach, two LSA’s have trained with Nurture UK, one has been funded to do a counsellors’ course and one has embarked on the Thrive Practitioners’ course. Two have expressed an interest in developing their Welsh language skills further and we are now working with the Local Authority Welsh advisor to access the most appropriate training.
We are currently, like all schools, working on our steps towards the New Curriculum. We are continuing to work in this collaborative, whole school approach taking each step together. We have audited our understanding of the pedagogical principles and have now turned our attention to the elements that as a staff we jointly agreed, need our focus. Staff who are more confident in areas are encouraged to take the lead in these aspects, regardless of where they are in their teaching career.
Our staff meetings have a clear agenda, but allow staff to discuss, without judgement, concerns and obstacles that they are encountering. From this opportunity for reflection our professional learning has become much more adaptive taking us on pathways that we might not otherwise have taken, ensuring that any learning is bespoke to the needs of the staff and the school.
The most recent staff well-being survey indicated that 85.5% of the staff felt that working in school had a positive impact on their mental health and well-being and teachers comment positively on the supportive and collaborative nature of our professional learning.
Giving our professional learning quality time and the allocated peer support, as well as encouraging the staff to try out new approaches to working, identified through research, has had a positive impact on the whole staff development.