Research School Network: Professional Development: Practical Social Support In the latest in our series on professional development, Mark Miller looks at two examples of practical social support in PD


Professional Development: Practical Social Support

In the latest in our series on professional development, Mark Miller looks at two examples of practical social support in PD

by Bradford Research School
on the

Peer support can be a powerful factor in personal and professional development. Evidence from teacher professional development supports this, but also evidence from other fields, and areas where development of some sort is the focus e.g. improving health.

Why is that the case? Well, according to the EEF’s Effective Professional Development guidance, peers often share a common language, culture, and knowledge regarding the problems they face and are often able to provide emotional or informational assistance that supports a trainee in improving their practice.’

We’ve reached Mechanism 7 in our exploration of the guidance: Arranging practical social support. And in this post, we’ll shine a light on two examples of professional development where practical social support is a key mechanism: Maths Hub Work Groups and Teacher Learning Communities.

Work Groups

One model of professional development where this mechanism is clear, is the Maths Hub work group model.

Work group

Maths Work Groups are comprised of a group of schools who work collaboratively, normally over a school year, on a particular focus. Examples include Primary Mastery Readiness’; Secondary Maths MAT Leads’. The peer element is an important factor: In between, participants keep in touch with each other, comparing notes about what they’re trying out in their own schools.’

We asked Sam Shutkever, Deputy Maths Hub Lead, to explain the role of peer support in these:

We often ask our participants to evaluate their learning as a result of taking part in our Work Groups. Overwhelmingly, participants respond that whilst the live teaching aspect is crucial in developing their understanding, it’s the collaboration with colleagues which has had the greatest impact on their practice. We find that, over time, the relationships that participants develop as part of the Work Group mean that they are able to have honest, and purposeful discussions about teaching and learning. In my opinion, creating this reflective space is crucial to the success of any professional development

You can find more information about West Yorkshire Maths Hub Work Groups here: https://wymathshub.co.uk/work-groups/

Teacher Learning Communities

Another approach which has peer support as an important mechanism is the Teacher Learning Community. There is an evaluation of one example of the approach – Embedding Formative Assessment – cited in the PD guidance, and you can read the full evaluation here.

EFA 2

Here is how this particular TLC worked, according to the evaluation:

The main element of EFA is the monthly Teacher Learning Community (TLC) workshops, which were usually arranged during normal CPD time. Each TLC workshop involves a group of teachers feeding back on their use of techniques, sharing new formative assessment ideas to try, and personal action planning for the coming month.

In addition, teachers are asked to pair themselves for monthly peer lesson observations in-between each TLC workshop. The peer observations can be for entire lessons or for 20 minutes at the start, middle, or end of a lesson. Pairs will then need to find 15 minutes to provide feedback to each other after each observation.’

In the key conclusions of the evaluation, teachers were positive about the TLC: 

‘They felt that these improved their practice by allowing valuable dialogue between teachers, and encouraged experimentation with formative assessment strategies.’

There are challenges when it comes to implementation for running projects on this scale. In the EFA project, it was clear that some schools struggled to maintain the frequency and length of peer observation due to timetabling etc. So, as ever, leaders need to create the climate for this to be implemented effectively.

(As ever, we’d recommend having a read of the full report for some insights into the complicated process of running a TLC, or a RCT!)

The Embedding Formative Assessment (EFA) programme is available to schools in the RSC regions of the North, East Midlands and Humber and West Midlands. The project is recruiting schools to deliver the programme to pupils from the Summer 2022 term, for two years. Schools are being offered the programme at a highly subsidised rate. For more information and to sign up, visit the EEF website.

Not just social

It’s important to see that the practical social support can be an effective mechanism, but needs to form part of a balanced CPD design. So, it’s not enough just to get people together (although there are some inherent benefits of that.)

This was acknowledged in the evidence review that accompanies the guidance, where they coined a new term of a strong teacher learning community’, in which the practical social support is combined with two other mechanisms: action planning and goal setting. This is in line with Wiliam and Leahy’s original model of teacher learning communities, of which embedding formative assessment is an example.

Beyond these more formal approaches, the EEf guidance suggests that practical social support need not be a massive undertaking: at the most basic level, it could just be a programme requiring at least two teachers from each school, phase, or department to participate in training so that, subsequently, these colleagues can support each other throughout.’

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