Create a Professional Learning Strategy…and Future Proof It!

23 July 2020

Professional learning at schools is a constantly changing landscape, with the current COVID-19 pandemic permanently altering known landmarks. Prior to this year, schools have typically been dominated by an ever-growing list of ‘tick and flick’ compliance training or ‘chalk and talk’ type lectures during staff meetings with a heavy focus on curriculum subjects for teaching staff.

However, in 2020, there is an increasing expectation that schools will provide staff with remote learning opportunities and corporate-style professional development. These expectations, paired with scrutiny on budgets, have left schools with the need to quickly find new ways of connecting with, and engaging, staff. In short, school professional learning strategies are going through a major overhaul.

In surveys conducted by CompliSpace recently, Professional Development in Schools: Key Findings from our Recent Surveys, schools have indicated these changes in the following ways:

  • 99 per cent have changed their professional learning strategy
  • 74 per cent are looking to move their professional learning management online
  • 78 per cent are looking for new types of online content.

If your school is one of the vast majority re-examining their professional learning strategy and looking to move online where you can, how can you ensure that you create a robust professional learning strategy for the future?


If you are Designing a Professional Learning Strategy for the Future, Where do you Start?

The very first thing to do is to identify the current scope of professional learning within your school. You can do this by asking a few key questions:

  • What are the different types of professional learning required in our school?
  • Who requires training?
  • Who is responsible for ensuring that the training is delivered and records are kept?

The answers to these questions will depend on the nature, size and complexity of your school’s operations and will be different in every school. Whether you have a defined professional learning strategy in place or not, these questions can help you find the gaps. This review of scope, done at least annually, can assist you to predict learning needs and changes before they arise.


What are the Different Types of Professional Learning Required in your School?

This may seem like a very simple or obvious question; however, it is not. Types of learning can be defined by looking at roles, such as teacher or fire warden, or be subject-based such as compliance or soft skills. However, the most important aspect is to drill down and understand what you are (and are not) training staff in and why.

As part of this process, review your current professional learning options and ask the following questions:

  • Are providers difficult to find?
  • Are they expensive?
  • Is compliance-focused learning taking all the spotlight?
  • Is there a better way to do it?
  • Is online more effective in some areas in the current climate?

Learning gaps and budget blow-outs are easily found once you begin to look holistically.

Another important aspect is to ensure that the learning aligns with your school’s vision and overall goals, which will ultimately cement the culture that you are aiming to build.


Who are you Responsible for Training?

A great way to understand gaps in your professional learning strategy is to start listing who you are responsible for training. This could be done concurrently with addressing the question above. Every role that makes up part of the service at your school, both internal and external, should be considered, even if only to understand if training requirements lie within or outside the school.

Usually permanent staff are easier to assess but do you have volunteers or contractors that you need to train? Have you considered your board or school council? Are your teachers across different ways to recognise trauma in students? Do you have inductions for music instrumentals or canteen volunteers? Do sports coaches require the same level of training as other teaching staff?

Once the full scope is understood, budgets can be measured more accurately and decisions made about synchronising training cycles more efficiently.


Who is Responsible for What?

In most cases, the answer to this question is a little easier but it is crucial in a successful learning culture. Responsibility for learning is usually spread across the school or organisation, which often makes it difficult to centrally track the gamut of professional learning being undertaken. If you have heads of department, learning leaders and specialists designing learning in your school, having their buy-in is critical to the ongoing success of your strategy.

Collective buy-in can often translate to real savings in time and budget as learning leaders understand the needs of those people that they are responsible for, know where to access resources or create amazing learning resources. Talking about it collectively and mapping the learning strategy in a central document/plan and/or system provides greater visibility/efficiencies etc. Understanding and recording the various aspects of professional learning from your learning collective will also prevent knowledge loss as staff move on, further future-proofing your learning strategy.


So How Do You Do It?

Developing a professional learning road map is key. What this looks like will vary greatly. However, it should show a plan of all professional learning at the school, responsibilities and frequency. It should also undergo constant review. Mapping should have goals to achieve, but it is not a set and forget exercise!

Using simple training needs analysis tools and looking at your professional learning scope holistically, you can begin to effectively map all learning required in your organisation, and how and when to do it:

  1. Start with roles: every role at the school must be considered.
  2. Match the subject matter to each role and school vision: this may take time but is worth it!
  3. Perform a risk or gap assessment to measure consequences of a gap in your professional learning: Look for the holes in what you are responsible for.
  4. How is the training delivered? In the new world of remote learning, how can you manage the online and face-to-face elements? Do you have a staff learning system and can you record all forms of training on it?
  5. What is the duration and frequency of learning? Understanding the time and resourcing commitments helps monitor peaks and troughs of learning cycles. This information should be mapped into a learning calendar for roles by month or term.

Finally, PLAN, PLAN, PLAN! After consulting with your team and mapping the roles at your school, you should be able to create a clear map of priorities across a year, even across two or three years, and build staff learning review cycles into your overall school governance.


What’s Change Management Got to Do With It?

Change management is a relatively new focus area for schools as life becomes more and more governed by legislation, corporate-style rules and ever-increasing staff expectations. Traditionally, change takes several years and requires a sense of urgency, change plans and change ‘champions’. Considering the current rate of change, unlike the approach often taken by large corporates and government bodies in relation to change management, schools often don’t have the resources to adopt a full change management approach.

However, one truth can always be found in successful change transitions anywhere in the world—change led by leadership in a top-down manner will create an intentional new culture.

Planning your professional learning strategy and putting it into action with the right people with the right tools will allow staff to easily adopt the new strategy.


Learning Tools

We recognise at this time that it has become vital to have learning tools that can reach across the situational divide that the COVID-19 pandemic has created and to manage and monitor learning remotely.

We can clearly see that there are three key elements to developing a successful learning strategy for the future:

  1. Your staff learning system should provide a centralised ability for administrator access and reporting, and the ability to incorporate multiple types of training, including making your own content.
  2. High quality learning content (face-to-face or online) is vital for staff engagement and effective learning.
  3. A vision and a plan, including your roadmap, means you can allocate professional learning to the right people at the right time and communicate this plan to all those who need to manage the learning at your school.

In the rapidly changing landscape of 2020 (and beyond!) having a focused vision and plan for your learning strategy, using the learning collective you have at your fingertips, having a system capable of delivering your strategy and the ability to source high-quality, relevant content will ensure that your professional learning strategy is a versatile living thing that embeds the culture you want through all stages of a school’s life (and all pandemics)!


Webinar Recording: ‘How Your School’s Professional Learning Strategy can Address 2020 Challenges’

For more information on this topic, click here to watch a webinar presented on this topic in June 2020.srdf


Rochelle Bright

With over 10 years’ experience in learning and development, change and project management, Rochelle holds the role of Project Manager/Consultant in the Victorian team at CompliSpace. She has a diverse background and previously worked in large commercial and NFP organisations within the finance, superannuation and Catholic education sectors. During the national roll out of a learning software project for CompliSpace over the past two years, Rochelle has assisted schools develop a centralised professional learning model, optimise their learning strategies and manage change in a phased approach. Rochelle loves change, has a Masters in Politics, is a qualified practitioner of Change and Project Management and, in her not-so-spare time, enjoys writing!