The benefits of collaborative professional learning: one school’s journey in learning languages

by Susan Heeps and Silvia Insley

Overview

This paper reports the development of a professional learning community around introducing the teaching of Spanish at Pakuranga Intermediate School. The deputy principal led the professional development. She realised that it was necessary to have a team of teachers involved, so that if one left there would be others who could continue with the process.

The research basis for the professional development was taken from the best evidence synthesis in teacher professional development (Timperley, Wilson, Barrar & Fung, 2007).The goal of the project was to promote school-wide capacity and build sustainable improvement in teaching and students’ learning.

Evidence for the project was gathered from the teachers’ learning conversations, and semi-structured interviews with the teachers and the students that showed the benefits of collaborative professional learning within the school.
The article focuses on the findings of the research looking at three areas:

  • The culture of learning. The teachers not only learned Spanish, they also learned about teaching Spanish at the same time, which helped them to reflect on aspects of teaching and learning.
  • Learning collaboratively. The teachers shared what was happening in their lessons, both successes and failures. They also understood better how their own beliefs about teaching and learning informed what they did in the classroom.
  • Deep and transferable learning. Their conversations about what they were doing in the Spanish classes had implications for other areas of their teaching.

The outcomes of the research not only added to their ability to teach Spanish, it also had an impact on teaching and learning, and enabled them to see how valuable it can be to work together in a professional learning culture.

This is a helpful piece of research that not only demonstrates an evidence-based approach to teacher professional learning but also shows the importance of developing a professional learning community in a school to improve students’ outcomes.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this article:

  • What use are you making in your school of an evidence-based approach to teacher professional learning in order to improve outcomes for teachers and students?
  • In what ways could this report be useful in your school in terms of helping you to implement some research to provide evidence that what you are doing and implementing is making a difference?
  • In this research we see an example of involving students in teacher professional learning. In what ways could you engage student voices in teacher development in your school?

Reference

Heeps, S. & Insley, S. (2010). The Benefits of Collaborative Professional Learning: one school’s journey in learning language. Auckland UniServices, the University of Auckland.

Further reading

Timperley, H.S., Wilson, A., Barrar, H. & Fung, I. (2007). Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best evidence synthesis iteration. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.

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