12 top tips to make the most of the new PLD system

The world of Professional Learning and Development (PLD) is changing dramatically – signalling a really exciting opportunity for schools. The Ministry of Education will no longer contract providers to deliver set programmes and allocate schools to those programmes. Instead, each school or CoL will determine the areas they need to focus on, and design a professional learning programme that really meets their identified needs. Schools can also choose accredited facilitators to support them in meeting their goals.

Evaluation Associates’ 12 top tips for making the most of this opportunity:

Tip 1: Inquire broadly – to be clear about what it is that you’re trying to achieve.

Make the most of this incredible opportunity – you’re not applying to be part of a programme anymore, so you don’t have to fit into a neat ‘box’! You need to gather the right information to figure out what’s really going on – and, ultimately, choose the right PLD focus – but how do you do this?

My recommendations:

  • Interview or run focus groups with students – what’s their impression of what’s going well and not so well? What do they think the school should focus on?
  • Observe in classrooms across different learning areas, and ask students questions about their learning – for example: What are you learning? Why? How will you know when you’ve been successful?
  • Use the student, teacher and leader capability matrices to consider where teaching and learning are at across the school.
  • Examine the data from across the curriculum. Are there any clear areas that need more attention, when you think about both achievement and progress? What does data about attendance or retention show?
  • Survey staff, or run an interactive needs analysis session in a staff meeting. What are the staff theories on what needs improving and what it’ll take to do this?
  • Consider information from parents. Have you surveyed parents recently? What does this tell you?
  • Consider your relationship with your local iwi – is it close? What are their thoughts about where the focus should be? What about your Māori whānau?
  • Review any information that you’ve gathered to share with your Community of Learning (CoL). What does the information indicate? Is there a CoL achievement challenge being formed that would make sense for you to align with?
Tip 2: Focus on priority areas, but don’t be blinkered about what it might take to impact on these.

The key priority areas that the Ministry wants schools to focus on are reading/pānui, writing/tuhituhi, mathematics/pāngarau, science/putaiao, and digital fluency.  However, the Ministry is clear that responding to an achievement challenge in one of these areas could take a range of forms. For example, if a school identifies that there is an issue with boys’ writing, they do not have to respond with ‘writing’ PLD. As an alternative response, they might:

  • Decide to look at how to create more active learners
  • Focus on middle leaders being able to have open-to-learning conversations with team members, to help shift their practice.
  • Consider how their curriculum engages boys.
Tip 3: Don’t be restricted by thinking about next year only.

PLD has historically been set up for one year at a time, which has led to uncertainty for both the school and facilitators. Excitingly, under this new model, the Ministry have said that they are prepared to consider proposals of up to three years in length. The Teacher Professional Learning and Development BES found that, typically, professional learning that has an impact takes place over an extended period of time – so take this opportunity to create a more forward looking plan, and consider the next two years at least.

Tip 4: Plan for PLD that has teaching as inquiry at the heart.

Choose your area to focus on, and ensure that ‘teaching and leading as inquiry’ is always at the heart of your approach. Through the process of inquiry, we can all learn to integrate knowledge and skills, and really make a difference for our learners.

It can be tempting to rush to find solutions to a problem that is identified, before really figuring out what’s actually happening. It helps to have someone work with each teacher to frame up their inquiry and to engage in a robust focusing inquiry at the start. Often an external facilitator can really help with this – both by meeting with, and coaching, the teacher – and also by observing their practice in the classroom to help give an external view of what might be happening for, and with, their students.

Tip 5: Plan for leadership PLD as well as PLD for the teachers.

Ensure significant shifts for learners through the appointment of a lead team. An external facilitator is likely to be physically in the school for about 8 – 10% of all school days, so there’s going to need to be momentum the remaining 90-odd percent of the time. A lead team who have responsibility for maintaining this momentum will be important.

Are you part of a CoL? If so, the in-school and across-school teachers will play a vital role in this. We find it’s important for this lead team to be coached in these roles. Lead teams really benefit from training in open-to-learning theory and practice analysis in particular. This helps them to have the conversations that they might otherwise find difficult,

When assisting in schools, Evaluation Associates facilitators often work alongside lead teachers, so they are building their knowledge and capability to lead the learning of their colleagues. To support this process, we find it extremely beneficial to have coaching sessions with leaders, to review their leadership inquiries. We also know it’s beneficial to allow time for facilitators to observe leadership practices and give feedback through the practice analysis conversation process.

Tip 6: Plan for PLD that makes a difference in the classroom.

At Evaluation Associates, we strongly believe that a critical part of effective professional learning is that something different happens in classrooms. We find it is rarely sufficient to just build knowledge through a series of staff meetings or workshops. Very often, our facilitators observe in classrooms, often using video, facilitating practice analysis conversations and sometimes modelling. We know this is important because it enables teachers and leaders to see any difference between how they think they operate (their ‘espoused theory’) and how they actually operate (their ‘theory in use’).

Time and again, we’ve seen the power of teachers deeply understanding their current practice and then being able to shift this. Staff meetings, teacher only days, planning meetings etc., are all extremely helpful complements to effective PLD, but they won’t have the impact they could, or should have, if not accompanied by a strong classroom layer.

When we work in schools, we’ll often work with leaders or lead teachers so that they feel confident doing this. This is usually accompanied by open-to-learning training so that people have the skills to conduct challenging conversations that are necessary to shift practice. In short, regardless of whether it is an external facilitator doing this, or in-school or across-CoL staff, work in the classroom is a key component of any effective PLD plan.

Tip 7: Design PLD that meets the needs of your teachers – every one of them.

You are no longer constrained to think within a specific programme when planning your PLD, so while you’re planning for the whole school, think about what you might need to support specific teachers or groups.

Questions you may consider:

  • Do you have beginning teachers or overseas trained teachers – what might PLD look like for them?
  • Have you specifically considered the needs of your rumaki or bilingual units?
  • What support do your ‘within’ or ‘across school’ teachers need (if you’re in a CoL)?
  • What support do your specialist teachers need?

Tip 8: Align your PLD plan to the strategic direction of your school.

PLD will be a strong lever to help you achieve your strategic targets.

When the Ministry looks at your application they’ll be rightly expecting to see an alignment between what’s in your charter, analysis of variance, and NAG2A reporting.

Are you part of a CoL? If so, you will want your PLD application to have alignment with the vision and achievement challenge (if these have been determined). If you haven’t yet reached that point as a CoL then it is still ok for you to put in an application as an individual school.

Tip 9: Think about how much time to ask for.

The new system requires you to identify how much external support you would like, when you send in your application. The support Evaluation Associates provides is always customised to each school – but patterns have emerged. Here are a few different models that might assist your thinking about “how much PLD should we ask for?”

You may wish the facilitator to:

  • Support teachers through classroom observations and follow-up practice analysis conversations. Plan for about three days per visit for each ten teachers involved.

We generally recommend this observation and practice analysis process happens twice a term to keep up momentum, plus for each multi-day visit:

        • Add any time for staff or team meetings to introduce new content or concepts AND
        • Add up to a half day with the leadership team for their development

We often find carrying out a round of observations and practice analysis conversations with all staff involved in the PLD at the start really helps to build impetus and helps to focus teachers’ inquiries.

  • Work intensively with a leadership team or ‘champions’ of a particular area, so that they feel confident to lead the learning of their team. In these cases, the facilitator may work with the leadership team as a whole on shared topics of interest, and then hold individual inquiry coaching sessions with leadership team members. 

Some leaders like to record conversations or sessions on video, and analyse these with a consultant afterwards. For a leadership team approach, you might want to consider 2 days per visit, 2-3 times per term depending on the size of the team.

  • Take the intensive clinic approach, where a facilitator works intensively with a teacher or group of teachers over a series of 1 – 2 week blocks. In this model, there are planning, implementation, and feedback loops.

As you’re thinking about time, also remember to factor in the following:

        • Leadership planning and review meetings
        • Leadership coaching
        • Time to analyse data and complete reports for the Ministry every six months
        • Intensive knowledge building sessions for new or overseas-trained teachers
        • Time for the sharing of inquiries (either within the school or across the CoL)
        • Teacher-only days
Tip 10: Plan for the key components of effective PLD.

Think carefully about the impact your decision is likely to have on the challenge you have in front of you – whichever model you choose or create. The key elements that any professional learning should have are:

  • A clear idea of what you are wanting to achieve
  • Time to inquire into what needs to be learnt or further developed
  • Opportunities to learn (workshops, staff meetings etc.)
  • Opportunities to practise or implement new strategies
  • Time to reflect on your practice through the support of others (practice analysis)
  • An evaluation process that can clearly identify the impact of the professional learning.

Keep this in mind, and you will have a good chance of achieving your goal through effective professional learning. Inquiry is a process that supports this.

Tip 11: Resource for success.

The Ministry’s offer of facilitator time to schools successful in their PLD allocation is a fantastic contribution. At the school level, you’ll be required to describe what your internal resourcing will be.

It is important that you:

  • Consider teacher release time. This will be particularly important if you are choosing a model which includes the facilitator observing in classes, as there will likely need to be release time for lead teachers to accompany the facilitator in classroom observations and practice analysis conversations, and for teachers to meet with the facilitator.
  • Identify a team of people who will lead and champion this work. The PLD plan is not solely about what the external facilitator will do – think of the PLD plan as the school’s plan that the facilitator makes a contribution to. What will happen when the facilitator isn’t there? It also pays to plan for lead teachers to meet with team members, visit their classrooms, and coach and mentor their inquiries.

Tip 12: Get support to prepare your application.

Evaluation Associates has 25 consultants across the country, able to help you prepare your application. All our consultants are trained in open-to-learning and are among New Zealand’s most experienced and capable facilitators. We pride ourselves on providing exemplary service, and we only hire the best! Our team have been working with the Ministry to fully understand this new process, and we look forward to sharing our knowledge with you.

Take a look at our consultants.

Our team of consultants are currently accepting invitations from schools to work with them in 2019. These spaces tend to fill up fast, so we encourage you to get in touch with us as soon as possible to secure your space. Remember, if you’ve decided that you’d prefer not to take the MOE route for your PLD, we still provide services directly to schools – feel free to get in touch to discuss that option too.

  • The Ministry has taken the time to consult with schools on this new system, and it has the potential to be a powerful opportunity for your school to get the support you need to make a significant difference to student learning. Follow this external link to see the latest information from the Ministry, which they update on a regular basis.

12 top tips in summary

When applying for ministry PLD funding consider these things:

    1. Inquire broadly to be clear about what it is that you’re trying to achieve.
    2. Focus on priority areas but don’t be blinkered about what it might take to impact on these.
    3. Don’t be restricted by thinking about next year only.
    4. Plan for PLD that has teaching as inquiry at the heart.
    5. Plan for leadership PLD as well as PLD for the teachers.
    6. Plan for PLD that makes a difference in the classroom.
    7. Design PLD that meets the needs of your teachers, every one of them.
    8. Align your PLD plan to the strategic direction of your school.
    9. Think about how much time to ask for.
    10. Plan for the key components of PLD.
    11. Resource for success.
    12. Get support to prepare your application.
    13. Contact us today to learn how we can help your school or kura

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