Considering the three Cs of Professional Growth Cycles

By Dr Wendy Moore on July 30, 2021 in Leadership

Professional growth cycles (PGC) create an opportunity for leaders to review how teacher professional growth is promoted. Open conversations about what staff value when considering professional growth, and what further support might be appreciated to further develop their practice, are required. Such conversations can ensure PGCs are planned and created ‘with’, rather than ‘done to’ teachers.

Over the past year I have been supporting kura/schools/centres to develop effective PGCs. Through this work, three considerations have arisen as important to pay attention to: clarity, collaboration, and conversation.

1. Clarity: creating shared understanding and transparency

The introduction of PGCs has prompted a reconnection with ‘Our Code, Our Standards’. The Teaching Council has reinforced that the Code describes who we are as a profession, outlining the expected standard of ethical behaviour. How we understand the Code then influences how we enact our everyday work (the ‘what we do’), which is reflected in the Standards. A key component of the PGC model is to ensure staff have developed a shared understanding of what ‘Our Code, Our Standards’ means to them in their particular setting. Many leaders thought their staff were on the same page regarding professional behaviour and quality teaching practice, once conversations began, they have been surprised at the extent of differing views. There is a need for deep discussions about what it means to be a professional within the teaching profession, for reviewing ‘Our Code, Our Standards’ and for having conversations about how the Standards can support growing teacher practice and our impact on learners. The focus of PGCs is toward greater clarity about teachers improving.

Leaders should ensure that PGC expectations and requirements are transparent and understood by all. Outline and document internal processes clearly so everyone is aware of how PGCs are enacted within their setting (the what, when, how and with whom). A good practice I have seen is when aspects such as professional practice meetings, conversations with professional leaders and opportunities for observation and feedback are diarised so as not to get lost in the business of a term.

Professional Growth Cycles Infographic

2. Collaboration: valuing learning with and from others

The introduction of PGCs sees a move toward validating collegiality and collaboration, rather than what some felt was an individualised annual assessment. Indeed, one of the elements of PGCs outlined by the Teaching Council specifies the co-construction of design by leaders and teachers. By designing using their voice, teachers are more likely to see the ‘why’ behind decisions. In turn, they feel greater ownership of their PGC, thus leading to more authentic engagement and empowerment.

Conversations colleagues have about their practice is valuable to professional learning within the PGC model. Educators often collaborate to critique their work and discuss impact on their learners. The PGC elements outlined by the Teaching Council show the importance of teachers:

  • engaging in professional conversations to advance their understanding of their practice

  • receiving feedback to support their professional learning.

  • Professional trust and collegial support are key to the PGC design – a focus of learning with and from each other.

3. Conversations: skilfully critiquing practice

Engaging in quality conversations about practice is a key element of the PGC. The importance of these conversations cannot be underestimated; they  could be the ‘make or break’ component of any Professional Growth Cycle. Typically in schools, professional leaders are appointed because they are expert teachers. They may not, however, have skills in leading adult learning – which I believe is a different skillset that takes time and specific learning and support to acquire. If the aim is for teachers to reflect deeply and critique their practice, to undertake robust professional conversations and to hear feedback which will support their growth, then the professional leaders having such conversations will need to be highly skilled. To move teacher practice forward, professional leaders will need to be confident in:

  • inquiring into teacher thinking

  • using effective questioning

  • exploring differing points of view

  • moving teachers out of their comfort zones

  • supporting ownership of professional growth.

There is a danger that PGC conversations could be a ‘light touch’, only affirming a teachers practice rather than supporting deeper professional growth. They could become a ‘tick the box’ exercise. During a discussion with one principal about developing PGCs at her school, she stated “PGCs will support professional development as long as the conversations are searching enough”.

The change from appraisal to PGCs has prompted staff to have important conversations about what it means to be a teaching professional, to reconnect with ‘Our Code, Our Standards’ and to reaffirm that continued professional learning and growth will ensure we are the best that we can be for the learners we work with. The challenge for leaders is to build shared clarity about PGC processes and ‘Our Code, Our Standards which underpin it. Make it apparent that collegiality and authentic collaborations are valued as professional learning opportunities. Ensure that professional conversations are robust enough to support and promote continued professional growth.

As leaders navigate PGC design, they can benefit from external support. Having someone work alongside you to review your PGC design can support a deeper focus on the three Cs – clarity, collaboration, and conversations. We can tailor support to your needs, such as specific areas of the PGC, communication skills or observations. Support can be delivered in staff meetings, leadership meetings or Kāhui Ako and cluster meetings.

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