Professional learning communities are the best spaces to fast track professional development



The SMT of St Mary''s RC engrossed in their diagnostic activity. Maureen Jacobs, Head of Blouvlei LSEN, hosted our Session 1

 This week ANA test papers were placed under the microscope again by our SMTs. We had set up SMT clusters formed by 3-4 school teams. Our aim, as action researchers, was to analyse why the majority learners responded so poorly to certain questions in the ANA tests that were written at the end of last term. The schools had already graded the papers and all our schools had done their analysis based on their learners’ performance at the various levels of grade, phase and school.

We used the ANA maths test papers as our frame of reference for these sessions.Today our focus was on specific questions. We sought to identify the elements in the question that may have contributed to the learners’ inability to answer those respective questions correctly.
The SMT of Steenberg Primary School that also hosted our Session 2


SMTs diagnose questions that posed challenges to the learners

The SMTs were locked in deep discussions and a healthy buzz surrounded us during both cluster sessions thus far.. Each question had to be stripped to the bone: the content, the skills tested, the structure of the language – everything! Eventually, we reached the ‘feedback’ session. And what delightful trauma many experienced in their attempt to explain why the majority of learners were not able to answer for e.g Question 22! This question was based on a grid populated with pictures. Learners were instructed to help the puppy move from one location to another and then write down how many blocks the puppy had run.

There were numerous attempts to shift the focus to external elements rather than focus on the question elements themselves.  To and fro we navigated, accepting certain elements and rejecting others. Eventually one of the colleagues said the question was effectively assessing the number line. Then all the blocks fell into place. The elements of the question was dissected and the participants reflected on their teaching practices and on the pedagogical demands. Colleagues could identify possible inefficiencies in their teaching practice without the need to defend their practices. 

We only succeeded analysing about two common incorrectly answered questions – one taken from Grade 3 and one from the Grade 6 Maths tests- although the sessions were about 90 minutes long. This speaks volumes about the time, energy and commitment required to apply this model.

Anne, one of our Heads of Department, summed up the value of the session for the participants:
"This was hard work, but I enjoyed it thoroughly and we learned so much. Many of us are stuck in our ways of teaching and we need such sessions where we can learn new ways of doing things, learning with others."

The SMT members of Harmony Primary School and Lourier Primary School are deep in discussion. Colleen, Foundation Phase CA is talking to Ernst, Head of Harmony Primary.

PLCs are a necessity

Anne is right. The Heads of school and the SMTs have to strengthen professional learning communities (PLCs) at their schools. Teachers  must collaboratively reflect and use the model of inquiry and action research to help them lift their practices and consequently, lift their learners’ performance.  Using the PLC model is incumbent on district support officials as well. 

Although establishing and nurturing genuine professional learning communities is a difficult, arduous process, time consuming process, we have no other alternative. Peer learning and job-embedded learning are the only effective routes to reculture our schools effectively and expeditiously.

The question is: are we going to rise to the challenge to sharpen ourselves and our learning organizations by actively re-shaping our practices when we engage in professional development? Do we have a choice if we wish to remain relevant as leaders?

The SMT of Square Hill 

The SMT of Hillwood



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