When the Scottish Government challenged the educational profession to reduce the attainment gap and achieve equity in educational outcomes, Fife Council responded by creating a number of special teams, one of which was the Fife Pedagogy Team – a community-based professional learning group that works collegiately with teachers to enhance the skills to better support the learning of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Fife Pedagogy Team is a great example of a learning community that has been established to support and lead the learning of other teachers.
Established four years ago, the Fife Pedagogy Team consists of 10 teachers and three pupil assistants who have been seconded to work full-time on the project. Their aim is to go into schools serving the most disadvantaged communities and help to build support and capacity for teaching and non-teaching staff to enable them and their school leaders to reduce the attainment gap across the region.
The team has developed professional learning training in literacy, numeracy and nurturing, but Team Leader Shirley Donaldson said the foundation stone of all this work is nurture: “Teachers need to build attuned and attached relationships with young people that come into the school so they feel valued and safe, and are therefore ready to learn.
“Some of our most vulnerable children and young people experience difficulties in their home life, so coming to school is very challenging for them and they might not be in the right frame of mind to learn. “But there’s lots we can do to help them be ready to learn, so this focus on nurturing relationships is very important. Our approach is very much evidence-based and we learned a great deal from Glasgow City Council, which has used this practice successfully for a number of years.”
Teachers have opportunities for professional dialogue and reflection on the impact of a number of strategies during training including de-escalation and restorative approaches aimed at helping children to build a shared language around how they deal with conflict. Additionally, teachers have the opportunity to drill down into the impact of attachment issues that children from vulnerable situations can have where trust is lacking – which makes teaching and learning very challenging.
The Team leader added: “These nurturing strategies will be used by teachers throughout their lessons to help build mutually trusting relationships with the pupils. This is the bedrock of effective teaching practice, and it helps children to be ready to learn.”
The Fife Pedagogy Team uses different models of working with teachers across Fife, but the principle one is the 12-week intensive engagement model, which is employed in three to four schools during a school term.
And intensive is what it is all about: each teacher in the school gets their own professional learning partner from the team who not only teaches their class to allow them to attend training, but also plans a collaborative lesson based on the pedagogical approaches explored in training.
Shirley said: “This helps our team members get to know their partner teachers’ classes and the children they are working with – we almost walk in their shoes for a period of time.
“After the training, the team member will engage in a professional dialogue with the teacher on how the training will impact on their class and their teaching approach. They will then collaboratively plan a lesson – using the ‘lesson study model’ – that will be delivered the following week.”
During these lessons teachers will observe how the teaching approach impacts on two individual ‘hard-to -reach’ pupils who have been identified beforehand.
Shirley said: “Obviously, the teachers are taking in the effect of the teaching on the whole class, but they focus on gathering robust data on how the two identified pupils are engaging with the learning.
“The training, which is based on current research and has been developed in partnership with colleagues in other local authorities, has been proven to support engagement with all learners, as well as the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach pupils. This represents excellent pedagogy that can make a real difference.”
Improvements in pupil engagement are measured in a return visit four months after the initial training and also compared with baseline assessments in literacy, numeracy and nurture for the school that the Fife Pedagogy Team use with pupils at the beginning of the engagement.
Over the years there has been a general improvement in pupil engagement with their learning.
Rosemary Delargy, Professional Learning and Leadership Development Officer for Fife, said: “The engagement is only the starting point of creating sustainable change, as we know that changing pedagogy in any deep and meaningful way will take a long time.
“But we can see the impacts of improved learning happening within months of the initial training. For example, if we were looking at numeracy in a P7 class, we would take very detailed assessments with the children and look at specific markers in the understanding of fractions and percentages at the end of our engagement. When we have returned a few months later we can expect to see a positive impact in that short time.”
Leadership is another important component in this new pedagogic approach and the team also spends time coaching the senior staff in the schools in the leadership of change.
“In addition to training teachers, our approach involves a large amount of reorganisation of processes and systems, from planning lessons to restructuring classes; it’s important that school leaders support this change to adopt the new model of teaching.”
Rosemary believes the Fife Pedagogy Team approach is unique in Scotland, and is a powerful agent for change because of the one-to-one training and support teachers and other school staff receive.
“For me, the really important part of the model is how our team work alongside the school’s teachers in their own classrooms and help them put the actual training into place. The professional learning partnerships allow the entire school staff to engage with training which means everyone is getting the same message at the same time. That coordinated and intense level of professional development is almost unheard of in Scotland.
“This is further strengthened by the coaching of the senior management of the school to help make the changes that are needed to support this change.
“Just as all training models are evidence-based, the team are also very reflective on their own practice and have continued to alter and fine-tune their approach over the years from observations and experience.
“In Fife we have a huge value apportioned to professional learning and it’s that commitment to learning that is reflected in the Council’s investment in our teachers and children through initiatives like the Fife Pedagogy Team – and this makes us ahead of the curve.”
Zoè Robertson, Senior Education Officer for Research and Professional Learning at GTC Scotland, said the Fife Pedagogy Team’s approach is a good example of using an evidence-based approach which is supported and strengthened by their own enquiry into their teaching practice.
She said: “The overarching focus of the Fife Pedagogy Team is to develop numeracy, literacy and nurture skills to improve teaching and outcomes for the children in the classroom.
“While the teaching practice is underpinned by research it’s also refined by the team’s collaborative enquiry-based approach, which draws on their own knowledge and reflection into their practice. It’s all about learning about learning.
“The Fife Pedagogy Team is a great example of a learning community that has been established to support and lead the learning of other teachers.”