The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Enhancing professionalism in education since 1965

Shared learning

We have a responsibility to develop our collective knowledge to the benefit of all staff, pupils and families

Avril Wilson, recently retired Headteacher of Windygoul Primary

My strong belief has always been that the people within our schools are the most valuable assets and resources we will ever have.

To ensure they themselves recognise that fact, it is crucial to build on and celebrate their expertise, skills and talents and to challenge everyone within the school community to be all they can be. The drivers within the National Improvement Framework highlighted Teacher Professionalism as key and we asked our pupils what this meant to them in our context at Windygoul.

It was encouraging to see that the pupils clearly viewed their teachers as learners. They were able to articulate what this looks like as their teachers share new learning with them, and they understand that leading learning is a shared responsibility of everyone in the school community, from our pupils in the nursery to the Headteacher.

 In my five years as Headteacher of Windygoul Primary we have worked hard to develop a culture in which professional learning is valued, with opportunities being undertaken with enthusiasm and understanding of the true and lasting impact it has on school improvement as well as individuals.

My personal commitment to the staff was that time spent in developing our shared and personal professional learning would be researched prior to engagement, demonstrate evidenced-based impact, and be relevant for our school setting, sustainable and motivating.

 Our first major collaborative learning together came through the whole staff: teachers, management team, nursery nurses and support staff undertaking the full training for Chris Ward’s Cooperative Learning Academy.

People reflected before and after each day’s training and the overall feeling was one of motivation, aspiration and empowerment to effect change. We have built on this methodology as we have created our vision for Windygoul in our classrooms, our community and in our collegiate time together.

It has helped us ensure that our learning is real and meaningful and that everyone has a voice. Within the school there is clear recognition that everyone is a leader of learning and with that acknowledgement comes responsibility and accountability. It isn’t all right to create an oasis of learning in an individual classroom; we have a joint responsibility to develop our collective knowledge and share our learning to benefit all pupils and families.

 Every pupil has the right to expect the same opportunities to develop themselves, as does every teacher and member of support and nursery staff.

 This has to be sustainable and built into our school ethos and culture. It is vitally important that the key to what we are as a school isn’t held by one person, but rather a collective belief and expectation.

 Collegiate time in school is now shared within home teams of colleagues from across all CfE levels and the building of trusted, respected relationships means that there is support and challenge in place to ensure that we are continually evaluating our progress and prioritising our next steps in professional learning on an individual and collective basis.

The shift from expecting these sessions to be a lecture or instructional, to meaningful collaborative learning opportunities has been marked.

To have the privilege of stepping back and seeing high quality professional dialogue in action has inspired me and made me very proud. Members across the school community have benefited from professional learning and to have the recognition of being the first Primary School in Scotland to be awarded GTC Scotland’s “Excellence in Professional Learning: Award for a School” is a major achievement for everyone.

 If the quality of the provision we offer for our pupils is to be of the highest level, and learning and teaching given the priority we feel it deserves, we all have to see ourselves as learners as well as teachers.

 The culture within the school recognises the importance of leadership both of and for learning and that everyone has something to offer in our journey towards excellence. As a school we have highlighted the importance of pedagogical knowledge, and understanding of literacy and numeracy skills, and this has allowed learning that deepens knowledge and understanding for our pupils.

 Teaching, nursery and support staff have built on their knowledge through their personal development and the school has provided training and opportunities to support this through collaborative targeted actions in the School Improvement Plan.

 Many members of staff have taken steps to advance their knowledge through involvement in Numeracy Academies and Authority working parties across literacy, numeracy and other curricular areas, with a real culture for learning being established.

 Currently we have two of the senior management team (SMT) undertaking the Scottish College for Educational Leadership Into Headship qualification, two further members of the SMT engaging with Edinburgh University’s new Middle Leadership course, several members of staff who have completed or are starting their First Steps to Leadership training and others who have gone on to Next Steps, a class teacher involved with GTC Scotland in planning for future Career-long Professional Learning, and another working with a SERCC project. How have we got to this point? It hasn’t always been easy.

 We have travelled from a place when collegiate time was regarded with suspicion and as an interruption to the work for the class, to collegiate time being understood as a necessity which allows professional dialogue and shared understanding to have the impact on our pupils that they deserve.

 The panel who came to validate our work for the GTC Scotland award summed up Windygoul’s position with a formula we were delighted to see coming across in the work of the school: Strategic Vision + Culture + Focus = Learning.


Avril was Headteacher at Windygoul Primary School from August 2012 and recently retired after 38 years of teaching. Avril worked in Edinburgh for 33 years and was Headteacher of Balgreen Primary before moving to East Lothian. Avril worked in five schools across diverse areas before taking up headship.


Teaching Scotland

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Editor contact: Evelyn Wilkins

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