The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Collaborative Kelso

Leaders of Learning at Kelso High School share their journey of exploring an enquiry-as-stance approach to professional learning

A couple of years back, a group of teachers at Kelso High School, known as the Leaders of Learning, were asked by their Senior Leadership Team (SLT) to lead enquiry across the school. SLT believed that adopting this enquiry-as-stance approach to professional learning was important to help teachers look at their own practice and, in collaboration with others, to start to make small (or big) changes to their practice to have a positive impact on pupils’ learning.

Advice to others

GTC Scotland asked the Kelso Leaders of Learning to give the key points that other schools should consider if they want to follow this journey to develop an enquiry-as-stance approach to professional learning. These were as follows:

  • Building relationships is absolutely key – make time for this!
  • The support of SLT is a must, not just to give time for the process but also to be fully involved in an enquiry.
  • Front load the inputs so teachers have the knowledge they need to get started.
  • Don’t make it too big.
  • Keep it as structured as possible in the first few years to allow all teachers to feel “safe” in the process.
  • Try to keep it aligned to the school improvement plan but it is important that teachers have choice and can follow their passions.
  • Sharing is really important and speaking to other teachers is really valuable.

During the first year, the Leaders of Learning were given space and professional trust by SLT to develop enquiry across the school. Fearghal Kelly, formerly of the Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL), helped them to work through their first year, while SLT also gave teachers time to meet and work on the project.

Starting the process of change

The Leaders of Learning felt that the input from SCEL was invaluable as it “established a real inspiration for enquiry”. SCEL also provided a framework for enquiry which the Leaders of Learning adapted and developed into their own model alongside the resources they needed to support all teachers. They developed a framework which uses focus questions to help teachers to start the enquiry process.

The Leaders of Learning decided that the next step would be to have enquiry highlighted in the school calendar. In agreement with SLT, time was dedicated throughout the session and developing an enquiry-as-stance disposition became a school priority.

In the first year, SLT offered teachers the opportunity to form small groups based on themes selected by the teachers themselves. The small collaborative groups were initially led by a Leader of Learning who facilitated the meeting and supported teachers when needed.

Collaborative enquiry groups

Inset days and calendar sessions were given over to collaborative enquiry and teachers were deeply involved in shaping what enquiry into their practice meant to them in their classroom. Teachers were given free choice over the question for their enquiry. These themes were then put together to form collaborative groups. The collaborative groups met a number of times over the session. Each group was responsible for finding ways to overcome the difficulty of getting all members in the same place, at the same time.

In subsequent years, teachers were again asked what they would like to enquire about. Some stayed in their original groups but others opted to investigate other aspects of their practice.

Due to the different themes, the different groups managed the collaborative enquiry in different ways. For example, one group elected to look at the same question with different year groups while another group had different enquiry questions but all on the same aspect of learning. Many collaborative group projects evolved based on the literature the group engaged with, and the collaborative learning. Over time, the focus question was defined and redefined to make it meaningful and manageable.

Collaborative group meetings

Each Leader of Learning was a leader of a collaborative enquiry group. All used the same materials to structure the collaborative meetings. Each meeting started with a short presentation to prompt questions and ended with a pro forma to get teachers to commit to progressing their enquiry before the next meeting.

Each group worked differently, with the Leaders of Learning initially providing direction and supporting teachers to engage with literature around their topic through resources from EBSCO on GTC Scotland’s website, and other sources such as policy from Scottish Government and Education Scotland. As the group began to work together more, other teachers brought literature and ideas to the table, meaning that the Leaders of Learning were able to step back and become facilitators of the collaborative groups.

Discussions around how to collect data were also part of these collaborative group discussions. One group found the “Evidence of Impact” poster from GTC Scotland very helpful to understand what evidence was appropriate for them to gather to show impact on their own learning and the learning of pupils.

Each collaborative group also created a GLOW group to support each other and give an informal platform where teachers could raise questions and issues. All resources were also shared in a central area so that all teachers had access to them.

Sharing the learning

At the end of year one, the collaborative groups were asked to share their findings with colleagues. Although there was some trepidation around sharing with peers, the collaborative enquiry groups shared their learning through presentations.

In year two, all groups were asked to prepare an academic poster to be used as a reference and discussion point for a showcase event.

The impact

Although the Leaders of Learning would say they are only just starting on this professional learning journey, the initial findings of adopting an enquiry-as-stance approach to professional learning has helped to build the learning ethos across the school and facilitated teachers to share their own learning journey with each other: “Listening to different people and actually understanding what they are doing in their classroom and what amazing professionals they are does have an impact on your learning and practice.”

Most teachers are really enjoying the opportunity to work with their peers in a supportive but challenging way. Some teachers have shared their learning with their students, “the biggest critics”, offering them the opportunity to use their pupil voice to make decisions on whether an intervention has worked and/or what changes are needed.

Teachers are continuing to develop their enquiry-as-stance approach to professional learning. SLT is asking teachers to consider themes that are more directly related to the school improvement plan and how their collaborative enquiries can support policy development and pupil learning across the whole learning community.

The Leaders of Learning have become adept at both leading and being involved in a collaborative enquiry and are collecting all of the stories from teachers to share more widely with parents.

The sharing sessions although a bit awkward to start with have become a positive experience for teachers. Most now say they are happy to share their learning with their peers, to discuss their enquiry and the impact it has had on their practice and what enquiry question they will look at next.

SLT is continuing to show its commitment to an enquiry-as-stance approach to professional learning through buying books suggested by teachers to create a teachers library. More importantly, SLT is continuing to give teachers time to meet and share their learning.

More information

Kelso High School has developed a range of resources as part of its journey. These will be made available on our website shortly.