Professional Learning: the hidden tool in retaining staff

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News - 15th Sep 2021


Inspirational leaders are born. Inspirational leaders have superpowers. Inspirational leaders are exempt from challenges. 

This is the impression we can be left with when we witness remarkable leadership. Leadership, though, is like any trait —  it can be trained and developed. So, let’s explore just what it is that gives us this image of superpowers. 

Above all, perhaps, these superpowers come from exposure to high-quality professional learning. Learning prompts self-reflection. It crystallises what we need to do. It gives us the belief that we can and will have a notable impact on children’s lives. 

The superpowers we witness have not just happened by chance, they have been developed by professional learning. 

At The Harris Federation, we have a strong culture of valuing professional learning. This has resulted in many inspirational leaders at the trust and, certainly, goes some way to explaining our excellent outcomes for students. 

Superpower 1: Embedding habits

One-off, innovative training events have their place. They can be a catalyst to spark thought and, indeed, establish some good intentions. 

However, as Stephen Covey establishes in his bestselling book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, habits are what establishes consistency beyond good intentions. When we consistently operate with a goal in mind, everything we do is more efficient. 

To support colleagues in forming these habits, you need to go granular. By this, I mean frequent exposure to high-quality professional learning. Sounds simple, right? 

Well, it can quite easily be missed if there isn’t a supportive system in place. There must be a shared goal. Colleagues need to know what they are battling for every half term. 

This, alongside frequent dialogue that builds confidence and is less evaluative and more developmental, will help colleagues to feel empowered to respond. 

Leaders thrive when they feel invested in and trusted. If colleagues are encouraged and recognised for forming habits that support success, then this helps with retention. After all, who doesn’t want to work somewhere where students are at the heart of decision-making and where colleagues are invested in to build confidence and experience success?

Superpower 2: Spreading positivity, so it goes viral

There are many traits which are common in inspirational leaders and they are all grounded in belief and positivity.

A positive belief system stems from an early exposure and investment in professional learning and development. 

I know that some inspirational leaders will have experiences of poor professional learning. However, you can only truly recognise poor professional learning if you have also been exposed to great professional learning — be it from the written word or, indeed, being fortunate enough to work somewhere where it permeated the walls. 

Inspirational leaders learn to harness positivity by frequently exposing colleagues to as much relevant, timely and considered professional learning in their bid to make their school the place where you wouldn’t want to leave. Positivity is infectious. 

Once you galvanise positivity, great things can happen with self-confident practitioners.  With confidence comes the ability to embrace reflection and not get drawn into needless worry and hesitation. You then start to witness colleagues’ metamorphosis. They begin engaging in professional learning discussions because any unnecessary fear of reprisal is dispersed. 

A culture where talking about learning doesn’t just reside within lessons. It comes from a positive climate where positivity has gone viral. 

Superpower 3: Listening

Much has been written about the art of listening to identify the needs of others and establish positive connections.  

This is where just wheeling out a lot of professional learning can fall short of its goal. Less talking and more listening is crucial; enabling others to engage with the learning by allowing time to think and to question. 

How often have you appeared to be actively listening but have, in fact, been revisiting your to-do list or even thinking about what you are going to say once the other person has concluded? Do you ever contract the conversation so those taking part are happy to do so?  It is always worth questioning your listening efficiency. When looking to develop that self-confidence to unlock potential, you must recognise that high-quality feedback or group training must read the response of others from the tone of voice and body language. 

Do you revisit to see key points shared in action?  Sharing a sense of reasonableness has been proven to work wonders when improving our listening skills. If you can show that there is always more to learn, even when faced with needing to be direct, it can go some way to making a colleague feel acknowledged. Powerful professional learning includes constantly listening to the needs of those with whom you work. Most relationships deteriorate due to poor communication. 

So, in short, professional learning is crucial to staff retention. Make it valuable for those engaging with it. Say farewell to superficial programmes that neither listen to needs, connect with the common goal or are so sparse in frequency that no good habit could ever come of it. 

The School-Led Network NPQs will allow you time to think about your own development and ultimately put you on the path to harnessing your own superpowers — of which I hope the three I distilled feature!

Emily Richardson is a Vice Principal at one of the Harris Federation Academies. Having started her teaching career in 2006 as a Teacher of Geography, Emily went on to become an AST before securing a variety of leadership roles and qualifications. It was during the role as an AST that Emily found her passion for supporting others in developing themselves into outstanding practitioners who implemented curriculums that would enrich young people’s learning. 

Emily has line managed all subjects across the years in her bid to fully appreciate the nuances between subject curriculums. Emily has remained in her current Academy, which serves her local community,  for the last ten years  during which they have achieved Outstanding status,  the SENDIA Award and World Class Schools status.  

Emily continues to support the common goal of transforming the opportunities and outcomes for their young people whilst upholding its commitment to supporting all colleagues in being highly effective practitioners who ensure they are a local school of choice.

School-Led Network is offering the full suite of new NPQs in collaboration with Delivery Partners in the North East, North West, Yorkshire and London. To find out more and apply, please click here.