Coaching teams, action research and real improvement in teacher capacity
It is widely acknowledged that the teaching staff in schools is a repository of great skills, knowledge and wisdom. This potentially enormous resource remains largely untapped in many schools, thereby depriving educational institutions of a potent tool for improving their teaching and learning. The experience of the presenters is that careful planning of a whole-school professional learning program that uses professional learning teams (PLTs), or coaching teams, as its basis, can deliver genuine improvements in student learning. The professional learning program which is the subject of this presentation took place in a P–12 co-educational independent school, located in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.
In recent years, PLTs have provided a mechanism for tapping into the collective expertise of teachers. A common method of operation for PLTs has been for a small group of three or four teachers to meet on a semi-regular basis, identify a goal or an aim, tailor lessons to the aim, observe each other’s classes and then debrief about what they have seen and ‘coach’ each other, with a view to improving teaching practice. Certainly this is a worthwhile exercise, but an approach that lacks a certain rigour and can quickly become repetitious.
The addition of an action research component to the work of the PLTs allows teachers to complement their own expertise, knowledge, and observations with published research in an area related to their goal or aim. Drawing on existing research in the field of education adds an extra facet to the coaching component that is integral to the effective operation of PLTs. In addition, because the PLTs are composed of teaching staff from across the school, both primary and secondary, and from all faculty areas, capacity enhancement across the whole school is a realistic aim.
As schools and educators face ever greater scrutiny in their efforts to improve student learning, facilitating a collaborative professional learning approach such as PLTs with an action research component is a cost-effective method of examining and improving teacher effectiveness.
Communities of practice
Whole school (F–12)
Simon Conlan is the Staff Development Coordinator at Mazenod College, a Catholic boys’ secondary school in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs. He has been a secondary teacher for 26 years, teaching in five different schools over that period, encompassing single gender and co-educational schools.
Simon’s interest in teacher professional development was kindled during his Master of Education studies, which he completed at the University of Melbourne in 2003. He has been both a year level coordinator and head of department during his teaching career, positions which have given him the opportunity to mentor and develop fellow teachers.