Authentic Professional Learning in the school workplace. A Leadership Perspective.

Stefan McElwee             George Stephenson High School

It is a widely held belief amongst professionals in a wide spectrum of professions that we continue to learn during our working lives. Learning is a continual process of development linked to professional and social context, both within and outside of the workplace environment.  It might be viewed that this is a challenging assertion which stimulates further investigation within the busy school environment.  Can we assume teachers learn or do we need to investigate carefully what conditions exist or can be created to facilitate authentic professional learning?

This blog summarises the thinking and feelings of a Leadership team in a secondary school in Newcastle-upon Tyne on professional learning. As an Assistant Head Teacher with a responsibility for learning in school, I wanted to probe the subject further. The rest of the team agreed and so we read. The reading process alone was wholesome as our agendas often focus on the routine or strategic management of the day to day operational material which demands much of our time.  Through reading academic research findings on the subject we uncovered a stimulus, a developing need to reflect on this important, yet often neglected subject.

The first challenge was to establish the clear difference between the traditional didactic delivery of content which is common in CPD environments, and the potential to create alternative environments in the workplace that allow authentic professional learning to flourish. The work of Ann Webster-Wright (2009) summarises this distinction and argues for a conceptual change towards a new form of professional learning based on two decades of research across professions.  This article was introduced to me through my participation in modules related to coaching and mentoring for teacher development, in the School of ECLS, at Newcastle University.

As a leadership team, our conversations quickly turned to our “performativity” agenda, and our role in ensuring professional standards, accountability of practice and the creation and monitoring of measurable outcomes. Our ownership of “knowledge” linked to standards inevitably influences what we determine to be of value and justifiable to learn for teachers and other colleagues in our school context.  We feel these pressures place a huge constraint on learning – both that of teachers and our schools’ students. The uncertainty and pace of educational reform produces a high-stakes environment in which colleagues often tell us they have no time to learn.  The challenge for us was fairly clear in our discussions. We want to devolve this knowledge ownership and to provide an infrastructure for teachers to take ownership of their own learning in an environment which supports authentic professional learning.

This key aim led our thinking to the consideration of the contextual factors that make our school a unique place of learning for those operating within it. We have considered the importance of context to the learning of our pupils for years but have never really reflected on it for the learning potential of our staff.  How well do we create and support a learning culture in our school?  We feel we are establishing an environment supportive of authentic learning as established through research findings. We strongly believe in communities of enquiry. Our staff learn together in collaborative groups where teacher talk draws on critical reflection based on experience. We are comfortable and confident in our teachers as participants and not spectators in the learning process. Much of what staff tell us reflects the notion that teacher ownership of a hunch or problem is essential to actively engage professionals in working on genuine problems.  We discussed the crucial component of ensuring our teachers have time to reflect on their problem-solving to transform experience into learning.

We feel strongly that our action research cycles meet many of the criteria of authentic professional learning, but there are areas we need to probe further. Our thinking takes us towards the purpose of learning. Should it be represented in activities that are amenable to outcomes?  What do we count as legitimate knowledge? Do teachers have a say in this and how do we justify our decisions in a standards-driven framework?

We have concluded that teacher ownership of learning is a key component, some needs to be negotiated yes, but authentic learning challenges leadership structures to consider the “lived experience” of our colleagues. The social complexity of their position in the workplace potentially drives their assumptions of practice and how they “feel” about their own learning.  We are considering sociocultural factors very carefully. Our follow-up work will now focus on establishing how we can involve our teachers in the learning process and how we can further exploit the supportive contextual factors that have allowed the first tentative steps in authentic professional learning to occur in our school.


Webster-Wright Anne, Reframing Professional Development Through Understanding Authentic Professional Learning. Review of Educational Research. 2009 79: 702   published 25 February 2009.

Stefan McElwee is Assistant Headteacher and George Stephenson High School which is a Teaching School with both ECLS and CfLaT (Newcastle University) as strategic partners.  Stefan is currently completing the M.Ed in Practitioner Enquiry (Leadership) programme at Newcastle University.

Hello and welcome to the Education blog from the School of ECLS, Newcastle University.


The staff and students in Education conduct research in a range of areas, and this blog offers them opportunities to share this informally.  If you read on you will see contributions from research staff such as those in our research centres, reflections on our taught programmes from both students and staff, and posts from our students and visitors on learning that goes well beyond the university itself.  If you would like to contribute a blog post please contact your programme leader.  We look forward to continuing to build this blog as a living archive of educationally interesting posts.

Going beyond the information given


During November 2015, twenty-five academic colleagues from universities across Kazakhstan undertook a study visit to Newcastle University.  The visit was hosted and facilitated by staff from ECLS and managed through the North Leadership Centre.  Our visitors had a busy schedule of taught sessions and workshops during which they were offered insights in to a wide range of academic practices.  At the same time, the visitors experienced British life – both in Newcastle and further afield.  Every day was an opportunity for learning, but what have they learned and what difference will it make in their own work and in development of Higher Education in Kazakhstan?  One session was about blogging for academic development and communication.  Here in their own words is a blog post written collaboratively in that session. Writing in English they reflected on their experiences and possible outcomes, helping us make sense of how they are “going beyond the information given”.

Professional development


Meiramgul Mukhambetova, Aizhan Mamyrbekova, Gulsara Turguntayeva, Saltanat Nyshanova, Gulsim Tulepova

In education the term professional development can be used in reference to a wide variety of specialized training. To be professionally developed teachers should improve their professional knowledge, skills, competence and creative activity. In practice professional development for educators encompasses an extremely broad range of topics and formats. It would be helpful, for example, to work with colleagues in professional learning communities to develop teaching skills. This might help us to develop collaborative courses that are taught by teams of two or more teachers. We would like opportunities to be professionally developed to increase our teaching skills by using different types of learning technologies. All of the aspects which we learned about in Newcastle, such as constructivism, critical thinking, working in small groups, microteaching and online learning are priorities for our professional development. Our learning will have an impact on our own students’ learning and future success. To succeed we should improve our professional development step by step.


Microteaching 3 Nov 15 - 2

Dana Jantemirova, Bibenur Baidalinova, Galiya Suleimenova, Laura Butabayeva

Today I want to tell you about my microteaching experience at Newcastle University. It was amazing!  Many thanks to our tutors: Anna Reid and Alina Schartner

And what is microteaching you ask me?

Microteaching required us to present to our colleagues a short episode of a lesson of our choice.

We discovered that it is an excellent way to understand your teaching techniques not only “inside” but more important “outside”. Microteaching pushed us to leave our comfort zone because our everyday practice means the interaction with our students a lot and we cannot observe ourselves. In this case it is possible to improve our teaching practical skills.


How does it work?

Colleagues gather in one small group and one of them presents the short episode of his lecture or seminar (or something else) and during the lesson colleagues behave as students.  The group then all evaluate his style of lesson, his techniques of teaching. In this way we improve our interactive skills.

How can it be used in our future?

We should share the experience for improving the teaching quality of our colleagues.

At the end, we understood that using microteaching experience will be useful for our colleagues to improve their interactive practical skills, interpersonal relationships and making their lessons more effective.


Gulshat Abugaliyeva, Laura Oilybayeva, Marianna Dyachuk, Aliya Seraliyeva

Assessment is used to know what the student’s skill level is in the subject. It also helps the teacher decide how to explain the material more efficiently.

There are many aims of assessment:

  • selection
  • motivation
  • improvement the process of education
  • feedback
  • control

We believe that assessment must be clear and give understanding for all students.

Summative and formative assessment are often referred to in a learning context as assessment of learning and assessment for learning respectively. Assessment of learning is generally summative in nature and intended to measure learning outcomes and report those outcomes to students, parents and administrators. Assessment of learning generally occurs at the conclusion of a class, course, semester or academic year. Assessment for learning is generally formative in nature and is used by teachers to consider approaches to teaching and next steps for individual learners and the class.


Formative assessment is generally carried out throughout a course or project. In an educational setting, formative assessment might be by a teacher or the learner, providing feedback on a student’s work and would not necessarily be used for grading purposes. The formative assessments aim to see if the students understand the instruction before doing a summative assessment. A common form of formative assessment is diagnostic assessment. Diagnostic assessment measures a student’s current knowledge and skills for the purpose of identifying a suitable program of learning. Self-assessment is a form of diagnostic assessment which involves students assessing themselves.

Summative assessment is generally carried out at the end of a course or project. In an educational setting, summative assessments are typically used to assign students a course grade. The summative assessments are made to summarize what the students have learned, to know if they understand well. This type of assessment is graded and often counts, it can be in form of tests, final exams, projects, etc. Assessments are important because they decide if the student passed or failed the class. If teachers only do summative assessments, the learners will know how well they have done too late. The importance of pre-assessment is to know what the skill levels of a student are before giving further instructions. Giving a lot of feedback and encouraging are other practices.

When we come back to Kazakhstan we will use all of information which we learned in Newcastle University. We are interested an assessment and mainly formative assessment. Before doing any work (task) with students we give them criteria of assessment. Formative assessment will helps us to improve motivation for learning the subject and to use it in future.

Online learning: taking the borders away make learning everlasting


Aidar Aitkulov, Khamit Sarsenbayev, Beibyt Temirbekov, Murajan Aslanov, Zukhra Abdrakhmanova, Tatyana Kim

The session was devoted to online learning which was presented by “Queen of Moodle” in Newcastle University – Eleanor Gordon. The first thing she asked us to do was to name the online tools we work with. The point is that most of the participants are not acquainted with online tools which may be used for both learning and teaching. Then we were given the challenge to find the information about different online tools we are not familiar with. They were chosen by Eleanor and also it was her initiative to form the groups we were going to work in.  For example: Onenote, Mind42, Twitter, Wikispace, WordPress, Moodle. We found it interesting that we were allowed to use GOOGLE.


Having discovered the information we were able to share it and discuss in special chats which are still in our online profiles. And also we took part in an online forum.  We came to conclusion that different online tools are used for different aims: either you use it for communicating with your peers or students. The discussion occurred about the advantages and disadvantages of online learning.

One part of the participants spoke about the following advantages:

  • It may saves time to get to your teacher or students
  • It helps to cover the wider number of students, much more than a room may include
  • It is more interesting for students to use up-to-date electronic tools
  • They may navigate on both computers and mobile devices anywhere and anytime

The second one had these arguments:

  • Online learning and teaching takes time
  • It is impossible to concentrate on one theme
  • If there is no electricity then online learning is over.
  • Is harmful for our eyesight
  • No communication face to face without seeing the emotions and the language of the body
  • Students may cheat


Some items were really controversial. And the discussion was really hot.  We discussed how to transfer these tools into our own teaching contexts. We aim to implement at least one online tool in our teaching. And so there are still many things to ponder over. There are the things that may “surprise, confuse and inspire” us. And it is only your choice either use it or not.  We hope that this session will be a kind of beginning of taking the borders away to teach and learn.

Peer observation


Aktorgyn Agisbayeva, Gulzhanat Baigudanova, Ainura Amirova, Ulbossyn Kanseitova, Aigul Uteshkaliyeva, Gulnar Mukusheva

Peer observation is a process of teaching which mutually enhances the quality of teaching. It is cyclical, reciprocal and iterative process. We will consider this using the following questions such as who, why, what and how. To support peer observation a short workshop should be scheduled before the paired members of staff undertake observation to discuss demands, areas and methods of observation and teaching.

  • Who should participate in the observation? We believe that senior and junior staff and also the head of the department should be involved.
  • Why use peer observation? It is for own professional development and giving feedback (self-analysis, analysis of observer and some evaluations of the head of the department).
  • How should observation be done? It should be taken into consideration post observation discussion for observer and for teacher. Both of them should have the plan: the teacher should have the lesson plan and observer should have observation plan. All of these things under the discussion should have the exact criteria of observation.
  • What should be observed? Contemporary methods of teaching any subject and also improvement of students’ knowledge.
  • When should observation happen? Peer observation must be done according to the schedule. The scheme operates for all teaching staff (both on full and part time students) other than those on probation for whom arrangements for observing and evaluating teaching process.

We would like to say that using peer observation is necessary and useful for members of the department. We’ve come to the conclusion that there needs to be a mutual understanding and trust between peers.


The themes that the course participants have reflected upon above provide an indication of the areas of professional and pedagogic practice that they feel they have scope to develop in Kazakhstan.  We wish the participants well in their ongoing work and look forward to meeting more of their colleagues later this term.


Abi Henry, Mathematics School Direct PGCE trainee, reflects on our recent SEND Conference.

The day started with an informative session from Newcastle School Improvement Services about the massive legislative changes that have taken place within SEN from September 2014 as part of the Children’s and Families Act 2014.  This clearly laid out the responsibilities and expectations on teachers to support all children.  It is good to understand the framework in which the profession we are training for sits.


This was followed by 4 workshops to explore differing needs and how best to differentiate a lesson to ensure the needs of all pupils can be met.  The sessions were varied in their content but also their delivery which would have suited most learners.


The speakers were well informed and generous with their time and knowledge.  They used good techniques to make us consider how if feels to be a child with SEN and what measures we can take to alleviate the daily stresses they may feel.  We all have a  responsibility to make sure school is a positive and pleasurable opportunity for young people who are far more likely to learn if they are happy.


In terms of what I will take away and plan to try out over the coming weeks:

  • Plan your lesson for the children and then add the subject specific information to the lesson
  • Have ‘Secret Heros’ – when on yard duty give a child what appears to be a random fact to a question you will ask in a later lesson – it allows all children to succeed and build confidence answering questions in the classroom.
  • If a child needs a worksheet printed in a certain colour just print them all in that colour; don’t single them out.
  • Use word to check the readability of the work you produce (the +5 rule).

Thank you to everyone for organising!