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What a difference a year makes – reflections on the Teacher Leadership Programme

Image by Guy Hinks. See copyright and usage clauses of the metadata.

Time passes so quickly in schools. We’re constantly looking forward and, although we reflect on our teaching practice as we go, there’s often no time or space to look back at where we’ve come from. When I reflect on this same period last year, I’m amazed to think I was already a third of the way through SCEL’s Teacher Leadership Programme.

I’d decided to apply after realising that although I naturally thought critically about my on-going practice, I was unsure as to how to undertake an enquiry. Whilst I was proactively attending various workshops and conferences, often in my own time, I realised I was hesitant in committing to anything that lasted longer than a day. I often felt that simply juggling the day job and other associated responsibilities was all that I could manage. Yet I was reading and hearing about teachers all over Scotland who were juggling the same commitments but also undertaking practitioner enquiries with energy and enthusiasm. I admit to having wanted some of that! And then I wondered did I have it in me already? After all, I’d battled through snow on a Saturday morning to attend one of SCEL’s original Teacher Engagement events, so I was interested. There was also enough curiosity in me to wonder if the Teacher Leadership Programme could provide me with a balance between academic study and practical classroom experience, without forcing me to commit to anything long term. And so I applied…

Although, the rest, as it turns out, isn’t quite so much just history. Participating in the programme did mean juggling work, home and study commitments and there were times I felt overwhelmed but they didn’t last. The structure of the programme and the dedicated support from tutors meant there was usually a way round obstacles. Once I’d decided on my focus for my enquiry, I felt galvanised. Finally, there was that energy and enthusiasm I had been after making an appearance! With the enquiry, I was aware that, as with everything, what I was willing to put into it I’d get out of it. Except in reality it turned out to be much more as it wasn’t just me that was benefiting, but the pupils in the class I was working with too. I knew that was the ultimate aim, I’d read and been told that, but I had to see and feel it happening in practice to fully realise it.

What I also hadn’t expected to feel was any real sense of achievement on completion of the programme. I’d expected relief, perhaps, making it all the way through given I’d been concerned about my staying power at the start. However, I hadn’t expected to feel proud of myself and of my learners, that what we’d achieved together was worth sharing. And since then, I’ve shared our experiences with pretty much anyone who’ll listen. Our poster, which I produced for the end of programme, National Sharing Summit, is displayed on my classroom wall but it isn’t blending into the background, simply a space filler. For me, the poster continues to be a live document. It’s testament to how much I’ve grown and am continuing to develop as a classroom teacher. When talking to fellow programme participants at my table at the National Sharing Summit in June, I realised that at the absolute core for everyone was the recognition that we had done this for ourselves, a catalyst to bring about the energy and enthusiasm within us all which was tangible that day.

I’d hoped, from the start of the experience that I’d be able to apply for GTCS Professional Recognition. Again, there was support for that with feedback on my first draft provided by my tutor when the time came. Whilst the practitioner enquiry was a part of my application and not the full focus, it was absolutely central to it. The process also gave me time to reflect on the programme again and honestly consider the difference it’s made to me. The nature and content of my specific enquiry meant the four core professional values and personal commitment areas were key for both me and the learners involved. My pupils were very much included in making decisions about their learning experiences and social justice was at the heart of the enquiry as we looked at rights and responsibilities in the past, present and future. Through undertaking the programme, the enquiry provided a vehicle for allowing pupils the chance to enhance their learning about real world issues and diversity.

Overall, what I have achieved is so much more than simply completing the enquiry process for the first time, as an outcome of the SCEL programme. I developed a relationship with a class of learners I have never experienced before. I saw the class and individual learners as being unique in what they brought to both the enquiry and our discussions. I was also able to foster productive and trusting classroom relationships with them as a result.

Thinking back to this time last year, I know that without doing the Teacher Leadership Programme, I wouldn’t have seen my enquiry through. I needed the structure, the deadlines and, most importantly, the support. Without doing it, I wouldn’t now be in the position of considering undertaking Master’s level study (on top of the day job). I wouldn’t feel I’d grown as a teacher. I’m still asking questions through curiosity and now have the confidence to try things out that might help me answer them, albeit perhaps not on the scale of my original enquiry, but that’s fine too. Ultimately, as a classroom practitioner, the Teacher Leadership Programme has been a powerful way for me to seize the opportunity, and muster the courage, to enhance both pupils’ learning experiences and my own.

 

Applications for the Teacher Leadership Programme 2019/20 are now open. Further information, including FAQs, and application forms can be found here.

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