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Staff-to-staff sharing in cyberspace

Learning platform doubles as conveyor of professional development courses at Affinity Teaching School Alliance

A professional development resource page for TSA teachers created in itslearning.

As today’s teachers receive fewer centrally led professional development opportunities, schools are getting creative to fill the need. James Brown, Business Development Manager at Affinity Teaching School Alliance, explains how Affinity turned to its learning platform to create a professional development network connecting its teachers that are spread over a large geographic area. Affinity teachers share materials freely and securely, have engaging online discussions and participate in professional development courses. And they do it on itslearning at no extra cost to Affinity.

“We faced a challenge in terms of geography. Many of our schools are a one-hour drive away from each other. This made it difficult to arrange convenient professional development courses and communicate with and share resources among our partner schools,” James explains. “Our challenge was how to share things such as course materials and continue the post-course reflection and conversation following CPD events and meetings among the schools. itslearning provided the answer,” James says. Increasingly, a range of groups including charities, TSAs and private consultant led groups offer professional development opportunities to schools for teachers, school leaders and support staff, he adds.

Developing professional networks

But instead of outsourcing training, Affinity TSA looked at the expertise and resources it already had as a way of delivering professional development courses, in keeping with the role of a teaching school in advocating the school led system. “Teachers and school leaders are very pressed for time and like to contribute to discussions on social media such as twitter to access learning at their convenience. We are now creating this opportunity using the itslearning platform so that we can store and share resources and have subject-specific discussions relating to areas of expertise we have within our TSA. The key to effective CPD for our schools is not simply a one day course with no follow up contact, but developing professional networks that can continue to converse and drive their own agenda forward through continued conversation, sharing and reflection. itslearning is beginning to help us deliver this,” he says.

On-going discussions and reflection

Affinity set up courses on itslearning for teachers in all subjects. Teachers that are part of the Affinity TSA network, which includes 66 primary schools, can log on to a course and download materials shared by the Specialist Leaders of Education (SLEs) and other colleagues. Often, they start discussions on specific topics within the courses, or they create blogs to share and exchange ideas and resources. Affinity SLEs create courses dealing with topics such as student behaviour, offering, for example, tips for dealing with certain types of behaviour and self directed help. This allows them to reflect on their own practice, James says. “itslearning eventually becomes, in addition to an online sharing and content space, an online resource library. Our staff can visit the platform and find the content they need. The platform becomes the hub for conversations about subjects. itslearning has allowed us to build our own professional development network. I do not know how else we would build such a valuable tool for staff-to-staff sharing,” James adds.

Blended learning made easy

Using the platform as a medium for sharing resources compliments the platform’s pedagogical application in classrooms. Since 2008, Kibworth C.E Primary School, a cohort one designated National Teaching School and lead school for Affinity TSA, uses the platform to house its children’s online learning activities. “From years 3-6 the vast majority of lesson content is made available on itslearning. Children complete homework at home on the platform, in addition to participating in after school clubs, school council and other groups. itslearning is part of what we do, and our students really do use and appreciate the platform. It has a great user interface. It is child friendly yet not patronizing to parents who use the platform in connection with our blended learning initiatives. It is also easy for staff to use,” James says.

About Affinity

Affinity Teaching School Alliance consists of 66 partner primary schools, with Kibworth Primary School as the lead school. With partners spread across Leicestershire and Rutland, Affinity TSA uses itslearning to share resources between teachers and implement blended learning at Kibworth.

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