During 2018-19, this professional development programme has aimed to develop practitioners working in Advanced Practitioner-type roles across the education and training sector. Participants have been able to access five programme strands:
- Communities of Practice (CoP)
- Collaborative Projects
- Developing Advanced Practitioners 3-day CPD programme
- Advanced Practitioner Toolkit
- National Advanced Practitioner Conference (March 2019)
More details on these strands on this link:
Having played a small role in the programme, training up the Collaborative Project Leads and some AP Mentors and also working in an advisory capacity, I was fascinated to see what had emerged from the work to date in different settings. I work widely in the sector to set up, train and mentor Advanced Practitioner/coaching teams and welcome this national focus on exploring and reflecting on the role in a coherent and structured way. I think AP/coaching teams have much to gain and learn from each other and that the connections and opportunities to collaborate fostered in this ETF programme can lead to significant development in the role. Since the national conference on March 29th2019, it has been interesting to reflect on what I have heard about the benefits of being part of this national project and what the broader context of the programme has brought to the APs involved in it.
What were the benefits of participating in this national development programme?
The national conference in March 2019 was a chance for APs to share, celebrate and critically reflect on the work in different settings this year and to focus on the key question “What difference has the AP programme made?” Conference attendees could attend workshops for an in-depth look at findings from several organizations and also participate in Action Learning Sets and a Thinking Environment Evaluation. There is also a formal impact analysis and evaluation process in place to provide further insights on the effects of this programme in its different contexts.
In presentations and informal conversations there were many personal insights from a range of Advanced Practitioners about the perceived impact of their involvement in the national development programme. These comments clustered around recurring themes:
- The power of collaboration
Some Advanced Practitioners commented that the programme had encouraged them to collaborate within and between the partner organizations in more depth and detail than may have happened without the impetus of the programme. Several mentioned that the collaboration was particularly rich and deep where some prior relationship already existed to build upon, e.g. a TLA Head and a Quality/Development Lead who knew each other before the programme started.
Some Advanced Practitioners reflected on the collaborative elements of the programme (online communities; action learning sets; collaborative projects) and noted how they gained confidence, reassurance and ongoing support from others in a similar role. Advanced Practitioners and coaches are generally a small group of staff within any organization and can lack external contacts with a similar remit and challenges, so the chance to share, reflect and problem-solve with colleagues in this way is a valuable experience. In some settings, APs can even experience a feeling of isolation, so the different opportunities to connect with others on this programme have clearly been valued. The conversations people had experienced seemed to boost confidence, refine thinking, foster creativity and lead to solution-focused next steps.
- Creating a space for work
A common challenge for coaches and Advanced Practitioners is finding the time and space for the developmental work they want and need to do with colleagues. Finding a timetable slot when teachers can meet as a group is very difficult in many settings; Finding aligned free periods with the coachee you want to support 1:1 can be impossible; Sourcing a confidential physical space for developmental conversations can prove demanding. APs and coaches are often fighting to develop their role in contexts that do not prioritize non-classroom interactions at any time in the working week. Classroom usage requirements, provision timetabling and other operational forums trump developmental space time and time again, making it very difficult for many AP networks to operate effectively. Supportive and enabling leaders make a significant difference to APs’ access to space and time in their context.
In this environment, a national project such as the Professional Development Programme for Advanced Practitioners helps to create time, space and impetus for development work to happen. Several APs highlighted the fact that this programme has been a catalyst for the development of an initiative that they had in mind but could not previously implement. Others commented on the value of working on a national programme, in terms of the visibility that work has inside the organization and across partnerships. Some APs found that its national programme status had encouraged managers and leaders to engage and support them more actively than on previous initiatives.
APs on the programme were devising developmental projects in their settings leading towards end project reports and dissemination in March 2019 at the national conference. This overarching timeline helped to focus the planning process and fostered some momentum across the year. In a matter of months, AP teams set up a range of initiatives, including Open Door Teaching Week, Triangles of Excellence, action research cycles, Good to Great initiatives, champions in maths and English, video capture for self-reflection and observation, teacher-led learning walks and so on. Many development projects, battered by other operational priorities, under-resourced and fighting for air, can drift, lose focus and never reach a conclusion, let alone an outcome. The structure and status of a national programme can be helpful in tackling those issues.
Even small pots of national project money can make a huge difference to the viability of development work in these times of austerity. The funding for the larger collaborative projects between partner organizations enabled APs to arrange cover, network outside their setting, attend external events and invest in key resources. The benefits and impact of this funding should not be under-estimated and was highly valued by the APs I met.
- The benefits of project management
The Professional Development Programme for Advanced Practitioners was planned and implemented using a range of project management approaches. As a qualified project manager, leading the training of the Project Leads on the collaborative partnership projects, I noted the value of these approaches.
The collaborative partnership projects each had a Project Lead who attended two days of face-to-face training on project planning and implementation, with additional support through two webinars at key points in the project process. Mentors supported the Project Leads over the life of their projects using coaching and mentoring approaches. This structured development and support over time encouraged the Leads to focus on:
- Scoping out the project and identifying desired outcomes
- Identifying stakeholders for their developmental projects
- Clarifying roles and responsibilities for APs and others
- Planning the project timeline
- Engaging stakeholders and communicating with them
- Identifying and managing risks
- Trouble-shooting issues
- Monitoring progress over time
- Capturing outcomes and benefits of the projects
The programme of training and webinars enabled the Leads to support each other with planning, trouble-shooting and reflection. Coming together as a full group of Project Leads created rich opportunities for thoughtful dialogue and honest conversations about challenges and glitches. As they were leaving the training, Leads would often highlight the creative and solution-focused energy in the session and how the input on project management and their conversations with colleagues had helped them develop their own thinking about next steps. Their confidence in delivering projects seemed to develop through the life of the programme.
As the trainer/presenter of these sessions, the increase in participants’ confidence and clarity about their projects between day one and two of the training was marked. Projects in the FE sector can often fail in great part due to the lack of focus on planning and implementation skills, so it was an insightful step to include the development of project management skills in this programme.
Next steps with the AP development programme
At this stage, dissemination in event form was limited to attendance by the current AP group at the national conference in March 2019. Fortunately key learning points from the work to date on the programme will be shared through reports/case studies and I am sure each organization will be sharing their findings through networks as well. At the conference we also heard the exciting news that the Education and Training Foundation will be funding a second phase of the work, involving both experienced and new APs.
The attachment linked here outlines the next phase of the project for 2019 and 2020 and includes application forms to join the various strands. If you have problems downloading this attachment, Joss Kang is the project leader @JossKang on Twitter or via email firstname.lastname@example.org
Congratulations to all the APs, Project Leads, Mentors and the Project Teams at touchconsulting and CETTAcademy for such an exciting and creative programme. It will be very interesting to see how the current projects evolve next year and how the APs develop further as they embed the work they have started in this phase of the programme.