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Celebrating transformational shifts in teacher practice and student achievement in Literacy

Colleen WillsLisa KayeCelebrating transformational shifts in teacher practice and student achievement in Literacy - A case note: Colleen Wills and Lisa Kaye 

Literacy teachers talkingThe development of Professional Learning Groups (PLGs) has provided vital conditions and processes to support  teachers to become critically reflective practitioners who are fully engaged in the teaching as inquiry (TAI). One-to-one conversations with teachers, facilitators and middle leaders, along with PLG conversations within small learning groups, have brought transformational shifts in teacher capability, confidence, discourse and student achievement.  

All schools are encouraged to develop powerful partnerships and communities of practice. Our story is focused on a Decile 1 school. This school has had little or no PLD in literacy for 7 years. At the beginning, (time 1), 52% of students were identified as below National Standards. Subsequent teacher reflections and the statement of variance identified the critical impact of PLG groups.  The focused learning conversations that teachers were involved in with leaders, facilitators and colleagues were a crucial linchpin for shifting teacher practice and developing a deeper understanding of their theory of action.  These conversations contributed to accelerated student achievement and the development of a cohesive learning community. At the end of the year (Time 2), 24% of the 52% of these students had moved to ‘at’ standard.

Developing deep reflective talk and Professional Learning Groups

Using Annan, Robertson and Lai’s (Teacher Talk) and Timperley’s (Realising the Power of Professional Learning) has challenged teachers to critically engage in three types of Teacher Talk; analytical, critical and challenging/change talk. Analytical talk focused on using data from conversations, observations and student achievement to identify student needs, teacher needs, and strategies teachers would use in their inquiry to accelerate achievement for a focus group of students. 

Using the Thinking tool (below) adapted from Annan etal and Timperley readings, teachers critically analysed the impact of their TAI strategies and their deliberate acts of teaching in relation to student learning, by engaging in the challenging talk of strategies, practices, beliefs and assumptions leading to teachers focussing on what they would keep, discard or refine. Facilitators met regularly with teachers to continue these focused learning conversations supporting them to move beyond their current practice to analysing their practice critically; surface their thinking, values, assumptions and long held beliefs in order to scrutinise and adjust their mental models and practice. 

Teacher talk

Teachers worked in PLG groups of 4-6 to share their inquiry.  They discussed the strategies they had been experimenting with, the impact on student learning and lastly, what they were considering throwing away, refining or developing. Teachers brought evidence from student books, video clips, observations and discussed these for 10 minutes. The next 10 minutes gave an opportunity for other people in the PLG to commend, recommend or support their colleagues from their kete of knowledge, research and/ or experience.


Facilitators modelled the facilitation of PLG’s and supported the Literacy Leader and Senior Management Team to run different PLGs. It was apparent that teachers moved very quickly from feeling that this process was just another task to be completed to becoming enthusiastic participants in their learning community. Listening to other teachers’ reflections and their analysis of the impact of shifts in practice, provided wonderful modelling and ‘think alouds’ for less effective teachers.  This widened the sphere of influence of each teacher’s individual inquiry. Initially, the facilitator shared current best practice research. By the end of term 3, teachers were starting to do this independently, sharing articles and research. Positive professional relationships evolved with the sharing of individual teachers’ kete of knowledge and research in PLG with a feeling of cohesive teamwork being developed. Charter goals were also revisited and displayed on the staffroom wall to celebrate shifts in achievement. 


Transformational shifts

Facilitators and the senior management team noticed a growing confidence in teacher capacity and discourse about their students’ learning and teacher practice in PLGs, staff meetings and informal conversations. The ownership that teachers exhibited in their own TAI journey was transformational both in their engagement, willingness to experiment, and the innovative practices used to drive their own inquiry. While there is still a long way to go, it has been exciting to see teachers making these transformational shifts in practice as they continue develop their inquiry and learning (Brockbank and McGill Matrix). 

For this school, professional learning had been driven by the organisational needs / evidence.  This had brought about some short term changes that were not always sustained. As a result of teachers being engaged in TAI, they have ownership of focussed goals that are directly related to the immediate needs of their students and their own inquiry. Timetabled PLGs have been a vital scaffold to bring about evolutionary change. This has supported teachers to become innovative in their practice and discourse to become ‘adaptive experts’.

Transformative framework in literacy

Unexpected outcomes

There were some surprises for the senior management team. The PLGs surfaced some challenges in relation to their assumptions and beliefs about different teachers - in particular two teachers who the principal had ‘competency’ concerns about. With support through the TAI process, and exposure to other teachers’ inquiries and innovative practices in PLG conversations, both of these teachers made significant shifts in their practice leading to an impact on student achievement. This practice also shifted leadership perception of the two identified teachers. As a result of establishing inclusiveness and equity for all staff, the principal noted that developing critical thinking skills required scaffolding for some staff. There was a realisation that the SMT had not facilitated or set up conditions to support this process or provided differentiated support, coaching or mentoring for teachers to make shifts in their practice.  This led to a change in how the SMT saw their critical role of senior managers in this process. 

This school’s journey describes the impact of the development of TAI growing the organisational, evaluative and instructional capabilities.

Literacy diagram 3

PLGs have become a strong catalyst for strengthening teacher and SMT capacity and inquiry into their beliefs, assumptions and theory of action.

Further information about the Literacy and English Language Learning PLD Programme is available on our website or contact Sandy Harrop.