Powerful Professional Learning – By Sarah Philp

26 October, 2018

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit – Aristotle

We are all on a journey seeking ‘Excellence and Equity’ and while there are few that would deny these are worth striving for, this certainly does not make them easy to achieve.  In the context of education, we know that what happens in the classroom matters and we have a good history of supporting teacher professional learning in Scotland.   That said, we still have some work to do and we need to make sure that we don’t get distracted and lose our focus on learning and teaching and ensuring that teachers have access to the highest quality professional learning.

Common barriers to changing our practice or engaging in learning (whatever line of work we might be in) are:

  • Cognitive overload – I’m sure we can all recognise this feeling, the feeling that we can’t take on board new or additional information because we are overwhelmed.
  • Relational trust – the glue that holds an organisation together, having high relational trust allows us to take risks, to say we don’t know and to be open to engaging in learning.
  • Accurate self-perception – the difference between our assessment of our performance or impact and our actual performance or impact.

We need to be aware of these potential barriers and actively build a culture of learning with these in mind.

Before joining Osiris Educational as Director of Learning for Scotland I was Principal Educational Psychologist with Midlothian Council.  One of the core functions of Educational Psychologist is to provide professional learning, and it has been many years since we moved away from the tendency for this to be a ‘twilight’ session on a particular ‘topic’.  We know this does not work, and we know it doesn’t’ work for the reasons above.  Professional learning has shifted away from a focus on one-off events as the main source of learning to a much more dynamic model which aims to reflect and meet the needs of all learners at different stages in the learning process.

Professional learning is only as good as the impact it leads to for the learners in our classrooms.  I guess it’s the ‘so what’ and ‘what now’ question, if we don’t create opportunities for teachers to engage with these questions alongside their learning experience then we will fail to see the impact for our learners.  There is no short cut to powerful professional learning – it needs time and energy from those providing it, those engaging in it and those supporting it at the system level.

The Osiris Teaching Intervention (one of our professional learning programmes) works with teachers to build the habit of excellence in learning and teaching through the following processes:

  • Building clarity – understanding what excellence really looks like
  • Reflexivity – reflecting on practice using video (it might be scary at first but incredibly powerful)
  • Levelling up – being clear about the incremental steps needed to ensure improvement and develop new habits and norms

We also support school leaders through a leadership programme to develop a culture of effective professional learning across their school using the key principles of what makes OTI so impactful.

Both of these programmes work well alongside the national model of professional learning launched at the learning festival in September.  According to the model professional learning should be:

  • Challenging, and develop thinking, knowledge, skills and understanding
  • Underpinned by developing skills of enquiry and criticality
  • Interactive, reflective and involve learning with others

We couldn’t agree more and we look forward to using this model more in the future.

For further information contact Sarah at
Twitter: @sphilp2 and @OsirisEduScot  Facebook: @osiriseduscot
Osiris Educational  YouTube: Osiris Educational



Blog originally written for AJ enterprises as part of their “guest blog series featuring Informed Scotland subscribers writing on the theme Making connections across the learning & skills landscape”. 

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