Transformative professional learning that is done “with you, not to you”

Jamie Kelleher is Head of English and Assistant Headteacher at Birchgrove Comprehensive School in Swansea. They were among the first to join the Great Teaching Toolkit on its launch in September 2021, as part of a pilot across three local authorities in Wales. Now into their second year of access, we spoke to Jamie to find out how he and his staff have used the GTT, and how they are benefitting.


What drew you to join the Great Teaching Toolkit in the first cohort of schools?

When the Evidence Review came out in June 2020, we had already identified this—in particular the Model for Great Teaching—to anchor our CPD provision around. The review was an absolute blessing for me and for other CPD leads, because it is just so accessible, and brings all of the evidence together in one place. So when Rob Davies, then at Swansea Council, contacted schools in the authority in early 2021 about the opportunity to join a pilot cohort for what is now the GTT, we jumped at the chance!


How have you set about implementing the GTT?

So first and foremost, I think trust and autonomy have been the key guiding principles in how we’ve rolled it out. We started with a more scaffolded approach, where staff needed to do the Foundation course first, and then we have tried to remove the scaffolds bit by bit. Once the Foundation course was done, teachers then had free choice to select an element they wanted to focus on.

This then helped us build teams, whereby we have at least a few people who initially chose each element or area in the Model for Great Teaching. They dug into the evidence via the courses and other tools in the GTT, and became almost our internal “experts” on that topic. We also make sure any new colleagues go through this same start, so they share in the common language and themselves can quickly become one of those experts in a team.

Whenever we now come back together for inset sessions, it’s no longer about a two-hour session of just input—what we see is really powerful conversations happening from within and across our teams, sharing their learning and what’s working for them in their classrooms, and supporting others to develop too. Crucially though, it’s not just anecdotes—it’s properly grounded in good evidence.

It’s funny, in a sense, because this is exactly the sort of approach we want to take when teaching our students—but so often, we forget these principles with our own learning as staff! The GTT has really helped bring that home.


You mentioned previously that the GTT anchors all areas of teaching and learning. How does this feed into lesson observations?

Our observations have also been built around the elements in the Model for Great Teaching, but now have a consistency that we didn’t have before. Much like in the video observation tool within the platform, the teacher identifies specifically which element or dimension they want to focus on, so the scope is really refined but still “owned” by them. The whole process is much less about performance management, much more formative opportunities to start a conversation—to highlight what’s going well, and to draw on the GTT and our colleagues to support where it’s needed.


Why do you think this approach is working for your team?

There are three things that I think really help here. Firstly, the fact that it is light-touch. Some people, as coordinators, might want to have really tight control—to track and monitor when staff are logging in and what they’re doing. The GTT deliberately doesn’t support this too much and helps hand the autonomy over to the teachers. I think this has been a really big thing in building trust across our staff. They have ownership and a real say in their development and direction, and it’s not led by accountability, but out of a real drive to support our students as best we can.

Secondly, a lot of the learning and “input” is asynchronous, but the courses in particular are so well-designed. They bring together the evidence, fit around the busy lives of teachers, and also bring to bear the individual’s context so well. Mixing this input with collaboration across teams has been a great combination so far.

Finally, it’s not about picking holes in teaching. Every single teacher will be doing loads of the elements or strategies in the GTT really well, day in and day out. In every walk of life, it’s always possible to do something a bit better, and that’s the message here too—but when those good things happen in classrooms, the GTT helps us to identify, emphasise and draw on those moments.

It’s about professional learning that’s done with you, not to you.


And what about for you as a PL Lead?

I’ve been on this journey with my team as a learner too, and it’s been so refreshing for me personally. In a leadership role, though, the GTT has been transformative in both our teaching and learning, and CPD approaches.

There have been moments just recently when staff have come to me and said “I read about this in the GTT, tried it in my classroom, and it’s working!” Given the investment of time and money, it’s seeing changes like this which really validate the approach we have taken around ownership and trust. In fact, the more I look at the fact I can’t see what people are doing, the better I think the GTT is!


Finally, for new schools just starting their GTT journey, or deciding whether to take the plunge, what would you say to them?

Firstly, implementation has to be top of the agenda. It has to be dictated by context—our exact approach might not work everywhere, for example—but the GTT certainly allows for that.

In value terms, I think the GTT represents brilliant value for money, and if I was starting out in teaching again, it is exactly how I would want professional learning to be done with me!


If you would like to speak to one of the team about how you might implement the Toolkit at your school or college, simply fill out this form, and one of the team will be in touch!

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