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St Patrick's College, Silverstream – Teaching as inquiry case study

St Patrick’s College, Silverstream has established a structure of professional learning groups (PLGs) within the college. The groups provide collegial opportunities for teachers to engage deeply in their own professional learning, using the Teaching as Inquiry model, and to transfer theory to practice in their classrooms.

The case study provides an example of how PLGs can be used as a means for introducing the Teaching as Inquiry model in a school, including the integral role of leaders in ensuring the process is focused and manageable, and ensuring that teachers are engaged. Schools could use the case study as a starting point to plan the introduction of the Teaching as Inquiry model, or to review current processes. 

St Patrick's College, Silverstream is a decile 9, integrated boys’ secondary school in the Hutt Valley in the Wellington region. The 720 students are of mixed ethnicities, with around 65% Pakeha, 15% Maori, 10% Pasifika, 5% Asian, and 5% other.

The PLG project began in 2010, led by the school’s Deputy Rector, Teaching and Learning, Jeanette Duffy. Structure and processes of the project have evolved over time, adapting to the needs and the growing enthusiasm and expertise of the staff.

Video clips linking from each section below explain the development of the project.  Go here for additional resources.

Structure and alignment

The professional learning groups have been set up to enable teachers to engage in learning as part of their commitment to being a professional teacher. PLG inquiries enable teachers to gather evidence to meet the Registered Teacher Criteria, and house this evidence in a learning portfolio as part of their appraisal and re-registration process.

Principal involvement

The Rector, Gerard Tully, was appointed to the school at the start of Term 4, 2011. He has fully embraced the concept of learning at all levels in the school, and takes an active part in one of the professional learning groups, where he examines his professional practice along with the teachers.

Collegial teacher learning

The professional learning groups are developing from a top-down, tell-me-what-to do-and-I’ll do-it model into a truly collaborative forum. Although each group does have a facilitator, and their role as leaders of learning is very important, all members of the group contribute and put their practice up for critique.

Empowerment

The PLGs and their collaborative processes have led to the empowerment of teachers. The process has given teachers licence to test their theories with colleagues, try new things in the classroom, to take risks, and sometimes to fail and try again. The opportunity to facilitate groups has also empowered many teachers; for example, the PLG that the Rector attends is facilitated by a fourth year teacher.  Time and resourcing have been invested in growing the capacity of the facilitators.

Student learning

The learning from the PLGs is translating into the classroom. Teachers have realised that the same processes that help them learn as professionals – focus, motivation, inclusion, empowerment, self-regulation, reflection, feedback - help their students learn.

How to maximise PLGs

Jeanette’s role in the project is pivotal.  The ultimate goal is to have a sustainable model and embedded culture of professional learning that does not rely on leader oversight; however, she sees the embedding of the system as a five year project, which is developing and evolving as it goes. Half way into the project, she and the school have established some key understandings on ways to maximise the effectiveness of the PLGs.

Additional resources

These additional resources are available, giving further information on St Patrick's experience in setting up the PLGs.

Find the full interview with Jeanette Duffy here, including a downloadable PDF. 

Implementation diagram from Jan 2010 to Term 3, 2012

PDF icon. PLG Implementation Diagram to Term 3 2012 (PDF 171 KB)

An example of a term structure for the PLG sessions

PDF icon. Example of session structure - Term 2, 2012 (PDF 506 KB)