The Learning Partner - a new teaching role

By: Urs Cunningham | Posted Thursday September 8, 2022

The idea for the role came from discussions we had with a range of people about the best way to utilise experienced teachers who have a lot of educational wisdom and knowledge to share. We were really intrigued by the concept, and we have had the idea percolating for several years.

At Amesbury School we have a number of ways through which we support and develop our teachers. A strong coaching approach means that all teachers have a coach who uses reflective questioning to support each teacher to reflect on their practice and consider and continually develop their own educational philosophy and leadership platform. We are also aware that an aspect of 'expert teacher' can also be part of the coaching process, at times. From our ongoing discussions, our wonderings were then based around how these two approaches, being a coach and being an 'expert teacher', could be put into practice 'on the go' to help teachers develop highly effective teaching practices. 

From all of this, we have developed a role called 'learning partner'. This teacher is viewed as a member of the hub team they are based in, and they know the kaiako and ākonga in the team well. They know the current learning focuses of the team, and the outcomes the team is striving for. The learning partner works 'on the floor' in the hub for at least some of the time, teaching groups and working alongside teachers. They are part of the team's weekly planning sessions, helping to question and guide the team, and ensure that the needs of EVERY student is at the centre of all decision making. 

The learning partner advocates for the needs of students, and also focuses on the growth of each teacher in the team. They may have a small group of students who they know particularly well, and they ensure that the needs of these students are known and met by the team. In doing so, they help develop the knowledge and skills of the teachers in recognising and meeting the needs of particular groups of students. 

This year we have put the role of learning partner into action in different ways in our three teams. One team has a learning partner based in the team three days per week. Another team has a team leader whose key role is to coach and support their growth through working with and alongside them. We are looking at different ways experienced and knowledgeable teachers can be learning partners within different teams. We are currently reflecting on our learnings from the different approaches to the role this year, and we will keep growing and refining what this looks like. 

Some key aspects of the learning partner role:

- Tracking and monitoring a group of students to really understand the needs of learners in the hub

- Supporting and growing teacher capability to meet these needs 'on the go' as teaching is happening -  modelling good practice, co-teaching with each teacher, in-close coaching and providing feedback and 'expert teacher' ideas that can be put into practice in the moment

- Coaching and support outside of teaching time - helping with planning, providing feedback and asking reflective questions to help guide next steps, 'expert teacher' advice

- Delving deeply into the achievement data of students in the hub, and assisting the team to identify trends and patterns in the data, areas of strength and need, and possible next steps 

Some reflections from teachers so far

Having talked with a range of teachers about their experience of having a learning partner work with them, our kaiako (teachers) are very positive about the impacts the role has had so far, and the growth in their own practice they are experiencing. Teams are excited about the changes in practice they are seeing, and their excitement about the learning and growth that is happening is definitely being shown in increased engagement in learning from ākonga (students).  

Teachers working directly with learning partners are noticing that they are much more open to asking for help and support with their practice - not just with the learning partner but also with other teachers in the team. They are far more open to asking questions and discussing areas of their practice they would like to improve. Kaiako have experienced growth in their noticing skills and knowledge of how to help students 'productively struggle' with learning, and their in-depth knowledge of students' needs. 

Several teachers have also noticed students watching kaiako being coached and discussing wonderings they have about to keep improving their practice. As one teacher noted, 'They see real collaboration in the moment and peer coaching. They see the learning partner critiquing me, and they see me accepting that. All those things we are asking kids to do - give and accept feedback, work together, they see that in action when our learning partner works with us.'

We see the learning partner role as a really valuable part of the ongoing growth and development of our kaiako. It is really important for us to see that teaching does not only happen in one defined way; it is a complex and multi-faceted role, and can happen in many different ways. We are very excited by the possibilities of this role, and we are keen to keep exploring how this role can be used in different teams and different contexts to support teacher growth and development, with the ultimate goal of improving outcomes for our ākonga. 

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