Schools Making Professional Practice Days work for your school

Keilor Heights Primary School AP Seir Holley says her teachers have embraced PPDs. Photo: Stephen A Russell

Workload continues to be a pressing issue for most teachers. That’s why the AEU negotiated for the VGSA 2017 to mandate one paid professional practice day (PPD) per term, allowing teachers time away from the classroom to focus on developing the skills they feel they most need to do the job to the best of their ability.

Seir Holley, assistant principal at Keilor Heights Primary School, says the introduction of PPDs has had a profound and positive impact for her teachers. “The workload never ends, so just having an opportunity to get on top of things and know that you can focus without interruption has been so good for our for staff well-being,” she says. “It’s wonderful.”

Because teachers at Keilor Heights do their forward-planning collaboratively, they opted to use their PPDs individually, rather than in teams. This has allowed them to focus on other specific areas, such as creating individual student plans for pupils who need extra help, catching up on professional reading, and making headway on practical work like laminating resources. It’s also provided some much-needed time for professional development.

“We have lots of network meetings with the principal class members, but teachers rarely get that opportunity and this allows them to build those networks.”

“Some have organised to go on peer observation at other schools, which is particularly useful for specialist teachers like our visual arts teacher, who is the only one in this setting,” Holley says.

“That’s great for our team leaders too, so they can get tips from each other. We have lots of network meetings with the principal class members, but teachers rarely get that opportunity and this allows them to build those networks, which is great.”

The freedom to work on things such as individual education plans has allowed teachers valuable breathing space that helps them get ahead of timelines, Holley says, resulting in less stress and smoother operations across the school. It did take a bit of fine-tuning to get things just right, however.

“When we first started, we opened it up and asked staff to nominate any days that worked best for them and tried to give them their first preference,” she adds. “We found that a lot of teachers opted to take PPD around assessment and reporting time, which I fully understand, but we ended up with days when we required up to eight CRTs to accommodate that. And, on the days we were able to cater for that, there were challenges arising with students like behavioural issues, because we had so many familiar faces away.”

In a smart workaround, they turned to part-time staff, many of whom had returned from family leave and were looking for extra hours. They have stepped in one day a week across term to provide the continuity needed. “Technically that means staff don’t always get their first preference, which isn’t ideal, however they understand that this is the way we found that works.”

“I can hide myself away in a good spot and work through it, knowing that I won’t be interrupted. Normally I wouldn’t have time to do that other than over the weekend.”

Michael Essex, a practical education teacher at Hume Central Secondary College, says that the dedicated time allowed by PPDs has given him the breathing room he needs to get on top of marking SACs and folios.

“I’m also using it to prepare for new units of work and it just gives you a massive chunk of time in which you can get a whole lot done,” he says. “I can hide myself away in a good spot and work through it, knowing that I won’t be interrupted. Normally I wouldn’t have time to do that other than over the weekend.”

Essex has really appreciated his principal’s trust in teachers, allowing them to decide how to best use the time to their advantage. “We’ve definitely got control and even though we are a fairly large school, I haven’t had any trouble being able to lock in PPDs when I want. Also, we don’t have to report on how we use the time. As long as we’re using it to improve our teaching and learning, it’s okay.”

While he jokes there will never be enough time, Essex is happy with how PPDs ringfence a significant block of time away from normal duties. “It’s a lot better than getting one period off a week or an extra hour of non-contact time, which would just disappear.”

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