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How Middle Leaders can Differentiate PD Sessions using Positive Psychology

Personal Development should be just that, personal.

Orla Carlin tested herself to find her strengths then incorporated them into her lessons and way of teaching.

Orla PD

Sometimes we have to be honest and admit that generic PD sessions at times, just don’t cut it.  Research now indicates there are many benefits of differentiated PD and ultimately if we apply it for learners, why not apply it to staff training too.  After embarking on a Positive Psychology Intervention, I was introduced to the VIA character strengths which helped me identify my own strengths.  My top three signature strengths were kindness, love of learning and curiosity.

I decided that at this moment of time, kindness resonated the most and so I started to carry out random acts of kindness daily.  I noticed how it became infectious, bringing smiles to those around me, which then prompted others to do act kindly also.  Recognising that kindness was not just monetary but could be given through the love languages such as time, acts of service or words of affirmation made it feel even more achievable and relatable.

Then came the idea were I decided to weave it into my lesson plans.  I asked students to celebrate kindness, we had a kindness challenge, we talked more about empathy and we praised kind acts a lot more in class.  Using my character strengths in this way made me feel elated and somewhat accomplished given the stress of teaching during a pandemic.  It became apparent that other teachers could develop creative lessons using their key strengths, in order to improve their wellbeing. As a result of this exploration, I feel that middle leaders can differentiate PD sessions to allow teachers more time to focus on their strengths.  Strengths based interventions can shift the power dynamics between leadership and teachers, as focusing on the individual will allow teachers to take more control but in a productive and healthy way.  
How can leaders do this? 

  1. The first steps would be to allow teachers to conduct the VIA character strengths or an alternative character strength assessment at the beginning of a PD session.  This will allow them to discover their top three signature character strengths. 
  2. Next, conduct a focus group whereby teachers can compare and contrast their results with their peers after finishing the assessment.  This will aid further discussion and help them understand their strengths more fully.
  3. Teachers can sketch their strengths following the discussion with their peers, to visualise their strengths which may give some teachers a deeper insight.  
  4. Middle leaders can then carry out short interviews with each teacher lasting five minutes, starting with open-ended questions enquiring about their strengths, which should then elicit their stories as educators and the opportunity for them to reflect.  Core reflection can help assist teachers in identifying their inner qualities.
  5. After the four steps listed above teachers should now recognise which strength resonates with them more and they can identify this.
  6. Now, teachers can lead their own professional development from here by intertwining their strengths into their lesson planning and class activities for the next three weeks.
  7. Instruct teachers to carryout a short weekly journal whereby they can jot down their progression, feelings and developments as well as student responses.
  8. Finally, to track progress teachers can complete the ‘The Strengths Self Efficacy Scale’ (Postive Psycology, 2021) which allows assessment of individuals perceived abilities and how they use them throughout their day to day life.  

All in all, PD sessions may be helpful at times, but ultimately when they are designed they are not personalised for each individual.  Investing time to allow teachers the option to improve or enhance their practice using character strengths has the potential to increase their active participation and engagement with PD sessions.  In this way, middle leaders will get to know their teachers that little bit more and essentially allowing teachers to get to know themselves in a way they may not have explored before. 

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The author

Orla is currently working as an English Teacher and conducting remote online learning sessions. She has experience with the US, UK and UAE national curriculum having worked in the UAE, UK, Italy and Kuwait. For the past 8 years Orla has enjoyed working as a teacher and has focused her efforts on developing strategies for EAL learners. She has undergone various training courses in ESL summer camps in Italy and the UK and it is here she developed effective teaching methods for EAL learners. She spent a short time training teachers in Austria for their TESOL qualification as well as visiting Austrian schools and advising them on new and emerging methods through interactive workshops. She graduated from Queens University Belfast with a 2.1 in her Bachelors, and in addition to this she gained her CELTA qualification so that she could specialise in EAL methods. She enjoyed it so much that she completed her PGCE in PCET through Edge Hill University. She is also a Cambridge Examiner for AS- Level Global Perspectives and it is through this position that she finds new and emerging themes to intertwine with her English teaching. She is highly skilled in the areas of student-centred teaching and utilises Humanistic approaches to teaching.

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