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Putting people first and keeping a focus on staff development

Nicola Widnall – Trust Assistant Principal and Acting Director for Professional and Organisational Development @WithWidnall

It has been a very busy time for the White Rose Academies Trust with colleagues striving more than ever to ensure that the right educational provision is in place for our young people at this strange time. As a Trust with values sitting firmly at the heart of all decision making, the reality is that now, a fortiori, we have worked hard to keep the people first – our inspiring students, our fantastic colleagues and our wonderful wider communities.

It is really important to us that our staff body feels safe and genuinely cared for. As such we have endeavoured to make sure that individual personal circumstances have been looked after as best as possible through a variety of means, as well as a spotlight on bespoke work needs, the implementation of considerate work streams and an ongoing focus on professional development.

The latter half of this academic year is so far removed from that we anticipated, but in understanding that great agility and empathy are key, staff development has not only adapted into the next evolution of high-quality, individual-centred training opportunities but it has thrived, with colleagues autonomously engaging with a vast range of developmental activities with all the more fervour.

Despite these unprecedented times, we have been determined to embrace the opportunity to explore how we can look at staff development in a fresh and new way; we figure that if we change the way in which we look at things, we can be different. As such we have grasped the chance to redesign our new normal and are unwavering in our aim to provide a full suite of training experiences which suit the individual in terms of content, aspiration, but perhaps most importantly in terms of method. The key thing is that each member of our staff body remains motivated at a time like this and we have urged staff to remain proactive and engage with the activities which they know will make the most difference.

The use of technology has been key in keeping momentum, nurturing those all-important relationships and allowing colleagues to work in a way that suits them best. We feel strongly that if we empower our staff body, listen empathetically, give more room for autonomy in professional learning and facilitate training experiences which suit individuals in a better way, that they will be more engaged and genuine learners. They will be more inspired and committed, and as such the impact on student and staff welfare, progress and outcomes will be massive.

Colleagues have accessed a wealth of online training sessions, remote team check-ins, external development opportunities, professional coaching and much, much more over recent months; consequently, despite such busy and potentially anxious times, they have been inspired to read and research into the best possible ways we can improve the learning and school experience of our precious cargo – behind the scenes discussions about all things pedagogy and how best to use that gap between stimulus and response are rife; we find ourselves experiencing a wave of growth and optimism through exploration of new ways to learn as professionals,

understanding our workforce in greater detail and building leadership from within. Our job now is to fuel that trajectory of motivation and autonomy to achieve our desired goals – providing the best possible experience for the young people in our charge.

We know that what matters most is how we respond to what we experience in life and how we invest in what matters – I feel incredibly proud to work for an organisation where ‘what matters’ is the people. The WRAT is invested in optimising not only the learning experiences of our pupils, but in those of all colleagues and with a keen eye on assistance with career visions and aspirations. There is a commitment to professional advancement and personal growth of all stakeholders, something which only features more prominently in our plans looking forward.

It is an exciting time to work for the White Rose Academies Trust and be a part of the wider Luminate Education Group. With a shared shift towards greater attunement, elasticity and the appreciation that staff skills must stretch over new and existing boundaries; very intentional conversations around career management, self-awareness, true excellence and mastery are happening from the grass roots up. We are stoic in our resolve to buck the trend of the teacher retention crisis which faces our country and resolute in our aims to accelerate development, enhance engagement with all kinds of professional learning (both in and out of sector) and boost retention so as to maximise the school experience for all. In the words of T.S Eliot, ‘We must not cease from exploration,’ and my goodness, we are both tenacious and ambitious to making big things happen in our local, national and international edusphere of influence.