Verdala International School is sometimes seen as a school that does things slightly differently in Malta, partly because of our international curriculum. The International Baccalaureate (IB), the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSEs), the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) remain confusing to many families in the local context. But when we talk about student-driven learning and teaching through inquiry, many educators in Malta light up with interest.

Sandro Spiteri at one of the school’s graduation ceremonies.Sandro Spiteri at one of the school’s graduation ceremonies.

One such educator was Sandro Spiteri, who sadly passed away recently. It was an honour to work with Sandro, both as our Maltese government representative and, for a short period, as the chair of the VIS board of directors, but also as a proactive innovator within Maltese education.

His experience while working with us led him to set up a professional development opportunity between local primary teachers and our elementary school through his SALIENT initiative. The beginnings of a partnership were sown, whereby local teachers spent time in our mixed-ability, inquiry-driven classrooms and discussed the concept of learning-based outcomes. It was an honour to work with Sandro in all his roles, both as a supporter of our pedagogy and as a link to the national educational network. He will be missed for his advice, insight and kindness.

Businesspeople often express surprise when we mention how the educational network is happy to share good practice, resources and documents to support each other. Unlike in the business world, where competitiveness thrives through secrecy, educators look to learn from one another along the way.

A parent recently asked why I use Twitter, a less active social media platform in Malta. I replied it was to enhance my professional growth, gain input from across the world of innovative practice and ideas worth implementing. Twitter can be a forum of dispute but it can also be a gateway to a world of research, genius and celebration of exciting projects that can enhance our work on climate change, anti-discrimination or simply provide ideas that work in the classroom and are worth sharing.

Over the last 20 years, there has been a shift from shutting the door and getting on with teaching with a suitcase curriculum, to opening the doors, highlighting good practice and collaborating in teams around how and what to teach. The challenge remains for those trained to teach a certain way to let go of the tried and tested formula and be open to an evolving experiential teaching mode that may not always be the same routine. If we ask our students to be open-minded, then surely we need to be so ourselves.

In education, the traditional evaluation approach is falling away, to be replaced by professional growth conversations that give each teacher an opportunity to identify their individual goals based on self-reflection and the standards set by the schools. But also to integrate their own professional development experiences that might come from online courses, podcasts or innovative YouTube workshops. These goals are self-directed, not dogmatically assigned by a supervisor or system.

The concept of housekeeping meetings is a thing of the past; instead, every staff gathering is a professional learning discussion that may feed into long-term plans and an enrichment of teaching but will ultimately impact and improve student learning. Evidence-based research underpins these discussions.

Every staff gathering is a professional learning discussion that may feed into long-term plans and an enrichment of teaching

There is a move from rigid and subjective evaluation to discussion around different approaches that can be tried and tested. This may include peer observations, where rather than a regular line manager visit to tick off a sheet of standards, there is an opportunity for colleagues to observe specific aspects in another classroom, seeing how feedback is given, observing a flipped classroom in action, or seeing a particular student in another context. Through observation we can learn from each other and reflect on our own practice.

Professional development is no longer just about taking a CPD course and showing the certificate. It is about the daily conversations we have with each other, putting students at the forefront of those discussions and revisiting our practice so that we remain on an improvement cycle. Evaluation of teachers is important; however, a more palatable concept is the professional growth journey, of which they need ownership, which includes a combination of evaluation, affirmation and coaching.

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