Embrace the Generalists

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking about how to get the most out of professional development opportunities at the Chartered College of Teaching’s Early Career Conference in Manchester. It was fantastic to see so many enthusiastic early career teachers investing in their own learning and taking the opportunity to answer questions and share experience.

During his fantastic keynote, Amjad Ali’s briefly explored the phrase ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’ and spoke about the importance of promoting teaching as a valid and valuable career option when we’re advising pupils. I can’t be the only one who was prompted to reflect on this however there was something else about that day that has made me think about it a bit deeper.

As a completely wonderful surprise, as I was sat nibbling a pre-conference biscuit and working out which room I’d be in, I spotted my cousin with a group of friends (hurtling across the room, hugging and promises of a catch-up ensued). My cousin is training to be a primary teacher, specialising in science. This is not her first career; she was previously a pharmacist, working for the NHS, with the raft of high-level qualifications necessary for this. I’ve not seen her since she made the decision to change direction and having chatted throughout the morning I’m certain that she has made completely the right decision. She’s not gone into this blind either – both our shared grandparents and both her parents have had long careers in teaching and she knows it’s not all about sharpening pencils and long holidays; what surprised me was that she said she’d always wanted to teach but had been advised not to go into it. I can only speculate why this was but I suspect it was a combination of family who’ve seen growing accountability and stresses of the profession, and advice to a highly skilled scientist who’s talents could be ‘used better’. I know that everyone around my cousin fully supports and embraces her decision and my reflections now are in no way an impression of her situation, but meeting her was one of a combination of things yesterday has prompted me to think around this.

When talented, qualified people choose to teach I think it is often viewed as disappointing. Maybe a step back, or a waste of the time they’ve spent on building their skills and qualifications. Someone who is so clever they can be a doctor, lawyer, architect, and all they want to do with their life is teach children – something that’s often seen as a back-up option or for those who haven’t got what it takes to become highly specialised in a more ‘valued’ career. I think some of this comes from the fact that in order to teach you need, with varying degrees, to be a generalist, and we live in a society that places a lower value on generalists than it does specialists.

We gear everything towards becoming more and more specialised when it comes to prestige – even in medicine a GP is seen as less important a career path than a specialist consultant. There’s an unwritten rule that you’re supposed to specialise more and more as you progress in your career; more money’s attached to it, more status. It’s a failure to stay in the same role for years, it’s stagnating or not ambitious to want to stay in the classroom and not move on to management. It’s self deprecating to admit you know a little about a lot rather than a lot about a little.

Teaching is generalist. Even with a subject specialism you need to be across that broad and balanced curriculum you’ve plotted on a twisty pathway poster and you need to be able to teach at different levels and stages. You need to be able to draw from other subjects, manage behaviour, work with data, engage with parents, and all the other things that come with the job. I wonder that one of the reasons primary teaching is sometimes seen as ‘less’ than secondary is the necessity to be more generalist.

Of course we need experts and specialists, but we need to value the generalists just as much. I have a sneaky suspicion that the specialists we place so highly would be rubbish at it. Generalism is a skill and a talent. To be an excellent generalist you need to be across a wide range of expertise and we need to value people who can do this across all the demands teaching requires – whether that’s being able to work across three different sciences from Year 7 to 11 or have an in-depth knowledge of twelve novels; understand not only the intricacies of a subject, but the appropriate level of intricacy for each of the pupils you teach.

In my presentation I discussed making decisions about interests and the direction of your career, but I started with a firm declaration that it is 100% OK to be a classroom teacher for your whole career. As long as teachers continue to develop and hone their practice, it shouldn’t be a bad thing to not want to specialise. We need generalists just as much and the people who do this best should perhaps been seen as a different type of specialist.

Maybe there’s an element of truth in the whole ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’. Maybe though it’s that ‘those who can hold the expertise and professional judgements essential to be a generalist, do; those who can’t manage to be a generalist need to focus on one thing really well and make sure they pass on their bit of expertise to the generalist’.

I’ll admit it’s not as catchy.

CPD Leadership (The Webinar That Wasn’t)

Due to a small amount of technical gremlin activity my participation in the Teacher Development Trust webinar on CPD leadership yesterday didn’t quite go as planned but it was good to take a step back to prepare for the questions I would’ve been asked so I thought I’d pop some of my responses here.

I was in the second cohort of the Teacher Development Trust Associate in CPD Leadership course last summer and whilst I did it to kick off my role as Learning and Development Lead for our Trust, I focused on my own school for the purposes of the course.

What are the key readings for CPD leaders?

There’s something out there to suit everyone’s taste, but to be honest I don’t think you can go too wrong using the 2016 DfE Standard for teachers’ professional development as a starting point. It distils the key research down into an easily usable format and I’ve come back to this again and again over the last year. If you’re leading CPD and haven’t got the funds to use external guidance or don’t feel experienced to delve into the research, this is an excellent place to audit what you’re doing, plan from different points of view, and check yourself against. I wouldn’t advocate stopping there so I’ll actually cheat with my recommendations a bit and say to look at the references to follow up a few links, particularly the Developing Great Teaching report (and since the Standard’s publication there’s been the Developing Great Subject Teaching report), and I should also mention Unleashing Great Teaching which I’ve plugged before but it really is like a text book for the course.

I looked at a lot of research for my project, following references down rabbit holes. It was useful to identify areas of need particular to our school like vocational education and find research more bespoke to us, and I found work that centred on change management useful, particularly Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott and this paper (pdf) by Stouten et al (2018) that allowed me to work through how the process might happen for us.

In terms of research that changed the way I was thinking, Kennedy’s 2016 paper ‘How does professional development improve teaching?‘ is fantastic for starting to challenge some of the other key readings (which reference a lot of the same stuff, and sometimes each other) and prompted me to focus my ideas on individual levels of need, and look at what other research was saying in terms of that. I think my entire assignment could’ve been on this angle but word count (thankfully?) stopped that and things I’ve written about since (here, here, and here) have all stemmed from me linking this paper to some of David and Bridget’s work in Unleashing Great Teaching. I got properly into it.

How can leaders assess the effectiveness of their current CPD programme?

Talk to people.

Gaining an overview from different perspectives (all staff, not just teachers) is crucial. Assuming ‘effective’ will be a mixture of how it matches the list of features of good CPD and whether it’s doing what you wanted it to, you will need to run some sort of audit and decide whether to go for an external (independent but costs) or internal (watch out for bias but free) process. I had the benefit of access to the TDT online survey and triangulated these results with 1-1 interviews with staff across school and a document search – but you’ll know where to get information in your own setting and once you’ve spoken to people you should have an idea of where to find the rest!

I found the interviews particularly revealing. There were powerful comments that highlighted just how far we’ve got to go and pockets of expertise and interests that came to the fore. I was grateful that everyone I spoke to was so open and trusted me with their (at times intense) opinions. Since completing the course I’ve repeated the audit process with the PRUs in our trust and used a similar format (swapping the TDT membership survey for one I created based on the TDT framework) and once again the interviews proved the most insightful element, including one member of support staff revealing she is doing a secret degree.

How did the learning from readings and assessing current CPD provision inform your CPD plans for the coming year?

For me, everything pointed to culture. Without building a culture where CPD is valued and people know they are expected to invest in their own learning, anything I tried to implement would be temporary. In addition to this I also looked at how we could provide more time and reduce our focus from a heavily administrative one, to a more subject specific/ pedagogical one. I worked with SLT to introduce a programme of low-stakes, independent study, and rearrange the directed time budget to add a weekly half hour of CPD in the form of a menu of sessions which have included things like journal club, presentations, individual CPD feedback and an opportunity for joint feedback on the new Ofsted framework consultation.

Implementation has been mixed and there have been times where I have felt like I’ve carried it, and I know there are some people that haven’t bothered to take part, but I need to remind myself that this was never meant to be a transformation; this was to start to build that culture and expectation. Before this year there was INSET and external courses when people asked – this year there has been CPD available every week and over 50% of staff have accessed this at some point. There are staff who are frustrated that not everyone is seen to take part but there are others who have dived head first into their own learning as if they’ve finally been given permission. This I think is success and it’s where we go next that will matter most as we need to keep the momentum we’ve built and celebrate what we’ve done.

What was the biggest learning from the programme overall?

I suppose this has been about recognising that change is a slow and steady process and the value in viewing a system from others’ perspectives. I think I’ve been on quite a personal journey with this course and it’s certainly built my own confidence and resilience in enacting change. As I start working more across our trust I’ve no doubt that there are elements that I will return to and draw from when I need to.

Why should others do the course?

Doing CPD about CPD can be a bit of a mind twist and this is an opportunity to have excellent, ‘text-book’ CPD modelled by experts. Benefits of the course are that it’s adaptable to different settings, it is an investment for both the organisation and in the person taking part, and an opportunity to work with colleagues in similar positions, with similar interests (and similar uncertainties) over an extended period of time. The CPD leadership course allows you to slow down your process, providing time to think and insisting that you are challenged. I don’t think I’ve had the same intellectual stimulation since my MEd and wasn’t quite prepared for just how much time I spent thinking about different theories and ideas.

The final day of my course was exactly a year ago today and it would have been entirely possible to have left it there, writing up my report, getting a certificate and carrying on in pretty much the same way, but I haven’t wanted to. The support from David and his team, and fellow course participants, has continued beyond the course and it has been genuinely transformational both for me and, in time, for my organisation.

Curriculum, Community, Culture and Collaboration

I accidentally went and picked a particularly relevant paper for my #rEDBrum journal club presentation this weekend and it’s got me thinking…

When I’m choosing these things I never know who’s going to come to the session and I’m aware I need to find something accessible (interests, language, and literally) and for the first time ever, due to my time-poor life, I chose a paper that I’d already selected for another conference I’m presenting at in a couple of weeks so I really didn’t know that the overarching themes of the day – curriculum, community and culture – would resonate with the paper choice so much.

The paper I used was ‘Teacher collaboration in curricula design teams: effects, mechanisms, and conditions’ (Voogt, Pieters and Handelzalts, 2016) which looks at 14 doctoral theses to establish the features and effects of collaborative design teams, and identify the mechanisms and conditions necessary for these to be successful. The focus for the design teams is curriculum and the paper sets out the effects of collaborative teams on both teacher learning (so a professional development slant) and on curriculum change (something particularly relevent in these times of everyone rushing to redesign their curriculums in the face of a new Ofsted inspection framework).

Half my work-life is now about professional development, both in our school and increasingly across the trust, and six months into our professional development changes we’re starting to evaluate how it’s going and thinking about how it’ll move on next year. Curriculum has had its place in some of our CPD conversations and it makes sense that we combine these in some way, so aside from making some general notes on the paper for journal club I was prompted to think about what it meant for us in terms of professional development and so much of what I heard at #rEDBrum cemented this.

There were a few things that struck me about the paper. It clearly comes from a place that already believes in the value of collaboration for teachers and talks about a shift in methods of professional development to involving teachers more and the increased use of professional learning communities (PLCs); commenting that PLCs are about generating knowledge of practice whereas more traditional CPD conveys to teachers knowledge for practice. I’d not particularly thought of this difference before but it seems so obvious now that all the desirable features of CPD that I’m trying to build into our model are about shifting from just giving people things to do, to getting them to think about why and how they’re doing things.

I’m familiar with benefits of collaboration including development of ownership, trust, and support for changes, particularly in forms of collaborative enquiry and models like lesson study. I’ve heard numerous warnings about schools rushing in to these structures of CPD without proper training, time or follow up and I’m personally cautious of introducing something that may amount to faux-research engagement for show. I’m wondering now about whether collaborative design is a better model than collaborative enquiry – working towards something tangible that’s going to be used and has a reason that’s more likely to engage staff. Certainly the findings in this paper seem to suggest that this could be a way of providing ongoing, long-term professional development, both subject-specific and pedagogical, whilst creating a curriculum that works for us and our pupils within a sustainable structure.

The paper nicely sets out the effects something like this can have on teacher learning and curriculum change including:

  • uptake of pedagogy
  • increased subject knowledge
  • making connections within and between subjects
  • development of curriculum expertise
  • creation of concrete curriculum products
  • improved, higher quality practice
  • systematic structure to curriculum
  • links with external providers and expertise

…the mechanisms that account for these effects:

  • teacher prior knowledge and up to date knowledge
  • level of teacher involvement
  • justification for change/process (stressing the importance of analysis)
  • focussed support
  • time to try things and adapt

…and the conditions that affect change:

  • support (organisational, process, expert and technical)
  • leadership (massive importance)
  • external (national curriculum, staff turnover etc)

I’m still thinking it through a bit really, but as a theoretical concept, if the whole year of CPD was dedicated to this process we’ve got what would probably be two whole inset days (maybe some time as twilights), the weekly half hour of CPD we’ve introduced that could shift a little, and add in opportunities for instructional coaching and expert input. It’s a model with room to account for individual staff needs and levels of experience, building on what we’ve put in place already.

I’m not saying it will happen (or will turn out to be the right thing for us) but as something providing a framework to combining CPD and the curriculum reform we need to make, allowing us to keep the elements of CPD that are working and affording the time necessary for it to work, I think there’s more than a spark of an idea so (before my meeting with SLT on Tuesday) I’m going to think about it in more detail.

There were a lot of moments in Birmingham that made me more convinced about this as having potential. Comments during the panel debate about how the process of curriculum design might work, how to avoid it being ‘scary’ for staff and how to go about building a school culture could all be addressed by collaborative design. What made me more eager to explore this was a fantastic session from Summer Turner on subject communities. Ideas about how these could be structured and where we could access the necessary expertise alongside cementing the benefits of this sort of model are all swishing round in my head now and I just need to try to control it a bit.

Obviously I’ve not mentioned everything in the paper and there are some features that make me pause for thought, but it’s a cracking read and whilst I feel bad about breaking my rule of using the same paper twice for a conference, attendees of the Habs Girls Conference are in for a treat because I’ve got so much more to discuss about this one now.

2018

There has been a lot packed into this year and it’s nice to reflect, so here’s some of it under the now reasonably traditional headings of personal, travel and work…

Personal

I suppose the biggest thing that happened this year was the loss of my lovely little Grandma in May. She was naughty and awkward and utterly marvelous. I documented a great many of our phone calls on #grandmacall on Twitter and it’s pretty special to be able to see them and remember just how tedious it was to hear the entire week’s meals she’d just bought or the clockwork precision of her calling to sing Happy Birthday the day before my birthday every year. I miss her.

We got two new twin nieces (and decided now there are a thousand of them, nephews and nieces is too long and wanted a catch-all so stuck with the ‘n’ and added the ‘iblings’ of siblings to coin the term ‘niblings’ which we shall expect to appear in next year’s dictionary). They are small and gradually unfurling.

I think quite a bit of the ‘personal’ side for this year has cross-over with the travel and work bits. Maybe more separation of those next year.

Travel

We’d said that we’d slow down the travel a bit this year but researchED came along again and put a stop to that. I did rEDHan in Stockholm again and we finally got todo the (non-open-topped) bus tour. It was all very super. The next one (conference and bus tour) was Toronto. This wasn’t planned but it was also very super. We charged around Toronto for a week looking at towers and museums and black squirrels, with a day trip to Niagara where we saw a waterfall and tried wine and saw an actual real life made-for-tv-Christmas-movie being made. Then we hopped on over to rEDOnt where there was an ice-storm and we had our first experience of being de-iced on a runway.

Our summer trip was a pretty good adventure as we decided to have a pre-Brexit blow out and go Interrailing through Europe. We did Nottingham > London > Amsterdam* (it was Pride and we saw an actual Spice Girl) > Frankfurt** > Zürich > Chur > Tirano (on the Bernina Express through the Alps on a panoramic windowed train) > Lugano (on the Bernina Express bus) > Milan* > Verona* (for the day) > Milan > Paris > London > Nottingham. I Listened to audiobooks and we ate a lot of mini carrots. *bus tour **boat tour

In October we decided that as we hadn’t done a restful break, we’d get a cheap all-inclusive holiday and went to Ibiza where we didn’t have todo any charging about or anything and it was lovely. We read and napped and completely forgot about work (which had got crazy by this point) and drank green cocktails. We did do some sightseeing (because we can’t not) but it wasn’t quite as intense as the other trips.

Work

Work has been a mix. I spent the first part of the year having conversations with our MAT Director of Education about working across the trust around CPD and research which is all very exciting. I’ve two days a week on trust stuff since September but I don’t have a job title yet so probably one to sort out next year.

I also spent most of the year completing the Teacher Development Trust Associate in CPD Leadership programme which was amazing. Obviously this fits in with the trust work, but it was something that I found all-encompassing, exhausting and thoroughly fulfilling. To work with a group of people with so much experience and advice, and be guided by the man who literally wrote the book, has been a fantastic thread through the year.

I’ve spent the first term of this year introducing a CPD programme for our school and auditing another trust school which I’m sure I’ll write/talk about next year. It’s a slow process but I’ve run a range of sessions for staff and it looks like journal club might’ve sparked a curriculum special interest group.

A slight spanner in the works has been my accidental shift to teaching all the GCSE art. I’ve supported it for several years now and our art tutor has been off long-term sick so I’ve taken over. It’s not been the most relaxing of activities (I’ve cried a lot) but my boys have been very understanding and are producing some awesome work.  I’m determined that they aren’t going to be at a disadvantage because of it all.

2019

I suppose because the final third of 2018 has been quite work-focussed I feel like there’s been a bit of a shift away from the ‘personal’ side of things. A lot of what I do away from work has turned a bit work related so I think there’s room for shifting back again. I think we’ll have a year of decorating and Bert’s going to have a new hutch.

I’ve no idea what’ll happen with work – either CPD stuff or art. I’m going to try to introduce some English revision to art lessons and see how that goes. I’ve got a few conferences booked in for the first half of the year and travel so far involves Sweden for rEDHan again (I’m talking about CPD) and we’ve just booked a Brexit-proof (hopefully) week in the UK at Easter.

As far as the rest of 2019 goes, who knows what the UK has up its sleeve. It’s pretty embarrassing to be part of it all so I hope it works out OK.

Summer(ish) Reading 2018

This is a bit of a cheat because I didn’t read all these books over the summer. Normally we go away and I have suitcase full of books to work though but this year a combination of having a mega assignment to write and deciding our holiday would involve interrailing round Europe so lugging books wasn’t a priority, meant that I didn’t really read a huge amount in summer and never got round to blogging. Anyway, having just grabbed a week away with plenty of time to read, I thought I’d get round to it. So here, in no particular order, is my reading from the summer, October and a couple from in-between.

  1. All Shot Up by Chester Himes

I think I got this one for Christmas and I saved it. This was one I took interrailing because it’s nice and thin. I love a detective and these are ones I’ve written about them before here. There’s something so ridiculous about the situations that happen in these books but the writing is exquisite. There are whole passages that serve as supreme examples of everything we try and get kids to write about. I loved it. I’m trying to read them in a sort of order but you don’t really need to (although the first one ‘A Rage in Harlem’ does introduce the detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones). I think this might be my favourite so far and there is a chase scene so perfect that I read it out loud to Howard.

2. Around The World in Seventy-Two Days and Other Writings by Nellie Bly

Well this was a find. A sort of ‘summer and ongoing’ book really. This is a collection of writings by Nellie Bly, one of the first female journalists and ‘stunt girl’ reporters.

Starting with her work in 1885 and moving to 1919, it covers some extraordinary undercover reporting where she gets herself committed to a lunatic asylum in order to expose hideous treatment practices, and her solo journey around the world to break the fictional record set by Jules Verne. Quite why she’s not more widely known I have no idea, but she was one hell of a woman and I urge you to have a look – you don’t need to read it all at once as it’s comprised of articles she wrote across her career and easy to dip in and out of.

3. Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo

It’s been ages since I read the first Harry Hole book and whilst I bought this almost straight afterwards it became a casualty of my need for small books to take on holiday I think. Whilst he’s a Norwegian detective, the first one’s set in Australia and this one is in Bangkok. I quite like the change of scenery making for different story elements but I found the writing a bit clunky in places. I don’t know if that’s down to the translation or the originality of an alcoholic detective but I reckon it’ll be a case of remember to buy the next one at some point rather than ‘collect em all’.

4. The Armada Boy by Kate Ellis

Now these I love and there’s loads of them. I took this one of the epic train journey because it’s small.

I haven’t written about this series before but this is the second one. The central detective is Wesley Peterson – the cop from the Met returning to a more rural life (Devon in this case). The thread through these is that he studied archaeology at university and his cases invariably have a link to local archaeological digs run but his friend Neil so there’s ongoing snippets from the past (not necessarily connected with the case, just running alongside). It’s got a sort of Midsomer vibe (but Devon and with history) with them covering a wide area with lots of murder potential in tiny villages.

5. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimen

It’s the end of the world and there’s an angel and demon who aren’t particularly keen on this happening so they set out to stop the antichrist and everything else. My brother bought it for me a bit ago and I never got round to it (spotting a theme here) and I rather wanted to read it before the TV series is out. It was everything I was hoping for (and I always love a Dog).

6. An Unhallowed Grave by Kate Ellis

Number three in the series. This one starts with a hanging in a churchyard and a trail though Devonshire villages and history with an archaeological uncovering of another body from the same tree five hundred years earlier.

The Wesley Peterson series started in the late 90s and are still going, but it means these early ones must’ve hit the shelves as Time Team (which I adored) was peaking and there’s a good element of that in there. It also means that there’s not a huge amount of mobile phone/ internet stuff so I’m looking forward to carrying on the series and things like that changing the feel of the books a bit.

7. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

Ooh, this was lovely. I bought ‘The Five People You Meet in Heaven’ on a bit of a whim years ago and I leant it to a friend who then read everything by Albom she could lay her hands on and I finally read another one. This follows the life of Frankie Presto with his talent for music – from a war-time birth, journeys around the globe, to a dramatic ending. Throughout his life Frankie finds inspiration in and inspires musical icons like Duke Ellington, Elvis and KISS (kinda Forrest Gump-ish but not really). It starts, and is threaded, with people remembering Frankie at his funeral and there’s something about knowing a character dies that I find quite comforting. That’s not to say there aren’t shocks and surprises, but it knew where I was heading. I never like giving things away when I’m talking about books so this really doesn’t do it justice but I loved it and kinda miss it, which I always think is a mark of a good book.

8. Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry (audio book)

I’ve not actually finished this yet. I took it for the train journeys and loved it. I had a lot of cassettes of comedy sketches and stand up when I was younger and quite a few had Stephen Fry’s voice on them which I found surprisingly nostalgic when it came to this. I really enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s retelling of Norse Mythology so I was looking forward to this and when the Eleanor Oliphant audio book failed to impress I swapped it and wasn’t disappointed. The stories are brilliantly told and I managed to produce some excellent background to sculptures in galleries we visited. There’s a wealth of etymology for etymology fans and so many names it’s impossible to remember everything (I tried listening to it in the car but it stuffs my working memory and I can’t listen and drive ) so I’ll probably get the book too.

rED18 – The SEND One

Last weekend saw the annual behemoth that is the researchED national conference come to Harris Academy St John’s Wood in London. Despite some navigational challenges it was rammed with people enjoying themselves speaking and listening and questionning in the way these things should be and I’ve seen various accounts blogged over the past week.

My role at work has changed this year as I start working for our trust on various bits including CPD so I had a mixed focus on the sessions I attended which included:

  • Karen Wespieser and Jules Daulby on Dyslexia
  • Becky Allen on Pupil Premium (OMG, if you weren’t there, or even if you were, read the blog version here)
  • Rob Coe, Steve Higgins, Philippa Cordingley & Greg Ashman on Meta Anaylsis
  • Daniel Muijs on Research at Ofsted
  • Sam Sims, Steve Farndon and Emily Henderson on Instructional Coaching
  • Christine Counsell charing a panel on 21st Century Curriculum

It was a guddun.

This year was also a bit different for me as I took a step out of my Journal Club comfort zone and gave a presentation on my experiences developing the research lead role in a special school (don’t worry JC fans, I’m already booked in to give those a good plug, with biscuits, at rEDBrum and the Habs Girls conference next year). I debated whether to include the term ‘Special School’ in the title of my talk as on one hand it provides a level of SEND visibility to rED, but on the other hand I worried about people dismissing my presentation as not for them. I do think visibility is important so I went for it and as it turned out I was up against Gibb and at least three other keynote-worthy sessions so I don’t think I needed to over-think the attendance too much.

One of the things I focussed on, aside from the logistical bits of being a research lead, was the element of ‘oh no, not you of course’ that I seem to come up against. I think SEMH is an interesting sort of SEND when it comes to research as our pupils can follow a reasonably mainstream curriculum and don’t generally have the needs people associate as ‘special’ so we find ourselves in the middle where if I point out something doesn’t quite fit us in either the mainstream or SEND I get the ‘ oh no, not you of course’ response. This seemed familiar to some of the people who came to my presentation too and is perhaps something for me to explore a little further.

Criticism of researchED is healthy and there have been some interesting reflections following Saturday, including a continuation of a conversation started by a comment on the amount of SEND representation on the line-up which Karen Wespieser and Jules Daulby have pretty much reflected my thoughts on already in their post ‘ResearchED 2018: Everyone’s a teacher of SEND’. I want to pick up on their point about an ‘us and them’ position because I keep coming back to it as I think about the day. I have spoken at lots of events, mostly about journal clubs, and for researchED this includes at least three national conferences, Washington DC, Sweden and Ontario. In addition to this I have attended many more and at each of these events, speaking or not, I was SEND representation. I am a teaching assistant, in an SEMH special school, and also happen to be the research lead – everything I take part in is framed in my context.

My presentation hit on some of the challenges I have faced as a special school research lead because there are differences and barriers. I completely agree that we have a responsibility to include SEND pupils and issues in our questions and reflections on any form of professional development, conference or otherwise. What ‘counts’ as SEND will differ between people but I know that researchED events are attended by the whole spectrum of educators including those from special schools, AP, PRUs, SENCOs and teaching assistants. I think presentations addressing some specific issues will be welcomed but I don’t want there to be tokenistic SEND presence to ward off criticism either. The thing is, we don’t know why everyone is there or what their motives are, and I think if we truly recognise that everyone is a teacher of SEND, then we must recognise that everyone is also a representative of SEND.

As always the researchED national conference has given me food for thought to start the new year. There are already exciting things coming up and I’ve got plenty of ideas to keep me going (in my SEND setting) and hopefully there are plenty more to come!

One week, two conferences and an emerging idea…

This week I’ve had two conference experiences, both packed with brilliant sessions and filling my head with new ideas and connections. The first was the Teacher Development Trust annual conference in London where I was chuffed to be asked to speak about my experiences of the TDT Associate in CPD Leadership course and ‘the transformative effect of professional development’ (not actually my finest fifteen minutes but more on that another day perhaps), and the second was the inaugural Derby Research School conference in, surprisingly enough, Derby.

I’m gaining more and more clarity about the way high quality professional development can be increasingly woven into the systems we already have in place at my school. I’ve never seen much benefit in suggesting I come in with a sledgehammer and force new ideas on people, particularly as I’m very aware that I’ve spent the last few months really digging into and exploring the possibilities of effective CPD  and I know that other people aren’t quite as into it as me, but in the process of thinking about everything from a CPD point of view I’m finding lots of interlocking ideas. I’ve come to realise that one of the things that’s making it such an evolving and, perhaps, delicate process is how much I realise it matters to get these first steps right. It doesn’t have to be perfect or something we stick to, but it needs to be something we can embed and build on.

A common thread through the TDT conference was the importance of culture within a school and how that impacts ideas. That includes a culture of relational trust, of challenge, wellbeing, and of course the importance placed on professional development for staff at all levels. It’s certainly something I want to be central to my own plans for CPD and thankfully I’ve got a wealth of back-up as to why this should be the case. I think I came away from this conference with more answers than questions for the first time in this process of CPD CPD. I’m not there yet, but it’s nice to feel I’m on the right track.

The Research School conference was a beautiful thing. A bit like one of the early researchEDs actually, and slightly squeezed together to shorten the day so that everyone could watch the football. I saw some interesting sessions but for me, the two keynotes bookending the day have given me the most food for thought. First up was Marc Rowland who spoke about the use of pupil premium funding. Not in a ‘which strategy off of the EEF toolkit works best’ way, but how we can genuinely delve into and identify where pupil need is, exploring all pupil needs in terms of themselves and their families, their communities, and reflect on the barriers we put in place ourselves as schools. At one point he said that the ‘teacher is the most effective intervention’ and if that’s not a case for cracking CPD, I don’t know what is.

The thing that really brought a lot of things together for me though was in Alex Quigley‘s final thoughts for the day. The conference was about building the role and reach of the Research Schools Network and with a local slant to his presentation, Alex started and ended his talk with this slide:

This brought into focus a few things for me and I think this idea is central to everything I’m trying to achieve. When I visited a local primary school as part of the TDT CPD leadership course, one of the comments that stuck was how they were looking at how they deliver reading instruction and realised that they already have a team of experts in-house. This has prompted me to think a lot about the importance of ‘finding and developing our experts’ and it’s central to my yet-to-be-proposed CPD plan. What Alex’s words have done though is cement this concept as a wider ambition for me. If we take out the specific detail, this is something I think should drive our CPD journey as I move from working with my school, to across the Trust and then in a wider context. There will be many ways to support this process, but these are the questions I want to hold at the core of what we build:

Where Does Pedagogy Fit In? Part 2

I’m doing a lot of work around CPD at the moment and when I started thinking about the level of importance placed on pedagogical expertise I started to ponder about when might be the best time to introduce these skills if it isn’t happening during ITE. I don’t think it’s a case of people not wanting to know the ‘why’ – the plethora of conference-bingo edu-myths are probably a cliché, but I take their longevity as evidence that teachers like to feel they understand the science of teaching. It’s for schools to harness this and if they harness it early enough and in the right way everyone’s a winner.

The students that sparked my thinking about all this in Part 1 appeared to be talking about how they’re going to have time to study ‘the pedagogical knowledge stuff’ once they’re teaching and in turn, I presume, that they’ll be able to change practices they’ve already imbedded. With the presumption that their situation is not unique, it’s important we provide opportunities and time to address this in our school CPD programmes.

I’m not particularly concerned right now with the ‘what’ teachers need to know in terms of pedagogy – there are lots of excellent suggestions for that all over the place and it would certainly turn this into ‘Part 2 of 12’. I’m mostly thinking about how those with a role in leading CPD can take this information into account when designing and updating their plans.

Whilst research informs us of the importance of subject-specific CPD, we need to think about the varying levels of pedagogical knowledge in our settings and ensure this is addressed too. Going back to Weston and Clay’s (2018) Depth of Practice Framework it is clear that programmes of CPD need to take into account the current knowledge and skills of colleagues and have an idea of the level of expertise expected following CPD. For teachers, the expectation for pedagogical knowledge and skills will probably be that they attain a level of adaptive expertise – an automacy that is adaptable to different situations. For this to be successful and embedded in practice there needs to be a continuation of opportunities throughout their careers.

Leaders of CPD also need to bear in mind the higher the level of adaptive expertise, the more difficult it is to make changes to practice. Therefore, the best time to embed good pedagogical skills would seem to be as close to the start of a career as possible and not, as my sample of two students indicated, once their teaching is ‘outstanding’. If we wait too long then the biases will creep in. Kennedy (2016) shows that as independence increases, so the ways in which CPD transfers to lasting change in practice change. As teachers become more experienced they need to be able to discover things for themselves and place them within experience.

Experiences are necessary to give teachers concrete ideas to hang abstract ones on – this idea carries on throughout a career with common advice to keep a particular pupil or situation in mind when taking part in any CPD. So maybe a solution to this is give teachers information and ‘facts’ whilst training, without worrying about practice too much when they’re concerned with all sorts of other things, but make sure the next step starts as soon as possible – and make sure they are, as Becky Allen and Sam Sims (2018) state, ‘immersed in a community of skilled teachers’ as more experienced teachers model what it looks like further down the line.

Experts can often forget how it feels to be a novice and this make pitching teaching at the right level an art that needs training and refinement – for children and for adults. By creating CPD systems that take into account different levels of experience and ensuring we include opportunities for challenge, questioning and learning from each other I think it’s possible to support teachers effectively throughout their careers and hopefully our visiting ITE students will find some of this ready for them in their next schools.

References:

Allen, R. & Sims, S. (2018) ‘The Teacher Gap’. 1st Edition. UK: Routledge

Kennedy, M.M. (2016) ‘How Does Professional Development Improve Teaching?’ Review of Educational Research Vol 86, Issue 4, pp. 945 – 980

Weston, D & Clay, B, (2018) ‘Unleashing Great Teaching: the secrets to the most effective teacher development’. 1st Edition. UK: Routledge

Where Does Pedagogy Fit In? Part 1

I think I’d always assumed that learning about pedagogical skills came hand-in-hand with learning to teach, but what if it’s something that needs to wait?

Broadly speaking, research says that in terms of teacher CPD, subject specific development has the greatest impact and that CPD with a pedagogical focus should be placed within a subject-specific framework. Aside from complications to this that may arise for teachers of multiple subjects in perhaps primary or special-school settings, it seems more than reasonable for teachers to relate the ‘how’ to their particular ‘what’.

At which stage though in ‘becoming a teacher’ should basics of pedagogy and detail of how children learn be introduced? I’ve not gone through an ITE programme myself and I’ve heard a mixture of comments about this that probably fall into categories of people who qualified a while ago saying they were just thrown in and never really taught how to teach and more recently qualified people having experienced a bit more theory and research – perhaps even an expectation that they carry out some research themselves. It’ll vary hugely, I suspect, between programmes but I had the idea that maybe the ‘how’ was increasing in importance.

I’ve been prompted to think about this following a recent series of visits from ITE students in school when I overheard some interesting comments over lunch. Aside from amusing snippets like ‘He wants to use a textbook and I’m like ‘agghh, that’s such old-school teaching” one of the conversations made me actually listen closer as they discussed how they want to (I wrote it down)

get better at [their] teaching, get that to outstanding first, and leave the pedagogical knowledge stuff for later

They spoke about how they felt like it was ‘Masters or PhD stuff’ to know about how pupils learn and felt like they were likely to get more information about this by asking the pupils themselves. Aside from the fact that many PGCE courses offer Masters credits and so I’d assume a PGCE is Masters level, it really made me think about the value that’s placed on pedagogy.

Firstly there’s the incredibly weighted area of ‘outstanding’ teaching and secondly, they think that this can happen before engaging with pedagogical knowledge. Assuming their subject knowledge is fairly fresh, isn’t pedagogical knowledge (and how that’s relevant to their subject) central to improving their teaching and exactly what they should be learning now? I didn’t get a chance to ask them about it but I have so many questions! They know what pedagogy is and can see a level of importance but don’t see it as relevant to improving the job. Is this because their time is too full of everything else to have time to study in more depth about how pupils learn? Are they just being asked to think about it now, at the end of their course? How much do placement schools influence their opinions on this? If older/more experienced teachers essentially tell them it’s nonsense… I’m wildly speculating here but it fascinated me.

I know there are ITE reforms in the offing and maybe this will all be addressed in that, but whilst we wait for it, if we assume that some ITE students are just paying lip service to their pedagogical knowledge to get through the course, how then can this be addressed through our school CPD programmes? Maybe it’s like the learning to drive cliché that ‘you only really learn to drive once you’ve passed your test and are out there on your own’. Maybe you can only really appreciate how to use pedagogical knowledge once you’ve been teaching for a while?

In their new book ‘Unleashing Great Teaching: The Secrets to the Most Effective Teacher Development‘, David Weston and Bridget Clay demonstrate how the needs of CPD provision change depending on experience and the level of independence of teachers. Their Depth of Practice Framework shows how programmes of professional development should take into account both the level of pre-existing knowledge/skill and the depth of expertise being sought.

Learning all the aspects of teaching whilst juggling the workings of a classroom is hard – and making these processes automatic is even harder, so it’s easy to understand why my example ITE students would want to put all the ‘how they learn’ stuff to one side whilst they deal with the rest. It’s important though to recognise that the more expertise someone gains, the harder it is to learn something new. So whilst some experience might be a good idea on which to build pedagogical knowledge, it probably can’t wait too long.

In my second post I’ll have a little look at how schools can use evidence on effective professional development to address this potential pedagogical knowledge gap.

Reflecting on Journal Clubs

I’ve been spending some time reflecting on journal clubs and their use in schools recently. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak at events about journal clubs in education for a while now, and whilst I’ve tweaked my presentation a few times and always use a new paper for discussion, it’s still pretty much the same thing and I think it’s been good for me to go through this process of reflection so that it doesn’t become something I churn out for the sake of it.

This Easter I’m lucky enough to be going to Toronto for rEDOnt. Whist I’ve presented at events for other organisations, the majority of my presentations have been for researchED and as this is how I started out doing it it’s quite nice to have been able to develop and explore the promotion of journal clubs with them. There is always a treasure trove of speakers at researchED events – all giving their time for free – and it always seems like they’ve got a PhD and books and a gajillion followers on Twitter and they talk about hardcore research and RCTs they’ve done and theories of how research should be applied in schools. I experience quite a bit of imposter syndrome, doubting the legitimacy of my presenting at these events (although I’ve seen ‘names’ doing the same thing a few times so don’t feel too bad) but it’s important I remember the number of new people who come and tell me about their clubs. There are journal clubs across the UK, in Sweden, the US, Canada all because of me and if I allow myself to be honest, that feels pretty awesome.

People talk about research projects they’ve been involved in or opportunities for schools to take part. There is a wealth of stuff going on and I love it. I think it’s increasingly important that people come away from researchED, or other events, with something practical they can do in school or with colleagues and even better if that is something that doesn’t need huge amounts of planning or money and can be done by any group. After a few researchED conferences, and when I’d taken part in (and tried to take part in) some research projects within school I found that for us particularly as a small school it was difficult to take part. Our cohort was too small or didn’t fit trial recruitment criteria. In the one RCT we were part of our pupils found it hard to access the pre- and post-test materials so we ended up as an additional case-study. I’m sure there will be things we can take part in more successfully but I’m aware that we won’t be the only school in this position and for those who come to researchED and want to take back and share something solid that can get their schools engaging with research I truly believe journal clubs are the way they can do it.

There is understandably a significant focus at conferences on how research can be applied in the classroom and how to measure impact on pupil outcomes, or how policy makers at different levels can make research-informed decisions, and I think this risks narrowing the research we look at in schools. I think it also risks an over-reliance on research summaries and meta analyses which whilst they definitely have their place and I’m not saying we need to stop this, it’s healthy for teachers and leaders to be critical of the research they’re presented with and face their biases. Teachers also need to be aware that a lot of research isn’t ready for use in the classroom and I think it’s just as important that this is looked at too.

Implementation science and knowledge translation expert, Melanie Barwick, put my thoughts into a more concrete form recently in a blog post about ‘Why Knowledge Translation and Implementation Science are not Synonymous‘, particularly when she said ‘Not all evidence shared for building awareness or informing is ready for application, but this does not make it less beneficial to the knowledge user’. It’s just as important that teachers become aware of ideas, different perspectives or potential developments in research as it is they find out about something new to try. Journal clubs are a space for teachers at any level to read and discuss research with colleagues without the expectation that they put any of it into practice. It’s great if it means coming across something new to try and explore it further, but it should be equally valid to have an awareness of the research that’s out there and be critical of it and make links and connections and prompt reflection on practice.

It’s amazing to be part of the charge of schools becoming more research savvy and the increasing awareness of the big ideas in education, and despite my occasional doubts over whether I belong, I want to be there to give people something to take back and share something concrete and doable in the hope that it prompts a wider discussion and participation.

I really hope those coming to rEDOnt find something in journal clubs that they feel they can do, starting clubs and starting a conversation. I’ll bring the biscuits 😉