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.
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.
In the words of the great Tess McGill, ‘I read a lot of things. You never know where the big ideas could come from.’ (Working Girl, 1988).
The University of Cambridge publishes a research magazine ‘Research Horizons‘ containing all sorts of articles about the impact of research from the university. A recent edition focusing on the East of England featured an article about digital manufacturing and agricultural technology (which I now know to just call ‘agri-tech’) that discussed how businesses decide when to adopt new technology and how they need to find the best upskill strategies to do it properly.
The article describes how agricultural businesses have no way of predicting the skills they’ll need because even where technology is emerging it’s often a leap of faith to invest, so they need flexible workers who have a grounding in their industry with the willingness and ability to develop. It strikes me that what every industry really needs, including education, is an upskillable workforce.
The past few weeks have seen educators across the globe rapidly get to grips with new skills. From converting a file to pdf, learning how to use the staple feature on the photocopier, or figuring out Google Classroom, it’s all happened in order to continue providing for students. Of course it’s not just been teachers that have had to do this – isolated families are now Zooming and Facetiming where they had never considered it before and as everyone has adapted, a tremendous amount of learning has taken place.
One of the problems with preparing for things that haven’t happened yet is not knowing what needs preparing for. For our pupils, the argument for a broad curriculum is well worn and the world of agri-tech is a brilliant, concrete example of why it’s important to offer as many opportunities and pathways as we can. Whether that’s adapting to technological advances or those jobs that haven’t been invented yet, offering a broad base of knowledge that ensures people can apply themselves to a whole host of possibilities, and be whatever they want to be, is a pretty good idea. As pupils become more expert they can be encouraged to make comparisons and connections between ideas because even if we knew their destiny – even if we know they come from a generation of farmers and that them and their children and their children’s children will do the same, we don’t know what the future holds for technology or climate or crop choices but we can prepare them to cope with leaps of faith and adapt to the new when needed.
Throughout their lives pupils will need to adjust to different working practices and innovations and, as in the world of agri-tech, one of the most important issues facing workplaces is ‘how do we know what skills are needed by who and how [do] they get them’. In the same way we can’t predict a specific innovation that will take off, we can’t plan which skills will need to be upped; it’s no use trying guess what we need to teach and narrow our curriculum in order to meet these specific unknown needs but what we can do is open as many doors as possible and promote lifelong learning, best practice in professional development and ensure that our own professional development and training needs are identified well and that the process is effective.
The rapid upskilling we’ve seen over the past few weeks gives us clues as to what is important for the workforce and one area where education has a head start over some other sectors is professional development. Rather than worrying about changing our curriculums to include new and potentially fleeting fads, schools should focus on upskilling teachers to understand and include new ideas in order to deepen and enrich their existing knowledge, and where important, be informed to make decisions about when to introduce new innovations and integrate them expertly in their existing systems.
We often ignore the need to share with pupils and parents what we do for professional development but one consequence of the recent changes has been the visibility of adult learning and this is a crucial part of making continuous, life-long learning the norm. We need to continue to make our learning visible to pupils; share what we’re doing, enthuse about it with pupils and help them understand that they will always need to learn. We can be guilty of drilling into pupils their learning deadlines – leaving school, staying in education ’til your 18, but it’s worth pausing to think about this message because if we’re truly preparing them for the 21st Century workplace and world of the future what we actually need to be doing is teaching them that to be successful they’ll never stop learning.
As leaders’ minds turn to their next steps, it’s worth considering what we can learn from the upskilling of a whole population at the moment. There’s a need for a clear process of delivering professional development that promotes enrichment of subject specific knowledge, increasing awareness of changes in individual fields which will broaden and deepen the knowledge of our students. Whether that’s about keeping up to date and adding some information about recent innovations to a topic, introducing new technologies such as 3D printers, or adding in entirely new schemes; rather than replacing what’s already there, schools need to provide the time, space and resources for teachers to upskill.
Sometimes people are reluctant to change and there are many valid reasons why this happens. We have recently experienced the forced upskilling of entire generations and witnessed that they have been able to succeed in this. As we lay the ground work to enable our pupils to upskill in the future and promote a culture of upskilling our staff, what we can’t afford to do is forget that this is not only possible, but crucial and more importantly, for everyone.
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: