Lots of us have taken the opportunity to dip into the vast array of CPD that has sprung up during lockdown. Whether it’s collaborative discussions with the Teacher Development Trust’s #CPDConnectUp, daily conference sessions from researchED with #rEDHome, online courses from the likes of Seneca Learning or FutureLearn, or simply taking advantage of the array of publisher discounts that have popped up – there really seems to have been something for everyone.
Some schools have directed people to specific courses or made suggestions of things staff may like to look at, but with any of these there’s a risk that CPD is done as a way to keep busy and our eye on how this fits into the bigger picture is lost. So how can we make sure that what we’re learning during lockdown is useful and informs our practice in a meaningful way once we return to the classroom in a more regular fashion? In many ways this is similar to the ways we should approach our own learning at any time.
Types of CPD
It’s worth thinking about the different types of CPD that you are doing to help have an idea of where it fits into the bigger picture. Rough categories you can use include:
- Mandatory and procedural – those routine things like learning how to use a new online delivery or report system perhaps
- Subject-specific (including SEND) – deepening your own knowledge, maybe with a particular curriculum topic in mind
- Pedagogical – broad teaching methods
- Pedagogical content knowledge – how the broad teaching methods can be specifically used in your subject
- Wellbeing – some things aren’t necessarily linked to the classroom but still valuable!
- Personal career development- more structured (probably ongoing) courses such as NPQs or degrees
Structure and purpose
It’s also worth having think about the structure and purpose of the CPD you’re doing. Is it a one-off activity or an ongoing programme of work, and is it intended to have direct or indirect impact on your practice? Most people will think about this in black and white – that one-off presentations or courses are more likely to be ‘nice to do but easily forgotten’ and ongoing learning with continued opportunities to practice are preferable. I actually think it’s more nuanced than that and, particularly at a time like this, we can make connections between the variety of learning we are doing now, along with previous learning and plans, to curate our own, personal, ongoing CPD.
At the moment it’s likely that most of what we do is going to have an indirect impact on practice. Of course, lots of people will have engaged in CPD that focuses on remote delivery and learning for pupils which will have a more direct impact, but there are lots of things that might wait until we’re back with more pupils and a more regular structure that, at the moment, seem more indirect so it’s worth considering the bigger picture.
Your own needs
In more usual times, the depth of engagement in a CPD activity we engage with is more likely to be linked with our prior experience and the level of expertise we want to build up. The first time we come across a topic it’s appropriate to get some one-off information and a general overview of it. As we become more experienced we introduce more view-points, more detailed information and we try things out, sometimes collaboratively, and seek feedback. The more experienced we become, the more automatically we apply our knowledge and the more adaptive it becomes to different situations.
Everyone will be at a different point in this process and it is useful (at any time, not just lockdown) to have an awareness of where you are with the learning you are doing and by reflecting on where you need to build your personal experience and expertise you can make any learning opportunity part of your personal, ongoing ‘programme’.
Obviously this all sounds well and good but how do we actually undertake this reflection in a useful way?
Think about the types of CPD you’ve done
Some of us might have rushed in and done the lot. Make a list of all the CPD you’ve done. It’s useful to have a record – you don’t have to use all of it right away but think of how you’ll ‘bank’ it for later.
Why did you choose it? Were you directed or was it a personal choice? Were you looking for more information on a common subject, exploring a new theme, finding out more about something you’ve have prior experience of CPD on? Do you just like the speaker or did you just have the FOMO need to ‘collect them all’?
Where are the links or common themes? This should include links between the things you’ve done as part of your lockdown learning, but also think about wider learning. Can you make connections between other things you’ve read, had an INSET on, been working on with your PLC or enquiry project?
What next? Where are the opportunities for further learning? Are there recommended books to read, links to follow up or ways you can use your learning to adapt ‘back at work’ plans? Once you’ve taken stock of the learning you’ve done so far, can you identify where you could narrow your focus and be more selective, or have you found new ideas you want to explore in more depth?
The more we make these connections, the more we stop CPD becoming ‘one-off’ and the more we can see how it connects to our practice.
We can’t necessarily evaluate impact in practice or on pupil outcomes directly at the moment but we can focus on our initial reactions to CPD and begin to identify our personal next steps and barriers (organisational, personal or with the CPD itself) that may need to be resolved to support any implementation.
You might find it useful to frame your reflections and evaluation through the areas of guidance covered in the Standard for teachers’ professional development:
- Focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes – self-review before, during and after CPD event to identify where pupil outcomes can improve and how this CPD might support that.
- Underpinned by robust evidence and expertise – How is/was CPD underpinned by evidence? Can you follow up references? Why should the recommendations work and how should they be implemented?
- Collaboration and expert challenge – Use discussion boards within CPD, share your reflections and wider learning, think about how to share with colleagues. How can leaders support this?
- Sustained over time – Where does it fit with your existing learning and how does it support your ongoing plans?
- Prioritised by school leadership – Where CPD activities have been directed, ask where it fits in to the bigger picture. Look at your school’s priorities and consider how your learning can support these.
To support recording learning reflections and evaluation, you might find it useful to use Cornell note taking or fill in a PMI grid with your positive, negative and interesting follow-up reflections.
With so much potential for learning away from the checks and balances that conversations and collaboration with colleagues affords, it’s of course important to be aware of things to avoid. Be aware of your own bias. There can be a risk if we dip in and out of things we already find interesting and agree with (confirmation bias) that we place increased authority on speakers and organisations we like (halo effect) and once we’ve done that one-off course or read a book, we suddenly find ourselves an expert and rush to change all our systems for September (Dunning-Kruger effect).
With any CPD you do – lockdown or otherwise – take your time to evaluate claims, check your bias and the bias of those delivering CPD. Leaders need to be aware of this too. If you’ve directed staff to complete online learing, be aware that this doesn’t make them an expert and plan how you will support follow-ups before creating any snazzy new whole-school responsibilities!
So many of us are finding that the combination of having (slightly) more flexible time and the veritable explosion of generous online CPD opportunities means we’re dipping into all sorts of things we might not ordinarily have done and this is fantastic. We need to make sure that we harness this learning and use it to benefit our collective practice. Whilst the suggestions here are bent towards lockdown learning, with any CPD it is valuable to evaluate your own learning journey and where a CPD event fits with your needs as well as the wider picture of your school and pupils.
As we shift from our different patterns of working back to a more regular in-school routine, consider what you have learnt now and take it forward to plan and support your ongoing development.
It’s not going to surprise anyone that I’m pro-researchED. It’s genuinely changed my life – places I‘ve been, friends I’ve made, the job I do, hangovers I’ve suffered… For me it came along as I was finishing my MEd and offered a place for me to continue engaging with education research in a way I thought I wouldn’t be doing anymore.
Conferences are popping up all over the place now (researchED and others) and I don’t actually go to that many but I do follow what’s going on and as it happens I’ve got two in a row: researchED Birmingham yesterday and off to researchED Haninge next weekend. After a while following from the side-lines it was really great yesterday to be amongst it and maybe this is why it particularly niggled me when I caught up with Twitter last night and the usual voices were there just to sling insults at it all.
No-one is going to agree with everything and nor should they, but the constant snark and spiteful rhetoric is draining to watch and unhealthy to be involved in. I’ve gone from someone who debates ideas to someone who just keeps quiet to avoid the sniping; someone who follows a range of voices to someone who mutes and blocks just to be happier.
Anyway, questioning ideas and voices is healthy and hating based on assumptions and prejudice is not, so for what it’s worth I’ve decided to address some of the criticisms and write about my own experiences of education conferences – naturally, mostly researchED but I’ve been to several others so I’m thinking about those too.
Forcing an Ideology
People seem to believe that there’s one message being peddled and the hoards are being brainwashed. I would hope that a look at a programme for one of these events would allay some fears of this. My experience is of a broad range of speakers and ideas but of course there are going to be topics that people are more interested in and this has evolved with the education landscape. I think it’s a good thing that something like researchED has fed into the landscape but I truly believe that far from forcing an ideology at the expense of blocking others, this has happened because of the space given to debate and different voices.
I’ve heard MPs promoting their own well-honed propaganda and I’ve disagreed with them. I’ve been sat in a presentation when several audience members start debating the ideas with the speaker. I’ve seen people I’d never have thought I’d agree with but have and people I thought I’d love that have made me cringe.
I know what it feels like to be on the opposing side of the current vibe but that’s not a reason to shut down valid experience. There’s space for everyone and they need to be able to decide. I’m a grown up and capable of doing that.
All about Bennett
He’s put his everything into researchED. He’s the face in the programme and bats off the constant flack, but crediting Tom with every researchED event does a disservice to all the people who are organising conferences across the world in their own time for free. People put all their spare time into these things and what they don’t need is ridiculous assertions that they’re part of some sort of conspiracy. If that’s what people genuinely think then it’s a real shame but it’s not going to stop people engaging with what is an amazing, international community of educators.
I’ve seen sessions that are like a masters crash course and sessions that just have a nod to the research they’ve looked at. Personally I prefer the heavy ones, but I know others aren’t so ready to engage that way. I wrote a while ago about ‘rED the next generation’ and this still holds true. It’s easy to have the curse of the expert (broadest sense) and there are novices just getting into it. Of course there’s the risk of mega Dunning-Kruger effect but that’s not unique to education conferences – it’s a bias with its own special name! We just have to be aware of it.
Same people, same themes
I understand it might seem like researchED peddles the same stuff at each conference but there are several things to bear in mind here:
- Everyone does it for free. If you can get a popular speaker to come and do your event for free then you’d be stupid to say no. The presence of a big hitter means people will come and see the unknowns.
- There are loads of speakers and not many slots. Having the same people at different events means you get another chance to see something you missed. I’m always surprised I still get asked to talk about journal clubs and equally surprised people turn up.
- The timetablers are good at getting it right but I’ve been to lots of these things and there’s always a surprise room with people spilling out. Almost like people can choose who they want to see rather than being told who’s going to be popular…
- ‘Ah, but if everyone was an unknown then you wouldn’t have that problem’. Yes. New Voices does that. It’s ace and I’ve also seen how going for it and speaking at that has given some people the confidence to do other conferences. Double aces.
This is woo-woo. We’ve had a Tory led government for 10 years and this spans the whole of the boom in education social media-led stuff so there’s nothing to compare it to. For what it’s worth, and I know it won’t be worth anything to those who’ve made their minds up, I don’t think the government would be too chuffed with some of the stuff speakers at edu-conferences level at them.
So, my own experience
I’ve done the rounds. I’ve seen some big hitters who are shit – don’t prep, use old, 90 minute presentations in a 40 minute slot and despite being a disaster, have people nodding along because they love their book. I’ve even been disappointed by a presentation and then had the misfortune to have to sit through it again as the keynote at another thing.
BUT. I’ve also seen people I’d never get the chance to see for £20, big names in the audience of a classroom-teacher sharing their passion and awesome first time speakers who’ve prepped beyond perfection because it means the world to share their ideas. And then seen them speak to their heroes at the pub afterwards and get involved in a new project.
My experiences are of events where you can choose to play it safe and go to see your friends and a twitter celebrity or embrace new ideas. Or do both all in the same day. There’s more criticism of ‘dogma’ within researchED presentations than people perhaps think. Some people were well known before they started going to education conferences, others have become more well known as events like researchED have been part of their career journey and they’ve met people and made connections.
There will be a ton of reasons people are wary of or don’t like things like researchED. I understand that to some extent everyone is a gatekeeper of knowledge and it can make people uneasy to see new faces rising. It does nothing for my imposter syndrome to suddenly see all these enthusiastic new teachers hit the scene, I can tell you! The thing is though, this is an evolving landscape and I’d rather be part of that and call it out from within if I can than poke at it from outside.
We keep being told how the majority of teachers don’t use Twitter or know what researchED is. Don’t use that fact as a stick to beat rED with at the same time you’re accusing it of infiltrating the whole of the education sector. Makes you look silly.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
Kennedy, M.M. (2016) ‘How Does Professional Development Improve Teaching?’ Review of Educational Research Vol 86, Issue 4, pp. 945 – 980
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.
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 😉
What if using education to prepare students for the 21st century is actually just giving them more education?
We caught up with Endeavour last night – it was set in a 1960s private school and started me thinking about the whole ’21st Century Skills’ thing (what we should be teaching kids and how we prepare them for this new world we’ve already had nearly 20% of). I was wondering what people would say a 20th Century Skill looked like if you had to pin it down – given the changes that occurred over that 100 years, and I thought about how the pupils on the screen were older and in non-compulsory education for the time – privileged whilst their contemporaries were out at work. But I was mostly watching Endeavour.
This morning there were some tweets about from people at the Global Education & Skills Forum debate on 21st Century Skills including this one from Laura McInerney that included this picture:
The view at #GESF is that we are in a 4th industrial revolution & this means schools must change. But I keep looking at this graphic. Genuine question: with hindsight, how should we have changed school in the 60s to prep for the 3rd revolution? pic.twitter.com/00E8BliJxi
— Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) March 18, 2018
I thought I’d take my idea further and have a look. I’ve only used Wikipedia for this and there are many with the knowledge to sweep my nugget of an idea away but my thoughts are that with each ‘industrial revolution’, instead of narrowing a curriculum to prepare children and teach them a new skill-set, the answer is to lengthen their education and broaden their skill sets.
So how do the various revolutions so far fit in with this? Despite the fact there are gradual changes in-between the dates on the image Laura tweeted, I was quite impressed when I had a look.
1784 – 1780’s saw the start of the Sunday school movement. Educating children (boys to start with) on Sunday because they’re at work in factories for the other 6 days a week.
1870 – The Forster Act of 1870, leading to introduction of compulsory education of children ages 5 and 10 in 1880
1969 – Raising of the school leaving age from 15 to 16 enforced from 1 September 1973 (but Wikipedia says they were preparing for this from 1964 so it all includes 1969 quite nicely)
Now – the Education and Skills Act 2008 said that by 2013, all young people in England have to stay on in education or training at least part-time until they are 17 years old, and that by 2015, all young people will have to stay on in education or training at least part-time, until they are 18 years old.
Not implying correlation or causation or anything like that, it was just interesting to look at. Of course increasing access to education will have added to the likelihood of each new ‘industrial revolution’ and I’m fairly certain that the dates of each ‘revolution’ will happily match up with a wealth of other changes – let’s face it, I’ve just selected some dates off a Wikipedia article and that’s not going to stand up to super scrutiny, but I was pretty happy to see there were things that matched up.
The paper I used for the researchED Haninge Journal Club last week was about enjoyment and aspiration of middle grade students and there was a small bit that caught my attention regarding boys’ aspiration and the assumption that they’ll be able to get a job in an industry without good grades – something that’s increasingly less likely. Their 21st Century is less likely to involve simply falling into an industry and I think education is the answer.
The other thing if course is that even if the answer to education for the 21st Century is ‘more education’, it doesn’t give an answer as to what that education should be about and doing more of the wrong thing for the sake of doing more isn’t particularly useful. I’ll leave it there until next year when there’s a new series of Endeavour and I hope it gives me an idea about the rest.