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.
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.
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.
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.
So, I’ve done a few things research-related with our Teaching Schools Alliance now, and when I was asked if I would share my journal club work at their upcoming event ‘Using Research and Evidence for Improvement’, I was happy to. Basically I wheeled out the usual presentation and took advantage of the opportunity to hear some brilliant people talk without having to pay for the pleasure.
The event, held at the National College for Teaching & Leadership’s Learning and Conference Centre in Nottingham, was a collaboration between Transform TSA, George Spencer TSA, Minster TSA, East Midlands TSA, and The University of Nottingham. It was a chance for the TSAs to promote engagement with research and development in schools and to showcase some of the work being done across our region.
Our keynote speaker was James Richardson from the Education Endowment Foundation. For all that I’ve seen and heard about the EEF’s work at various events, I didn’t think I’d actually gone to something specifically about them and I was completely wrong. Looking back through a wealth of conference notes, I saw James Richardson at researchED Midlands in 2014. Actually, in my notes* I have scribbled the phrase ‘Research Champion’. That was the start of A LOT. Things have moved on quite a bit since 2014. The EEF Sutton Trust Toolkit is familiar to a lot more people and used in a lot more schools. The focus has changed from making people aware of their work to updating them on research that has been completed (and is being replicated) and guidance to use the toolkit in their own setting. I’ve got lots more bits to look into and lots more badgering of SLT to do. *I have also scribbled that the DIY Guide will be interactive soon. I thought that was familiar when James said it on Friday…
Mary-Alice Lloyd – Vice Principal and Director of the George Spencer Academy TSA, shared her school’s journey to becoming a research engaged school. Starting in 2005 they created a ‘drip-feed’ model of CPD in addition to their INSET and focused strongly on AfL. After evaluating their school’s level of research engagement, they introduced Teacher Learning Communities (TLC), including all staff, that meet at least ten times throughout the year and staff are able to collaborate and enquire on their practice together. Following the success of the TLCs, they set out to use the TLC approach to enable all staff to engage in classroom based research and they linked this with the new Teachers’ Standards and now, working with The University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University, GSA have developed a practitioner enquiry cycle that works with the TLCs. This year they have extended the enquiry model to include Lesson Study as an approach.
Providing excellent examples of school-university partnerships was Professor Qing Gu from the Centre for Research in Educational Leadership and Management in the University of Nottingham School of Education. She described the role HEIs can play in interpretation and guidance in implementing findings from research in schools, and the potential for partnerships in fulfilling the role of a critical friend. Qing went into detail about this role with a local school with a focus on the Senior Leadership Team’s role in driving forward school improvement. A report on this can be found here – http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/education/documents/research/crsc/research-projects/kten/brochures/bookletsouthwoldpr.pdf There was a lot of advice about the process of school-based enquiry and I’m pretty sure that if Qing was to make a researchED appearance it would be a wonderful thing.
Before lunch we heard from colleagues leading research projects in their schools. The first, from KYRA TSA and whose name I didn’t jot down, spoke about their experience of the Closing the Gap: Test and Learn small scale research projects. Whereas our school’s involvement was with one of the large scale projects (Research Lesson Study), many schools were trained and developed their own RCT projects. I actually went to one of these training events that was aimed at special schools and it was interesting to see what other people had done with it. Following completion of their projects, schools were given a poster template to write up their work and these were shared in a marketplace style event. It was suggested later in the day that these posters may be a good source for discussion at a journal club.
Chris West from Redhill TSA shared his experiences at trying to build enthusiasm and participation in research engagement (something many of us are familiar with). Things he has done include creating his own examples of simple research write ups, a research Teach Meet and ‘Research in 100 Words’ postcards. These (I think) are here – http://www.redhilltsa.org.uk/course/view.php?name=Research#section-3 Chris’s focus is encouraging staff involvement and setting the structures in place for this to happen.
Journal Club was after lunch (where we discovered that ‘gourmet’ pies contain either steak or gourmet…), usual drill. This was the biggest one I’ve ever done. We looked at ‘Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?’ (Manna and Cadmana, 2014) and never have I been in a room with so many engaged people saying the word ‘boredom’. It seemed to go down well, particularly with the man next to me who was, and I quote, ‘all about this’. Oh. Biscuits = Cadburys Fingers (lots in box and slim line to fit in bag).
Last up for the day was Matilde Warren from GSA talking about their use of Lesson Study. As mentioned earlier by Mary-Alice Lloyd, staff at GSA are able to pick Lesson Study as their focus this year. I looked at Lesson Study a fair bit with our research project so I’m aware of how the process has been adapted from the Japanese model for the way it is commonly performed over here. What was brilliant was that Matilde has been over to Japan to see just how they do it and study their process. She’s well aware that there are lots of elements that wouldn’t work here (40 teachers in a lesson whilst the kids just get on with it; leaving a whole primary school whilst the teachers all debrief), but what the experience did highlight was where they hadn’t been prepared and where they could tighten the process up. It would be brilliant to hear from GSA again and see how it all goes.
There’s no way I can write about everything that was part of the day and I hope I’ve represented everyone well enough. As with most school engagement with research, if you dedicate the time and resources, the results can be amazing for staff, pupils and the school as a whole. It was great to move away from the researchED glare and see what’s happening more locally. I know there are a few Transform ideas knocking about and I’m hoping I hear that more people are setting up journal clubs. Mostly I hope people just keep plugging away and trying because it can be tough but it’s definitely worth it.
Inspired by several people, especially Ffion Eaton, I decided to start a Learning and Development Bulletin at school.
I went with using ‘learning’ and ‘development’ rather than including ‘teaching’ or ‘research’ because I wanted to make sure it was accessable to all members of staff. I’m concious that ‘teacher’ gets used as a blanket term but for those of us that aren’t one there’s always a bit of doubt as to whether we’re included. The name Relay was the result of a frustrating afternoon with a thesaurus. I settled on it as it’s symbolic of the main purpose for the bulletin, to share and pass on information between members of staff. I want to encourage everyone to contribute to Relay – whether that’s writing an article or review, or simply prompting discussions in the staff room. I’m aiming for half-termly publication and so far I’ve managed this (with a bumper summer edition). At the moment it’s mostly stuff I’ve encountered at researchED or via Twitter but I’ve tried to go for a spread of topics and opinions, avoiding too much bias!
Printable PDF versions of issues so far are here: