Learning Fairs are becoming more and more common in colleges, run as internal CPD events that enable staff to showcase interesting or experimental classroom practice. In many colleges these are held in the summer term as an end of year dissemination but they can be really inspiring for staff when held in the autumn term as food for thought or mid year as a shot in the arm!
1. Encouraging teachers to share practice across the curriculum divide, to see and discuss how learning takes place in a different physical context or subject specialism. This often shows how much we can pick up from subjects seemingly unrelated to our own and sparks new ideas about how to improve or develop practice.
2. Fostering links between individuals in different curriculum teams to increase understanding of how different levels and qualifications operate. This can be particularly useful in helping teachers understand issues within progression routes.
3. Creating the opportunity for a wider dialogue about how learners learn and how we can enable and facilitate this effectively as professionals.
4. Can help build a sense of the community in which you work, the institution to which you belong, by getting teachers out of curriculum cliques.
5. Builds internal capacity for delivering staff development. More than one great trainer that I know started their journey to a developmental career this way. With budgets getting tighter and tighter it is also a great deal cheaper than inviting in a guru or two for the day.
How gloriously creative the FE sector is! I have seen many great versions of the learning fair so here are a few to consider:
1. A micro teach event in which teachers teach a short session to colleagues acting as students, modelling a real activity they would do in their everyday subject delivery. Teachers then have a reflective professional conversation about what points emerged from that experience, e.g. How did it feel to be the learner during that group work task? How clear were the objectives of the activity and the feedback on your performance as the learner? How did the questioning style affect you as the learner?
2. A swap shop event in which teachers bring an activity or resource that works for them and share reflections on that with colleagues in a round table discussion. This kind of event can be themed, e.g starter activities, ways to do plenary, ways to carry out peer assessment. Teachers then pick something to take away and adapt for themselves.
3. A varied event with a mixture of sessions to suit the presenters’ preferred style of delivery, e.g. Some PP presentations, some Q&A slots, some workshops, some lectures, some carousel or speed dating activities and some displays or banks of video clips. This kind of event can appeal to many different staff and can involve a broad sharing of practice or a tighter focus to hit a big theme or issue. At present I am hearing of colleges arranging events around hot topics such as ways to embed English and maths and approaches to stretch and challenge or assessment in the classroom.
4. The poster gallery event in which teachers prepare posters summarising the practice they want to share, either on flip chart paper or in more elaborate fashion using graphics, laminated sheets etc. The event has two halves: in the first half half, 50% of the staff stand by their posters answering questions as colleagues circulate; in the second half the roles reverse. This format suits small colleges with low staff numbers, I think. It is also a good way of creating a tangible resource after the event as posters can be displayed or copied or held online in a gallery space for future reference.
Tips for planning a Learning Fair
1. Fit the format to the purpose – if your focus is on sharing practice, encouraging links etc, create an event that many people feel comfortable contributing to in different ways and build a programme with spaces for networking and plenaries that foster discussion.
2. If your event is about driving key improvements in a specific aspect of T&L, try to identify interesting and thought-provoking practice in house and maybe consider bringing in a keynote speaker for the intro or plenary slot, to provide external stimulus.
3. Support the teachers who will be sharing practice at the event – hold a meeting to clarify purpose, format and roles within the event and make coaches/ Advanced Practitioners available to help them with the planning process.
4. Build teachers’ confidence in delivering a workshop by encouraging them to do it in pairs or groups and keep the session to a manageable length. Many people would feel happy delivering a 30-45 minute session but would feel quite intimidated running something 60 minutes long. If you are going to film sessions or send a roving camera around interviewing people, make sure people are informed of that and on board with the way that footage will be used.
5. Create a working group to plan and run the event, to pull in a range of voices and help create buy in across college. In your promotion of the event, engage curriculum managers with the benefits of it and ask them to encourage staff to contribute. I have seen several events flop when they were designed by the Professional Development team without sufficient engagement with curriculum managers. Some staff voted with their feet and didn’t participate, mainly because the relevance of the event had not been communicated clearly to them by their managers.
6. At the end of the event, have a plenary meeting in which teams work together to feed back key points from the sessions they attended and identify points for action within their area. This discussion can be minuted by curriculum managers and logged centrally so that development staff can support this work further after the event.
7. Plan the follow-up when you plan the event. What happens afterwards? What further support and development will be available? How will the impacts of the event on practice and thinking be assessed and when is the best time to do that? Many large-scale CPD events have very little follow-up and to my mind, this is a squandering of valuable time and resources. We need to help staff embed the developments they want to make and one-off events never do that on their own. It is the subsequent action planning, resource development, peer observations, coaching conversations and team meetings that make those ideas a reality. The Supported Experiments cycle is the most convincing model for embedding innovation and sharing practice over time that I have seen. For more information on that, click here:
For the common pitfalls of large CPD events and some ways round them, you may find this blog of interest
If you have attended or run a different style of Learning Fair from the ones listed here, I would love to hear from you so please post a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org