As a freelance trainer and coach in schools and colleges, I am often invited to deliver training on a staff development day. This can give staff access to research insights and expose them to different classroom approaches as well as foster reflection and debate about our professional practices, so I recognise that there can be value in training sessions. However, I have a nagging concern about the transfer into practical application through planning and delivery. I come away from training sessions concerned that little or nothing will actually be applied, however positively the teachers received the session and however many enthusiastic follow-up messages I get from keen people on Twitter. There are just too many barriers and distractions to widespread implementation; it is just too easy to do nothing and too challenging to actually experiment with new practices.
These concerns are not just my own, as staff development research echoes these points and highlights the importance of reflecting on your own practice and collaborating with others to explore and adapt any input to your context. We need time and process to take training content into our own professional context in creative, tailored ways. We need space to think about how that new approach could work with our learners and what we would need to do to maximise its potential impact using a tailored approach. We can benefit from rich, thoughtful, challenging professional conversations with colleagues to help us plan that implementation.
Yet, most institutions who invite me in to do some work are still wedded to the training delivery model and are reluctant or entirely resistant to paying for the support with implementation. There is a love of paying for a guru/expert figure to bring in knowledge, but a troubling lack of focus on how to foster actual change and development from that input. When I suggest a focus on planning materials or activities as part of the delivery, I am almost always told the institution wants an input-focused day, perceiving this as better use of their money. I don’t agree.
So, imagine my delight when a Vice Principal at a land based college proposed a different style of CPD day for me to work on. We spoke on the phone and he explained his concern about what was being taken away and applied after the typical training day; he expressed a desire for a structure that produced something tangible that people could take away and use. Hooray!! We formulated a new way of working for a:
- One hour of input from me on the topic in question, which included a little modelling of approaches, some sharing of practice with robust debate about our beliefs and assumptions about this aspect of learning. The teachers knew that at the end of this hour we would create flip chart summaries of key ideas that had come out of our conversations and that these flip charts would be stored on Moodle and shared with colleagues who had not attended.
- The teachers then worked in groups of three to create their flip chart summaries, with each group looking at a different aspect of the topic.
- After break, teachers had the chance to spend time devising a piece of material to use with students, related to the topic of the day. I provided some ideas as food for thought but encouraged an individualised and creative approach to devising something of relevance. Teachers spent some time drafting on paper and discussing with colleagues or working alone before we moved to a computer room. Materials were emailed to the Moodle administrator to be added to our online area related to this session for others to access after the day, discuss and debate.
So what was different about this day? The teachers really welcomed the chance to do something practical and have time allocated to this and were positive about the whole notion of the session, so the mood was upbeat and focused. The fact that they were going to create flip chart summaries produced a different reaction to the input section of the day – I saw the vast majority focusing well and taking notes during the input stage whereas this is often limited to a few people only! There was thoughtful and vigorous debate about which points merited inclusion on the charts and how best to express them for colleagues, so I heard many points being expanded and developed on the spot, which was encouraging to see.
The biggest surprise was the level of engagement and quality of work produced in that short materials workshop after the break. Teachers often opted to work with others who work at the same level but on different programmes, so they could devise an activity on a topic for their course, but tap into colleagues’ creative thinking about different ways to shape and structure that activity. Several people commented about how interesting and challenging it was to work in this collaborative way and how rarely it was possible in the current timetable constraints. There was plenty of thoughtful, enthusiastic debate, sometimes with disagreement, but always reflective, practical and professional.
Given that space and time, people came up with some really well-crafted quizzes for checking learning, some presentations on steps to embed functional skills into a topic, sets of plenary questions at different levels to stretch learners further, a whole lesson with stages and visual resources for a scenario task. All of these related to lessons being taught soon so I feel very optimistic about the chances of them being applied in practice. All of them were what I think of as good quality generative activities – ones that teachers from other subjects could look at and generate their own bespoke versions using subject specific content. They are well worth sharing on Moodle and exploring within a team meeting or subsequent CPD day using some reflective questions and facilitation techniques. I was impressed how quickly and how well they took the ideas from the input session into practical implementation when given the chance to work on it immediately. I could coach, mentor and advise as I spent time circulating around the room, helping people to refine ideas further, and it was really great to have that personal time with individuals with a depth that is usually impossible.
I am hoping that for this college, it will become the beginning of a new way of working for at least part of their CPD programme – Classroom Practice Development, instead of simply training. As I am doing some work with the Heads and leaders on closing the loop on teaching and learning developments, I am looking forward to devising ways that managers can make time and space for teachers to access the Moodle resources and benefit from them in critical, reflective ways. This model is one that I will be discussing with other schools and colleges in an attempt to ensure that training actually creates development. Thank you Malcolm, for making this space and time available and for building this model with me. It has been something I have wanted to do for a long time in my work but you are the first leader who made this possible for me.