As a freelance trainer and coach in the education sector, I am often booked to deliver a session on staff development day at a school or college. This is inevitable as it is a rare opportunity for staff to attend sessions off timetable when learners are not around, but this model of CPD is often riddled with problems- training that is not well-focused on teachers’ specific needs; lack of pre-session engagement and post-session follow-up; prioritising of training over longer term development planning; too much input and little or no space for reflection or planning.
With all of this in mind, I have been piloting a different approach with colleges and schools who are aware of these deep rooted problems with CPD. The first session on a topic has involved some carefully scoped training, bringing in ideas from research and practical approaches from the sector for debate and discussion with the group. Teachers have shared their own views, experiences and ideas about that content in critical reflection tasks with a peer or group, fostering some robust professional dialogue. They then have workshop time to devise something for use with learners, be that a classroom activity/resource or a task for tutorial time/flipped learning or they spend time reviewing and enhancing their scheme of work/learning or a lesson plan, using insights from our session together. More details about this style of session on the blog below:
The second session, after some time has elapsed, is focused on sharing reflections and practices in thoughtful peer review conversations. The teachers implement their ideas or resources from session one with their learners and then come back together with me for some structured and facilitated review. I recently returned to the college mentioned in the blog for the second session and supported the teachers in reviewing their work and identifying their next steps.
This is what struck me as I facilitated this process. The conversations were dynamic, energised and thoughtful, with plenty of focus on the needs of individual students and the contextual features of working with them on a given curriculum. Teachers voiced concerns and debated the pros and cons of different ways to tackle challenges. There was the reassurance of everyone revealing a work in progress or a challenge with a learner, and finding a safe professional space to discuss this. I noted people sharing experiences, reading references or approaches and noting down things to explore further. In the plenary slots, the dialogue moved organically from stretching disengaged learners to tackling the planning of a new linear curriculum to ways to create engagement in group work tasks. Conversation was relaxed and informal, less like ‘training talk’ and more like dialogue with a peer.
After the break the teachers broke off into pairs or clusters or chose to work alone on planning something practical and relevant for them. Some worked on paper; some drew ideas onto flip charts; others used computers. There was work around identifying the key skills needed to pass the new assessments and discussions about how to thread those skills across the scheme of work. Others looked at how to plan a session to engage learners with research and presentation of information, stretching different learners in different ways. The conversations before the break had triggered thoughts about next steps and teachers were keen to get on with developing those ideas into something fit for practical use. I was impressed by the detail and quality of the work produced in a relatively short timeframe and several teachers mentioned that the constraint of the session end time had helped them focus instead of drifting off or frittering time away.
As a trainer, I found this session utterly fascinating and incredibly rewarding. I could see people bringing their own context into the room more easily and confidently than when they feel they are receiving ‘training input.’ I could signpost references from research and ideas from the wider sector but in response to what was emerging from the group. The style of the session created a platform for really responsive, tailored development work. I was a facilitator, coach, resource and advisor instead of being any kind of ‘sage on the stage!’
There is a place for ‘training’ sessions in a CPD programme, as new research and different approaches can challenge assumptions and trigger development of thinking and practice. There is also a place for reflection, peer review and collaborative materials design, to give teachers a much needed space for planning and implementation with the support of their colleagues. Without such space, it is too easy for ‘training input’ to be relegated to some handouts in a drawer. For schools and colleges wanting to foster actual change in practice, I think it is worth pondering the balance of these two elements within the CPD offer.