A CPD session, but not as we know it

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.



Posted in Advanced Practitioners, CPD, CPD for Teachers, FE, Lesson planning, Professional Development, Sharing good practice, Staff Development, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sharing practice to reflecting on practice: A positive move for CPD in FE?

Sharing practice sessions are a staple of CPD programmes in most of the colleges where I have worked as a teacher, trainer and coach and those in which I now work as a freelance consultant and trainer. There seems to be a widespread assumption that sharing practice from the classroom has value in and of itself, whereas I increasingly feel that the benefit is dependent on how it is done. For teachers to gain maximum benefit from these sessions, I think we need to move from simply sharing practice to a deeper and more focused reflection on practice.

Many sharing sessions that I have attended involve plenty of ‘show and tell’ elements, in which teachers describe their classroom approaches or activities and show resources to colleagues. This can become a process limited to basic narrative, telling the story of how teachers used the approach in class. Although it can be practical and useful to know how the activity or approach worked, the deeper professional dialogue comes from talking about how it affected the learners and the teacher and reflecting on glitches and potential enhancements. This deeper level of reflection can make these sessions rich, thought provoking and challenging for teachers. When these conversations have this kind of detail and depth, I have seen teachers debating the very nature of learning and what we can confidently say we know about how to facilitate it. Assumptions are made explicit and there is professional space to examine and challenge them in a respectful way. The session can then go way beyond conversations about how a checklist was used with level one in a speaking task, to the heart of our thinking processes, knowledge and professional practices.

This focus on reflection and professional critique also helps to tackle one of the other pitfalls of sharing practice sessions – the flawed but implicit notion that all approaches shared could be of value to you and worth adopting. Attendees at these sessions can feel a pressure to adopt wholesale some of the practices on show, whereas engagement with them as a critical friend for review, reflection and selective adaptation would be a more appropriate goal.

The way the session is configured can have a significant influence on the tone and style of the conversations that ensue. As the trainer or facilitator, it helps to create a space for high order critical thinking and encourage teachers to ask questions of each other and debate the benefits of the resources/activities on show. When you create a space for analysis and evaluation, teachers seem to feel more comfortable to offer challenges, critiques and even conflicting views, within a respectful professional dialogue. Subsequent conversations about evolving or adapting the ideas on show are so much richer and grounded in the teachers’ own knowledge and context. Without such critical space, I have watched sharing practice sessions stay on the surface limited to narrative, which for me is a lost opportunity to move our thinking on together.

For people who are thinking about ways to foster deeper reflection in their sharing practice slots, here are some food for thought questions:

  • How reflective are the sharing practice sessions in your context? What shows you that?
  • How could you encourage deeper professional reflection within them?
  • What role could coaches or advanced practitioners play in this process?
  • How could pre-session tasks help foster a spirit of reflection and debate in the conversations?
  • What could happen after the sessions, to foster ongoing collaboration and reflection?



Posted in Advanced Practitioners, CPD, CPD for Teachers, FE, Professional Development, Sharing good practice, Staff Development | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lesson observations – quality assurance or quality improvement?


The blog on the link above includes some thoughts on the importance of gaining staff feedback on observation practices and seeing observation as a tool for professional learning and quality improvement as opposed to mere quality assurance.


Posted in Culture for Learning, Graded lesson observations, Lesson observations, Professional Development, Ungraded lesson observations | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A collection of blogs about revision skills

There are some bloggers who are able to produce really interesting and useful posts on a regular basis and here are some of my favourites, writing on topics related to revision. Thanks to all of them for their work and generous sharing!

The “Do’s and Don’ts” of Revision from Dan Williams:



The revision collection from Alex Quigley:



Sequencing lessons in the run up to exams by Andy Tharby:



Improving recall in GCSE English Language and Literature: some practical suggestions from Andy Tharby:



Why use visuals from Dan Williams:



Posted in Embedding English, embedding literacy, Exams, Recycling, Revision, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Want to set yourself up as a freelancer in education? Blog posts on how to make it happen

I worked in colleges and schools for twenty years and now I work for myself as a sole trader, managing the business side of being a freelancer and also the training/consultancy/coaching delivery into schools and colleges. It is a challenging, exciting, unpredictable and rewarding life so here are some thoughts on making that change in work and lifestyle.

This blog helps you think about what kind of business you want to run and what you can offer to customers/clients:


Here is some advice about the rather dull but absolutely necessary discipline of good record keeping:


Thoughts on using Twitter, Linked In and a website as tools for generating and sustaining your business:


Some thoughts about the pleasures and benefits of working freelance, once you are through the stressful set-up phase:


How to make business travel more palatable!








Posted in Coaching, Consultancy, FE, Freelancers, schools, Social media | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The challenges of sustaining joined-up CPD

I am working with Optimus Education to deliver some workshops around creating sustainable, joined-up CPD cycles and here is a link to a blog on this topic, covering some of the common pitfalls and ways around them. Details of the workshops are also included in the link:


Posted in CPD, CPD for Teachers, Culture for Learning, FE, Leadership of learning, Learning Leader, Professional Development, Staff Development, Teaching and learning | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Training on creating a sustainable, joined up CPD cycle

I am working with Optimus Education to present several half day events to help schools and colleges develop sustainable, joined up CPD cycles. There will be plenty of practical approaches shared as well as chances to network with others from the sector. It would be a very useful session for a CPD lead, staff development trainer or Advanced Practitioner/Teaching and Learning Coach to attend.

Here is what previous attendees said about the event:

Brilliant – really useful and time to reflect”
“Excellent opportunity to explore the complexities of CPD and come up with some practical strategies.”

Informative and highly useful”

“Excellent input and discussion around CPD, learned loads! Brilliant input from trainer – thank you!”

“Very practical and thought provoking – good rapport and positive outcomes”

“Informative, great to have opportunities to reflect and network.”

“Informative and reflective. Very practical and useful”

“Thank you – really useful – a lot to take in and back to school!”

The next events in the series will take place in May and June and focus on ways to motivate staff to get involved with CPD and approaches for sharing practice effectively. Details about these two events on the booking link below and non-members can attend for a reasonable fee displayed on the pricing tab:




Posted in Advanced Practitioners, CPD, CPD for Teachers, Culture for Learning, FE, Leadership of learning, Professional Development, Sharing good practice, Staff Development, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment