CPD Network Meeting: Getting the Best from our CPD Offer
Recently I had the absolute pleasure of meeting with a group of school leaders and teachers across Kent, to look at how we could make the most of the CPD we have on offer in Kent schools.
The intention of the session, just as with the English and Maths network meetings I have been running alongside my colleague Andrew Woods, was to share my knowledge and expertise in this area, but perhaps most importantly, to give schools a chance to reflect on their practice in light of some of the research and evidence around good practice. This session really exemplified the wealth of experience and knowledge which is there for us to share.
We had a mix of primary and secondary colleagues in the session, all of whom had taken different approaches in their schools. All were keen to look at how we can utilize research and really make a difference to what is happening in our schools. To this end I shared some research around best practice, including the work of Professor Robert Coe in The Great Teaching Toolkit, published earlier in the year, as well as looking the Government’s Standards for Professional Development guide, published in 2016.
In addition, we looked at the work of David Kolb on the Experiential Learning Cycle and how and why this could benefit teachers in our schools to engage with different theories and really embed the most effective approaches in their classrooms.
Some of the most exciting shares related to what is happening in schools now though, and we looked at how we can learn from a range of approaches already applied.
Making it Accessible
In one secondary school they are using a ‘light bite’ approach. This approach involves short (15 to 20 minute) sessions where staff provide each other with an insight into a practice they are using, including the research which underpins it. The most recent example was in the use of Plickers (more details here) and although the sessions aren’t compulsory, as many as 40 members of staff are opting to access these sessions which take place at 8am. The sessions are followed up with feedback from the teachers, who are also keen to share what they have achieved with this particular practice. What I, and others, really liked about this approach was the accessibility, flexibility (you can dip in and out and select the topics which would be of greatest interest to you) and the ongoing dialogue this has produced. This is a clear example of how the school is considering cognitive load (timing of the sessions and the ‘bitesize’ nature of them) as well as encouraging ongoing dialogue. They have a rhythm and regularity to them and teachers get a chance to feedback on their own findings. This is not dissimilar to how some have used the remote materials which have been produced by things like Seneca, ResearchEd and other providers over lockdown, but with the added bonus of specificity.
The other approach which had a lot of interest was related to the use of TLCs (Teaching and Learning Communities) which had been employed by one school. This was something I developed myself using the framework used by Dylan Wiliam with the EEF Formative Assessment Programme. The key elements again are the sharing of information or research at the start, often facilitated with materials delivered either as a whole staff or by the group leaders. The groups are generally small, with 10 or 12 people across the school, with a careful focus on balancing expertise when the groups were established. This can be a successful approach across phrase, school or in subject groups. In my school I included TAs and cover supervisors too; anyone who would be involved in teaching and learning needed to have access to the same opportunities to develop their practice.
People in each group are then paired up for discussion and there are opportunities provided between the sessions for them to observe the focus in action and continue the dialogue. The pairs then bring back their discussion to the wider group and share their findings and discuss the theory further.
I went a step further in terms of wider sharing myself at the end of our first round, setting up a ‘teach meet’ session where each TLC delivered their key findings and what they felt others would potentially benefit from exploring themselves. In the next year we did this same sharing process via a blog. Other schools have produced used a booklet at the end of the year where everyone shares their findings in a more formal way. It can be a really powerful way to focus your thinking when you know you are going to share your experiences even more widely.
In the Kent school using this approach they have maintained a focus on metacognition over the last few years, and have made changes to allow an accelerated programme for those new to the school or teaching so they can quickly join in with these discussions across the wider school. This means that there is always a clear focus and they feel the impact of this has been huge for their students.
Again this approach fits well into the Kolb cycle with time to explore the abstract, time to reflect, time to see it in action and try it themselves in order to come back to have supported reflection too. In my approach I also offered scaffolding for the peer review and feedback to help develop a coaching approach for the discussions. This allowed people to be able to be more focused in their reflections and be supported to explore next steps.
The third approach we examined in the meetings was Lesson Study. This had a really positive impact on the school using is, enabling people to discuss subject knowledge and teaching strategies in great detail as they planned together. This also enabled people to observe practice and have a dialogue around outcomes. Lesson study could easily form a basis for the TLC approach or indeed practitioner enquiry, something which schools have been increasingly turning towards as their approach to appraisal.
One school in the group had taken just this approach and their teachers would be supported to decide on an enquiry focus for the whole academic year and would then meet regularly in order to reflect on progress and issues which may arise.
Other topics we explored were things such as time, always a factor in terms of developing staff, with some schools opting to strip back or move some of their priorities to later in the year in light of current circumstances. The wellbeing of staff has been a huge focus for many, but of course whilst it can seem like a good idea to remove concerns such as CPD in order to support wellbeing, research indicates staff who feel that their professional learning and development is invested in and valued are often amongst the happiest in the profession. There is also then of course the issue of why we do these things; we want to improve outcomes for our students, something has been further highlighted as important in the current climate not reduced.
Barriers and Next Steps
There are a number of barriers people are trying to overcome at the moment and it was lovely to talk to people about how they had been doing this, using remote practices, blending the learning for their staff as well as students, in order to harness the power of CPD in their schools.
I am looking forward to catching up with as many from the group as possible after Christmas and would invite as many others to join us as possible. We have plenty to gain with this kind of sharing and I feel in a very privileged position to do so.
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