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9 September 2020
By Zoe Enser

Department CPD: Bringing out the Beauty of your Subject

One of the greatest joys of being a department lead is the opportunity to develop your team and the individuals within it. Not only can you develop their generic practice, but you get to focus closely on the reason which leads people into the profession: a love for their subject and pleasure they get in passing that on to others.

But with the various demands on individuals, teams and, of course middle leaders, how can you really make the best use of the limited time you get together with you team? Here are some of my suggestions on how to make the most of it.

1) Know your Team

Auditing staff knowledge and interests doesn’t have to be an onerous task with checklists and forms to fill in but can simply mean looking at the key concepts and desired outcomes you will be covering over the next term and reflecting on how knowledgeable and confident the team are around these. For example, you know Year 10 will be looking at Christmas Carol as their key text in the next term so consider how much people know about the context, the key themes and the writers’ intentions (or audience reception). You know the outcome should be students will have deep and fluent knowledge of these areas, be able to use the language and ideas in an extract to explore themes and character. They also need to be able to write an effective essay response. This final outcome will be relevant across most topics so could be a whole area to explore with your team, breaking it into effective planning techniques, modelling, devising thesis statements etc.  Whilst this is an aspect of procedural knowledge that is essential for success, you also need to make sure both students and staff have the right content knowledge to populate this and should be a key focus when it comes to departmental planning once procedures have been developed.

Lead the way with your team and indicate where you have gaps in your own knowledge. This will help to make them feel secure in knowing there is no shame in sharing this.

2) Draw on Expertise

Once you have found out who is confident in the key information, maybe having taught it previously, and get them to deliver short masterclasses for the team.

Share a few articles or academic essays about the texts too, giving people some time to read (either in advance or at the end of the last meeting) so they can think about the information and discuss how this could be most appropriately used in the classroom.

There are also a lot of materials out there in associations such as the British Library, Massolit, Lit drive and JStore (now free until 2021) so don’t feel everything has to be created from within the team.

3) Don’t Try to Cover Everything

If you look at the example of The Christmas Carol, it looks like there is a lot to cover. That is why it is useful to cluster ideas together where possible. So, just as you know all students need to work to plan and write essays, you may find that you are teaching some of the same big concepts across the curriculum, so it is worth making those links for your staff as well as for students. This could be something like looking at duality and conflict within human nature is not only relevant for your work on Jekyll and Hyde but also for work on Macbeth, Lord of the Flies and a variety of other texts. If you are focusing your CPD on topics this can be a powerful way to demonstrate the importance of the selection and sequencing in your curriculum, bringing you back again to the intent of your curriculum.

4) Strip out the Extraneous Load

Many teams have now gone to weekly bulletins or emails to the team to reduce the amount of admin or discussion tasks in meetings which take time away from our core purpose- the teaching of our subject. Trying to put information into a ‘one stop shop’ is also useful so staff won’t be trawling back through trying to find where various pieces of information may be.

We have also seen the power of technology over the lockdown period and some of those practices should remain to support us in being more effective and efficient. Use shared documents when it comes to the exchange of information around students, especially things like grades, as this will be useful in ensuring that the time you get together does not get drawn into discussions around individuals. Whilst they are important discussions, they may not be the ones everyone needs to be involved in and might need to be scheduled elsewhere.

5) Don't Forget the Pedagogy

Spending time discussing our amazing subject is fantastic and I am yet to meet an English teacher who would not happily explore a range of topics for hours on end. However, wondrous as it is to have an in-depth understanding of the Gothic, we are going to keep hitting a barrier if we don’t consider how we are going to deliver that to our students. Therefore, make space to return to ideas around what effective instruction looks like, considering how you might use techniques like modelling to scaffold students’ understanding and make the abstract concrete, or using formative assessment practices to check learning, especially when you hit a particularly difficult concept. It is worth circling back round regularly to this as you discuss the knowledge students need and how you can ensure it really sticks.

6) Enjoy it

As I said at the start, this is often one of the real joys of teaching. Literature especially has a wealth of different options which are often led by our own understanding of important texts. A powerful text will provide something new and exciting each time you return to it. The teaching of language too also gives us the joy of seeing students experiment with language and creating their own linguistic artwork with it. Gathering your team together to explore this is an amazing opportunity and one which we really should embrace.

Pre-lockdown I met teams who were enriching their subject knowledge with trips to the Globe, immersing themselves in the poetry of theatre, and others have continued this in lockdown using National Theatre Live and other streaming opportunities to share what it means to love Literature and Language. Share books and your own writing; talk about what you hate; most importantly, keep the dialogue around the teaching of English alive.

I’m looking forward to hearing more about how you are developing your teams over the coming year and joining in with some of the wonderful conversations you are having.

English Leaders Network and Cross Curricular CPD Meetings

For further information and to join us at our English Leaders Network Meetings please either email me at [email protected] or book via one of the links below:

Tuesday 22 September 2020

Tuesday 29 September 2020

Cross Curricular CPD Network Meetings are also running this academic year, to give those leading on professional learning and development an opportunity to discuss their most effective approaches.

Wednesday 16 September 2020

Wednesday 25 November 2020