I have a confession to make, namely to a guilty feeling of relief when I realised that a clash of engagements would result in my missing the next staff training event. Not surprising, I hear you say. After all, who wants to listen to someone droning on about some fad, with no real evidence backing it up, which staff will be expected to introduce into their lessons forthwith? Who wants to hear a load of “Ofsted wants this” and “Ofsted wants that”? Who wants to watch yet another video clip on the lines of Shift Happens? Yet CPD where I currently work is not like that. The organisers work hard to make it meaningful. No one is forced to implement fads. No one lectures us constantly about what Ofsted are suppose to want. We are encouraged to look at research based evidence and develop ideas which we could adapt to our classroom practice. We discuss what we have read and share thoughts with others. All well and good. Yet I still felt a twinge of relief to get out of it. Why?
I recently came across this video clip from Andreas Schleicher.
There are lots of points made which go beyond the scope of this blog post, but I was struck by his comments about CPD. He mentions that teachers in England are some of the least likely in the world to say that they want to improve through CPD (26.00) After the fads of the last decade this is hardly surprising. My guess is that schools in other countries did not start mandating ideas such as “learning styles” on the basis of a theory which had no real evidence. Yet, as I say, although I remember once hearing a talk from a consultant at a staff INSET who boasted that he sat his pupils with cards saying what their preferred learning style was, it was not mandatory for me in the way I gather it was in some schools. Nevertheless, I remain sceptical of much CPD and some of the practices advocated by Schleicher, if (and this is the big if) he believes that these practices are suitable for everyone, which he may not.
Firstly, I have nothing against lesson study – I first experienced it in Japan as a new teacher assisting the classroom teacher in her English lesson. There was no bureaucracy involved. As a new teacher it can be very valuable. Yet I would suggest that for experienced teachers, it is irritating to be told that we could/should/might consider doing X or Y instead of what we did. This is because we are only too well aware that our lessons could/should/might have been better. But we were whacked out as we had a full teaching day and therefore we probably did not teach the best lesson we could have done. The trouble is that there is no such thing as a perfect lesson. Because of this, it means that every single lesson can always be improved. Whatever you do, it will never be good enough. It highlights how depressing it must be for our pupils to have constant “Even Better If” comments on their work.
Secondly, Schleicher also mentions that the challenge for England is the variation within schools, rather than between schools. This has led to some school SLTs adopting very top down approaches to teaching and learning. Yet I would say this is not always effective in a secondary school setting, despite my being impressed by what I hear about Michaela. What works for one subject does not necessarily work for another. I have watched countless lessons in subjects other than my own. I can see this is probably effective CPD for new teachers, as they could gain behaviour management strategies, strategies for appropriate timing of tasks and activities. Again, I would suggest that for experienced secondary teachers, we gain little from watching lessons in other subjects, or attending staff CPD forums where teachers talk about how they have improved their questioning technique (usually because our experience means we have been using that technique for years without even thinking about it). I am also sceptical of the value of coaching for most staff and have blogged about this here.
So my suggestion for CPD in English schools would be that there needs to be variation in what is offered, depending on a teacher’s experience.For experienced secondary teachers like myself, our problem is that we can get stuck in a rut, particularly if we have been teaching at the same institution for a long time. Joining our subject associations and attending their conferences is vital and many of us do this. Yet how often do we have CPD time to visit other schools to talk specifically to our fellow subject practitioners about how they organise their teaching, their curriculum? The times I feel most revitalised are after attending the annual conference of my subject association, or on the rare occasions when I have had the chance to visit a school, preferably one with better outcomes in my subject than I currently get, to talk with my counterparts about how they go about it. I get really irritated when I am asked to consider adopting a teaching strategy from a school which is consistently achieving less well in my subject area than my current department. Yet I am fascinated by schools which seem to be doing better in my subject area. What are they doing? What can I learn from them? As I see it, this is the most valuable CPD you can offer experienced teachers. This does not mean that experienced teachers will never need in house CPD, as there will be whole school developments and curriculum changes which need to be discussed. A once a year visit to another school could be just the job if SLTs are seeking to rejuvenate long serving staff. What do others think?