Training day pitfalls: What to avoid and how to put it right!

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This article features in the October 2012 edition of CPD Update newsletter – published by Optimus Education. You can read the article here, but you will need to create a login.

24 Sep 2012

Training day pitfalls: What to avoid and how to put it right!

How can we make in-house CPD sessions more engaging and inspiring? Ross McGill examines some common problems and suggests ways to overcome them…

Autumn is upon us, and by the time you read this, you will have experienced at least one, perhaps two Inset days, finely tuned into school priorities for the forthcoming academic year. For some, these may be quite simply jumbled together to keep you busy from the outset.

The resonance of your headteacher’s ‘welcoming speech’, reflecting on the year gone by, highlighting particular successes and milestones overcome, may or may not be fresh in your mind.

Whatever the situation, that familiar sour taste in your mouth may linger following a typical start back to the school year. I’m sure that as the new term dawns you will still be settling in, tweaking seating plans, correcting mispronounced names from the register and quashing momentary bouts of laughter to set the standard.

Many of us will encounter the traditional first-day-back Inset, designed for the whole staff, and for the vast majority of us, this may mean palpitations and monotonous memories. So my question to each reader is this: ‘Was that Inset day, of any use, to you, at all?’

Of course, CPD varies greatly from school to school, and the quality and type of training colleagues receive will range from rousing to abhorrent. I’m a CPD leader, so training days are always prominent in my mind; more so, because my school has organised several additional training sessions during the last summer term, more than I’ve ever experienced before. We had identified a need and the training was certainly a priority – essential to school-specific and post-Ofsted needs. But I’m still questioning the quality and guest speakers, the range of activities offered and the impact on our staff.

Reflecting on our CPD practice

For me, one-off CPD events make little impact on teachers, regardless of any school priorities, unless they are engaging, inspiring and, above all, meaningful to individual teaching practice. I’ve attended and sat through many Inset days myself – far more than I can remember. But of the most inspiring days I’ve been lucky enough to attend, 99% have been in-house with colleagues and friends. I can probably count the total number on both hands – and that after 20 years. That is, on average, one measly and uplifting training day for every second year I’ve been teaching.

‘For the last 20 years, most professional development has therefore been designed to address those deficits. The result has been teachers who are more knowledgeable, but no more effective in practice’

It’s simply not good enough.

I’ve led plenty of CPD sessions, too, and I’m sure one or two may have been well-below par. At various levels, my priority for all schools and for effective CPD, whether as a participant or a leader, is to raise the profile and quality of staff development in all situations. The information-giving type of training – for example, exam-based and moderation Inset – is by far the dullest of all. But apart from these essential exceptions, chalk and talk-led sessions should be kept well away from staff in your own school.

Professor Dylan Wiliam recently said: ‘The standard model of teacher professional development is based on the idea that teachers lack important knowledge. For the last 20 years, most professional development has therefore been designed to address those deficits. The result has been teachers who are more knowledgeable, but no more effective in practice.’

How would you evaluate the training you receive?

After discussing this with colleagues via Twitter, I received many responses outlining ‘poor CPD case-scenarios’ at Inset days. So it is with inadequate CPD in mind, that I have chosen to discuss:

Top 10 CPD activities to avoid

1. Do not read from a PowerPoint slideshow: We’ve all encountered this. We may have even done it ourselves to ease the nerves, despite our experience. So please do read this first sub-heading again and make sure it remains in your mind. ‘Information-giving’ is identified as the top-hate by all who attend any type of training in or out of school. We’ve said we won’t do it ourselves; we’ve heard guest speakers say they won’t do it either, yet it always happens.

Possible solution: All Inset speakers should provide the handouts for staff to read in advance and (please) focus just on the key information and headings. Providing staff with handouts in advance, or, if this is not possible, offering short periods throughout the day to digest the information and discuss issues with colleagues or the speaker, will ensure prompt delivery and keep the audience’s interest and focus. Perhaps even turn each slide into a storytelling fable (instead of reading the content) we can all relate to… and don’t forget to add a dose of humour.

2. Introductions, housekeeping and fire-alarm drills: Necessary, but not essential, and by far the second worst part of any training event. Such information should be kept well away from internal events. Experienced staff will have sat through every type of Inset day possible and will be equipped with enough bread and butter information to relay onto others.

Possible solution: Save housekeeping information for printed agendas and display screens as colleagues arrive to take their seats.

3. Do not keep staff behind after the published finishing time: I believe every agenda can be succinct and brief. Without question, there will be occasions when discussions and information require more thought and, once in a blue-moon, staff will want to discuss key items after the allocated time. There will always be times when last-minute announcements are needed or the odd member of staff will raise a hand to ask a question. Put simply, finishing before (and as close to) the allotted time will ensure staff leave content.

Possible solution: For all those awkward questions asked as staff are about to break for coffee, I would wholeheartedly advise speakers to respond to the individual, rather than the whole audience, by asking that member of staff to speak with you during the break. You will know if this particular question warrants a whole-audience set of ears. Alternatively pre-empt situations by displaying key messages on a projector screen or an additional handout as staff enter or leave the room.

4. Meetings or training? When staff come together in-house, the purpose of any gathering should be clear. Meetings should be kept securely within the 1265 cycle of all school calendars; used for information-giving and coming together of groups of staff, while Inset days should remain protected for their original intention – staff training. A ‘workshop’ can often be a thinly veiled meeting in diguise, so do ensure there is a distinct format for your training event and specify what staff will do when gathered, and what they will be receiving as part of their development.

Possible solution: Plan a series of workshops staff can lead and opt in or out of, ensuring a range of activities to provide choice and flexibility throughout the day.

5. Minor distractions: Go on, admit it! We have all sat in a room feeling far too hot – or even too cold. Such simple external factors can mean the difference between a good and bad experience. It is vital that a CPD leader considers the room and the user experience of those attending. Review external noise, wonky projectors, screen displays and video resources that could possibly fail on the day. Also consider table layouts, font-size, dried-out board markers, loud-banging doors and the need for a microphone for those who cannot project their voice in a large room.

Possible solution: Double-check and treble-check! Have a ‘what-if’ back-up plan in mind.

6. Internet You-Tube clips: Yes, I’ve seen that, thanks! Do I really have to watch it again? Perhaps a particular clip is inspiring; maybe even relevant for that one key point you wish to address throughout the day, but CPD speakers should ensure thorough research in this area. In a world of social media, there is ever more material available to us, probably far too much. Search around, look for video-content that avoids mindless advertising, poor sound quality and hand-held amateur footage.

Possible solution: Do your research. Make sure any video content is relevant, inspiring and succinct. ICT staff may be able to help you convert your chosen footage into a document file for several reasons: a) the file remains with you and not in the hands of the owner. The video author may at any time decide to disable the content, leaving you with a blank screen on the day; b) ensure that any footage is devoid of inappropriate advertising or more distasteful recommended viewing on the sidebar; and c) avoid any possible connectivity issues on the day, saving the video to a PC or USB will dissolve any likely mishaps.

7. Acronyms: Schools are often forced to use government terms that have already completed the circuits through NPQH, NCSL and SSAT channels long before they were in vogue. Some we cannot avoid, such as the DfE, DFES, Ofsted, HMI and SEFs, but I have to hold my hand up – I’ve used ‘PDDs’ (Professional Development Days), ‘DEPs’ (Departmental Improvement Plans) and more. The list goes on and we’ve heard them all. Some may be fun and many have serious intentions, but there are thousands of school acronyms up and down the country, school-specific, even departmental. I’m not cynical, but please spare us from anything new – keep the terminology, just change the perception.

Possible solution: Change the colour and logo once in a while, but keep the name the same and avoid any further unnecessary acronyms.

8. No time to talk: By far one of the biggest requests I’ve received from colleagues is ‘time to talk’. We often forget that we subject ourselves to the worst type of learning scenario as a group of adults – assembly-style auditoriums, characterised by slouched postures and folded arms with one voice projecting from the front. We wouldn’t talk to students for an hour – or at least I hope not, so why do we continue to do this time and time again, for longer than 30 minutes? There is simply no need.

Possible solution: As in any classroom, keep presentations short; create opportunities to talk, respond and share with peers in small groups;focus conversations and circulate the room, joining in or gauging when to bring the dialogue to an end.

9. Groups: We all been subjected to pairings at internal and external events. Both are equally painful and once again, subject us to what we put students through in the classroom.

Possible solution: Once in a while allow staff to choose their own groupings, or turn the opportunity to find a partner into a fun and relaxing game.

10. Catering: This is often the highlight of any external CPD day out. Even for those who attend a half-day training event, lunch is generally thrown in and the range and quality are often what you’d expect from any sub-standard hotel or restaurant. We all feel happy just to be out of school and have a decent meal with other adults.

However, when you host an event, lunch standards in school suddenly seem to drop. In the canteen and using the same ingredients as ‘school-dinners’, slop, mush and stew lack pizazz and etiquette.

Possible solution: Take time to calculate the costs of internally catering per head. You’d be surprised how little it varies with a one-off provision for an external caterer. Inform your school chef, try it once and evaluate staff consensus. You never know, your chef may sense some competition…

To conclude, it has not been easy to identify such a shortlist, but remember: ‘Changes in what teachers know or believe will not benefit students unless teachers also change what they do in classrooms’ (Dylan Wiliam, Spectator ‘Schools Revolution’ conference, March 2010).

@TeacherToolkit

Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, a simple Twitter account which rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on Twitter in the UK'. He is an award winning teacher and an experienced school leader and as @TeacherToolkit, curated this website you are now reading as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated for '500 Most Influential People in the Britain' by The Sunday Times and one of the most influential in the field of education. He is the only classroom teacher to feature. He is a former Teaching Award nominee for 'Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School in London' and has also written 3 books on teaching. Read more here.

One thought on “Training day pitfalls: What to avoid and how to put it right!

  • 15th October 2012 at 3:46 pm
    Permalink

    Great article – as a trainer, my biggest bug bear is the cold/hot room, uncomfortable chairs, poor quality training venue. My heart sinks when I see delegates with coats buttoned up or fanning themselves with paper – I know two things in that moment: 1. They resent anyone who has caused them to be in this room! 2. By the time they have warmed up/cooled down – half the morning has gone.
    I used to get frosty silences from commissioners when being booked in response to my “is the room good for training?” So I now say “Shall I arrive extra early to ensure room temperature is conducive to learning or is that all taken care of in house?”
    All this before I get to reassure them that I do not do “ice-breakers” (if they wanted to talk to the person on their left – they would have done so by now…) or Role Plays. It is usually only at these reassurances that they forgive the uncomfortable surroundings and accept the announcements as compensation.
    Eileen Murphy

    Reply

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