Thousands upon thousands of teachers will have experienced at least one shocking training day – if not more!
Your headteacher stands up to give the ‘welcoming speech’ reflecting on the year gone by, highlighting particular successes and milestones to overcome; the person reading from a Powerpoint or the teacher-led workshops, whatever the situation, a typical start back to the school term has teachers gathering ‘to learn’. For many teachers, experiencing the traditional INSET day will conjure palpitations and monotonous memories.
Of course, CPD varies greatly from school to school and the quality and type of training colleagues receive will range from rousing to abhorrent. As a school CPD leader, training days have always prominent in my mind because I have to meet the needs of 220 people, always questioning the quality. the range of activities offered and the impact on our staff. For me, one-off CPD events make little impact on teachers, regardless of any school priorities. I’ve attended and sat through many training days myself, with 90% of those having been in-house with colleagues. I can probably count the total number on both hands – and that after 25 years – that have made an impact on my classroom. That is on average, one measly and uplifting training day for every second year I’ve been teaching!
I’ve led plenty of CPD sessions too, and I’m sure one or two may have been 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. 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, 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.
This is simply not good enough! So, with a hit and miss approach in mind, here are my top-10 tips from my 20 years of leading professional development in secondary schools.
1. Do not read from a PowerPoint slide show
We’ve all encountered this. We may have even done it ourselves to ease the nerves, despite our experience. ‘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: As a school leader, make sure you verify materials and approaches before kick off. All speakers should provide the handouts for staff to read in advance.
2. Introductions, housekeeping and fire-alarm drills
Starting off with housekeeping signals that the rest of the day will be a useless time-filler. Necessary, but not essential and by far the second worst part of any training event. If the training is so important (and you have spent a large sum of money of an external speaker), why waste time with dull information. Such data should be kept well away from internal events. Experienced staff will have sat through every type of day possible and will be equipped with enough bread and butter information to relay to others.
Possible solution: Save housekeeping information for printed agendas and display screens as colleagues arrive to take their seats.
3. Do not keep people behind after finishing
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.
4. Meetings or training?
When teachers 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 training days should remain protected for their original intention. A ‘workshop’ can often be a thinly veiled meeting in disguise, so to ensure there is a distinct format for your training event, 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
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 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’ backup plan in mind.
6. Internet and You-Tube
Do we 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 too much. Search around, look for video-content that avoids mindless advertising, poor sound quality and 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.
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.
Possible solution: I’m not cynical, but please spare us from anything new – keep the terminology, just change the perception.
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 more without them responding – or at least I hope not – so why do we continue to do this time and time again for teachers? 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.
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. There is value in meeting and working with someone new, but I would suggest that teachers work better from those they work with day-to-day. Why mix up the dynamics just to be different? It is important to correlate new information with the people who you will be using it with on a regular basis.
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 exercise.
Can you believe some schools do not feed their staff? 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. Teachers are always happy just to be out of school and have a decent meal with other adults. Equally, when a school hosts an event, lunch standards suddenly seem to rise in the same canteen, using the same ingredients that make our ‘school-dinners’.
Possible solution: Instead of slop, mush and stew which lack pizzazz and etiquette, take time to calculate the costs of internally catering per head. In the last few years, £5 per head is a good ball-park figure for feeding one person for the day. 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).