Professional development for teachers: How can we take it to the next level? #Outstanding

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Schools should offer more support and time for training, but teachers also need to take responsibility for their own growth, writes Ross Morrison McGill – this post can be found on The Guardian Teacher Network.

(Professional developement: in the ever changing world of education, teachers need to grasp training opportunities with both hands. Main Photograph:

Lately, the teaching profession has never been given so much limelight. We can thank a couple of gentlemen for this, but this is not the main purpose of my retort to Tim Brighouse‘s article on teacher (CPD) continued professional development in The Guardian on Tuesday. What I would like to do, is impart an objective and balanced leadership perspective on staff professional development, from trainee teacher to headteacher, in order to present to you what I really think of staff development for our profession.

Over the past 20 years, I have developed, evolved and grown; I have increased, shed-skin and reincarnated myself as a teacher each year, every term and every other day, in some cases. Predominantly, for the greater good of my students and for my own career, in order to maintain on-the-pulse professionalism for the benefit of the schools I have worked in. Professor Carol Dweck calls this a ‘growth mindset’ in her fabulous book Mindset.

Cover of "Mindset: The New Psychology of ...
Cover of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Recently, I counted the training that I had received, which I believed had made a significant impact on my career. The number barely reaches the first finger on my second hand. I would not be the teacher I am today if I did not reflect on my practice; remain open to critique and simply want to do better. Ultimately, what attracts the teacher to the profession is our innate disposition to impart knowledge, inspire and to continue to learn for ourselves.

However, this is not the case for all of us and perhaps where we may let ourselves down. In Dweck’s book, this would be called a ‘fixed mindset’. I ask you, is this the curse of the profession? Are we so open for self-reflection and critique from others that some of us have shut down? Are we baulking at whole staff training and the latest fads, because we are so micro-managed? I would agree with any teacher, that the number of effective training sessions is rare.

So, allow me start with what could be improved.

Teachers, young and old, new and established should be given the time to develop; to share and to train in order to meet the needs of an evolving audience. This should not be left to those joining the profession, nor those ‘on a course’ or on some sort of ‘leadership pathway’. Training and good quality development should be available to all. I recently wrote about this universal panacea here, in which I describe that regular and sustained staff training is part of our daily diet.

My work is never complete. I never finish the to-do list; I always have something new to learn, something else to share with others or another strategy or resource to create, disseminate and evaluate. This is the true nature of the profession. Disseminating, learning, reflecting. We should all be given the time to learn frequently and in a robust, supportive and challenging manner that provides regular development that leads somewhere useful for the individual. At the moment, I do not think this exists for every teacher.

There is good enough reason to call for a professional body, as Tim Brighouse and Bob Moon have done, given that almost every quango on the planet was quashed in October 2010 – many lost to the profession without a ripple of opposition. What are we left with has little impact to you and me as classroom teachers. It is suggested that a National Teaching Institute is established to provide consistency and aspiration for all classroom practitioners. I question whether this body will make an impact on every individual in every classroom across the country?

CPD can be a gloomy picture in most schools. Inset days, at worst, are one-size-fits-all chalk and talk in the school hall or even self-directed time which we will inevitably be used for marking or planning. At best, training days are well-planned. They are sustainable, specific to the individual and one that makes significant impact on the teacher, as well as the students in their classroom.

At a Spectator ‘Schools Revolution’ conference, Dylan Wiliam summed up the problem: “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.”

There are far too many to state here, but I have listed three key practices that I see, as CPD leader, that would make long-term benefits to my colleagues and the profession as a whole.

TEEP: The Teacher Effectiveness Programme (TEEP) was set up in 2002 by the Gatsby Charity Foundation to develop a model of effective teaching and learning drawn from research and best practice. Under the custodian of the SSAT, the programme has suddenly reached the masses.

TeachMeets: Perhaps unknown to many, but this is what I call the underground revolution of teacher training. Curated and delivered by classroom teachers, these ‘gatherings’ collate and broadcast great ideas that work in the classroom, farther afield than any other national institute I know.

• And finally, Teaching Schools in which schools work together within a teaching school alliance – a group of schools and other partners that are supported by the leadership of a teaching school hub. I have yet to see this working effectively, but I will hold my breath and hope that this is something that will bring teachers together in regions where it matters most: their home turf.

I dream of a day where CPD is so inherently established that it becomes part of every teachers’ bloodstream; that accumulating a feathered-cap of personal development become the norm, not a desire for the determined and those with funds liberally allocated for Inset courses, master’s degrees and those with time on their hands. That this approach to development becomes so ingrained that we cannot work without it. So vital is our development and routinely established as part of our working week, that we cannot secure jobs, promotions, pay-rises or any credibility without an accurate log of our own reflective journey. Brighouse calls this a national development portfolio, owned by all teachers, and I agree with him.

Can you recall your training over the past five years? Is this easily accessible to you, your employers, your personal partnerships, such as a university or a colleague or your prospective employers? I argue that, if your answer is a resounding “no”, we need to provide all teachers with a forum for making learning feasible within the working day and not something that is limited to five days a year or, for most, being left to our own devices.

I only wish that schools would change the way we structure our training techniques in order to provide time within the working week to allow teachers to act on this advice. I know this happens already, but without a national framework it will continue to lumber. It is time we grasped this opportunity with both hands and put back into the workforce what we expend every day in classrooms across the country. It is time, time for us to take a stance. Stand up and be counted. We want to our profession back.

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