The CPD Achilles Heel by @TeacherToolkit

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What would you say is the number one factor in stopping teachers improve their professional development?

What is your school’s area of weakness, or vulnerable spot? This is a blog about the Achilles heel of teachers’ professional development.

Recently I attended the Developing Great Teachers conference to hear the findings from The Teacher Development Trust research. There was one takeaway message for me as a school leader and as a leader of whole-school CPD. The answer? Time.

Time and time again the word “time” was mentioned as a significant barrier for teachers to improve their practice.

“Duration and rhythm of effective CPD support requires a longer-term focus.”

This message features as one of the key headings from the research. Yet, ‘time‘ on its own doesn’t work alone; what you do with the time made available for CPD and ‘how you do it’ is equally significant. In addition, one size doesn’t fit all and that ‘time’ cannot continue to be liable for poor-quality CPD.

Achilles:

Achilles HeelIn Greek mythology, it was foretold that Achilles would die young. To prevent his death, his mother Thetis took Achilles to the River Styx, which was supposed to offer powers of invulnerability, and dipped his body into the water. But as Thetis held Achilles by the heel, his heel was not washed over by the water of the magical river. Achilles grew up to be a man of war who survived many great battles. But one day, a poisonous arrow shot at him was lodged in his heel, killing him shortly after.

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The death of Achilles was not mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, but appeared in later Greek and Roman poetry and drama concerning events after the Iliad, later in the Trojan War. In the myths surrounding the war, Achilles was said to have died from a heel wound which was the result of an arrow—possibly poisoned—shot by Paris.

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The use of “Achilles heel” as an expression meaning “area of weakness, vulnerable spot” dates only to 1840, with implied use in Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s “Ireland, that vulnerable heel of the British Achilles!” from 1810. (Source)

The Achilles Heel:

@RussellHobby, the general secretary for the NAHT commented that;

“… the government give schools 30 hours of professional development time per calendar year.”

This equates to the traditional five inset days. If time is critical, yet schools spend 85% or thereabouts on staffing, there is not much scope left to spend on CPD; or at least being creative about it. At my school, we have attempted to address this throughout 2014/15 by reducing the timetable by one period per week and replacing this with time for CPD. This is in addition to the statutory 5 days per year/ 30 hours schools can use for professional development.

What was resonant from Hobby’s speech, was that there are often many INSET days which are like briefings; particular at the start of the year where new school policies – as a result of changes from the DfE, Ofsted, Ofqual and the like – have to be shared by school leaders to inform all staff of further hoops to jump through. This constant political interference impacts on our time allocated for staff professional development and has done so, for a good decade if not more, and is a direct result of staff development days developing a really poor reputation.

Solutions:

Schools need to move towards a more sophisticated method of (creating) staff professional development. Long-term approaches to CPD are highlighted in the research to show significant impact of personal practice in the classroom. We recently highlighted this with the publication of our first action-research journal, What Works? which showcases a group of teachers engaged in long-term professional development and classroom efficacy.

Take a look at the following image which is an overview of all the teaching staff within our school. This is a review against the Teachers’ Standards. This chart shows immediately where there are areas for development as a collective group of teaching staff. However, a context is needed. This was one of the first times most of our staff had completed a self-review against the Teachers’ Standards since first qualifying, as well as the first time completing this analysis on Blue Sky.

Blue Sky CPD Needs Analysis Quintin Kynaston

Break this image down further, and the diagram offers a more detailed analysis of teachers’ self-reviews against the teaching standards. There is now on offer, a need for each and every member of staff to have a personal learning plan and if given the time, staff could use their individual plan to get on with their own professional development. We give our staff the tome to reflect and complete this. Not as much as I’d like to, but we have made a start.

A Poisoned Arrow?

Note, I am not saying for a moment that we should disband all collaborative and group INSET days. But, are INSET days a poisoned arrow if government diktat is constantly changing? It doesn’t really matter how we do it. Fundamentally, we must enable teachers to be able to translate CPD content into the classroom, implementing what they had learnt into the classroom the very next day. We should certainly set aside time for staff to get to grips with whole-school priorities, as well as their own CPD needs and use the time to reflect and action personal learning plans as a direct outcome of:

  • Appraisal
  • Self review
  • Personal goals
  • Professional goals
  • Whole school needs
  • Departmental needs
  • Student needs

Achilles Heel

Image: Panoramio

This will all be impossible to achieve, if we do not address the CPD Achilles heel. If you are a school CPD leader, what time are you dedicating to whole-school CPD? How often do you use government diktat in all staff CPD and how much do you filter/steer clear from INSET days? Do you allow staff to focus on what matters?

If you are a teacher, what time do you dedicate to your own CPD? And CPD other than what is directed and offered to you by the school? Surely, you must be engaged in long-term action research or personal professional development? If not, it now could be time to address this weakness.

Don’t let CPD become your Achilles heel …

TT.

@TeacherToolkit logo new book Vitruvian man

@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account in which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated for '500 Most Influential People in Britain' in The Sunday Times as one of the most influential in the field of education - he remains the only classroom teacher to feature to this day ... Sharing online as @TeacherToolkit, he rebuilt this website (c2008) into what you are now reading, as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK', winning the number one spot at the UK Blog Awards (2018). Today, he is currently a PGCE tutor and is researching 'social media and its influence on education policy' for his EdD at Cambridge University. In 1993, he started teaching and is an experienced school leader working in some of the toughest schools in London. He is also a former Teaching Awards winner for 'Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School, London' (2004) and has written several books on teaching (2013-2018). Read more...

6 thoughts on “The CPD Achilles Heel by @TeacherToolkit

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  • 28th June 2015 at 7:22 pm
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    What have you used to encourage teachers to reflect on their CPD? I think that coaching is the missing link so will be introducing this next year. Thoughts please….

    Reply
    • 29th June 2015 at 12:38 pm
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      Following other educator blogs, like this one, and commenting on posts then eventually (when it feels right) creating you own free blog, for reflections and questions, to be followed and commented on by others could be a fun, cost-free, time-flexible, non-intrusive, non-hierarchical, self-directed approach. There’s allot of colour in the educators blogosphere. I’m loving being in there!

      Reply
  • 3rd July 2015 at 10:36 am
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    Interesting, Ross. When I read your opening question, “What would you say is the number one factor in stopping teachers improve their professional development?” and before I read the post, I thought about this. My response was:

    ‘Teachers feeling they don’t have the time and energy to devote to new learning.”

    Time is THERE – and when we feel we don’t have enough time, it tells us more about priorities, really. How can we ensure we devote time, and energy, to the things that matter most and will give us the best return? Raising awareness and helping people to understand why CPD is so important, and how much we can gain from the best CPD, seems to me to be the key. Also encouraging motivation – which is closely bound up with the awareness issue. It’s also connected to staff morale and school culture. Do teachers feel valued and prepared to invest discretionary effort or are they exhausted, demotivated and disillusioned?

    Thanks for your post – lost of useful stuff here, and I will keep thinking!

    Reply
    • 3rd July 2015 at 2:39 pm
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      What I have found at school, is that we have given the staff the time. It’s now about what we do with it and how e.g content and consolidation rather than anything new/here we go again

      Reply

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