Any teacher or leader knows just how bad professional development days can be: sitting through long lectures, zero participant engagement and lots of generic theory that feels a million miles away from the day job. It’s a bit like a bad double-period lesson between break and lunch on a Friday; stuffy classroom, pupils staring out the window and secret headphones hidden under collars- although it’s more likely to be sneaky work emails rather than spotify playlists at a training day.
We wouldn’t accept it as quality-first teaching and so we shouldn’t accept it in adult learning either.
“Courses, programmes and workshops are often undifferentiated, and poorly designed and delivered. They fall short of the requirements necessary for effective training and development, and as a result – despite the investment of time and resources that they entail – have little impact on teacher effectiveness”.
There is a wealth of research into the importance of professional development for teachers, what ineffective CPD looks like, elements of effective CPD and why, in England, we need highly skilled professionals in our schools to help solve some of the most entrenched complex inequity challenges in the western world.
At Whole Education, we are intentional about designing learning. We know how difficult it is to release staff, and so want to make sure that the time away from school is well spent and leads to genuine new learning and (most importantly) has an impact on practice. We steer clear of ‘one off days’ – the research is explicit that single days of professional learning rarely leads to sustainable changes or improvements in practice. All of our core programmes include professional learning days; but the learning is applied, reflected on and refined as part of an on-going cycle.
When we do bring people together, we use a simple model of learning that combines the knowledge of experts, peers and research to deliver professional learning days that are engaging, relevant, practical and will have a meaningful impact on the experience and outcomes on learners
One example of this is our WE Lab Classrooms programme, which launched in November 2019 with 100 classroom teachers. During the programme, each practitioner will be engaging in an action-research cycle over the year to trial one of our ‘two-for-one’ teaching & learning approaches in their classroom, supported by virtual meet-ups and coaching.
During the launch day, which was held at Stamford Court in Leicester, participants enjoyed a mixture of expert input, immersive workshops and planning time.
Below, some of our participant teachers share what they thought made the launch a great professional learning day…
1. Practical tips / ideas / things which you can use in your own classroom
Lots of our teachers told us that their favourite thing from the day was ‘practical ideas to take back to the classroom’. It’s no surprise that busy classroom practitioners are like magpies, seeking out tips and ideas which they can translate back into their own setting.
- “a number of ideas I will take back to school”
- “I’ll take many things back to my classroom.”
- “many ideas I will take back to school”
We put a high value on learning from peers in our Whole Education learning model. All of our workshops for Lab Classrooms were designed and led by expert practitioners, who use the approach in their own school. We are delighted that the WE Lab Classrooms launch gave participants so many practical ideas for how to trial a new approach in their classroom next term.
2. Being inspired and reminding ourselves of why we do what we do
‘Inspiring speakers’ and ‘being inspired by new ideas’ featured highly on our participants list of what they enjoyed.
- “Speakers [were] very interesting and inspiring”
- “[My expert] was particularly inspiring and knowledgeable”
- “I really enjoyed listening to [my session leader] – she was very inspiring!”
The reality of the day job is that you can sometimes lose sight of the big-picture of what you are trying to do in education. Being re-invigorated about the profession generally but also that we can do something about the complex challenges you deal with (See Hattie’s Collective Self-Efficacy!) is motivating and gives the boost needed to keep going.
3. Networking, meeting and talking with other teachers
“CPD for teachers is more likely to benefit students if it is… collaborative – involves staff working together, identifying starting points, sharing evidence about practice and trying out new approaches”
When CPD is collaborative it is more likely to be sustained (CUREE, 2011). Teachers tell us they really value the chance to reflect on new learning with peers, from similar and different contexts: getting out to ‘meet other teachers from different schools’ and having a chance to ‘network with others’. Those informal conversations about how you might embed something you’ve seen in your own classroom seem to help the learning ‘stick’.
- “Group tasks, discussions [were particularly valuable]”
- “I enjoyed the collaborative tasks that we undertook in the sessions”
- “Time to talk with others.”
Whole Education is first and foremost a network. We know that there are brilliant things going on in all of our schools; our job is to provide the space and opportunity for our teachers to share them. We make sure that every learning day has plenty of time built in to participate actively in discussions and activities which help make them ‘engaging’ and ‘interactive’.
4. Critically engaging with research
Despite the importance of using research to inform practice, a 2017 DFE report found that while most teachers valued research, many did not feel confident engaging with it directly and instead use organisations such as the Sutton Trust and EEF (read our recent blog for our view on how evidence should be used to empower teachers, developing their professional judgement and craft.)
All of the participants on WE Lab Classrooms are exploring the research base behind their particular strand, but they particularly enjoyed ‘learning about the issues and the criticisms’ around the research on the day.
- “Learning about the issues and criticisms surrounding metacognition”
- “how staff in my school can use research to inform their practice.”
Sometimes it is too easy to just read a headline and run with it; we need time to debate and discuss the research with a critical professional eye as well.
5. Time out of school to reflect and think
With teachers in England working on average 47 hours per week – 8 more than teachers in comparable industrialised OECD countries – having the time away from school to ‘reflect and think’ is really valuable.
Our teachers weren’t just reflecting on their own practice, but also on their students, their classroom and how they work with other staff in their school. CPD is increasingly being conducted in-house or cross-trust. At Whole Education we recognise that these professional development opportunities are really important – especially given the importance of collaborating over time with colleagues – but we also think that it is powerful to come out of your normal environment and allow time for reflection, without the possible distractions of being in your own school can bring.