I teach, therefore I am.
I was really nervous about speaking at this event. It’s pretty usual to get nervous speaking in front of a crowd of people you respect and every time I present there is a certain element of stage fright. However, I was particularly nervous about this event and as I looked at the list of people speaking: headteachers; policy experts and academics, I became even more nervous about speaking. I was after all “just a teacher”. At this point the ludicrous notion of that statement became apparent. Why was I thinking “just a teacher” when I was speaking at an event about education; about the very thing that I spend all my waking hours doing. Why is it that someone who is at the chalkface – dealing with the realities of education on a daily basis – feels like an impostor when advising on how education should work?
Today, I want to talk about a model of CPD that professionalises teachers and gives them a seat at the table of education debate.
One of the reasons many people choose to become teachers is because of a love of their subject. Yet it is very rare for teachers to be able to find the time to talk about their subject beyond the classroom; to develop their knowledge or practise what they preach.
I believe we need to make more of links between universities and schools. My involvement in the Grammar for Writing project at the University of Exeter gave me the opportunity to develop my knowledge of grammar and was a formative experience. We were funded to have three days covered: one day for research; one day for lesson planning and one day for evaluating the project and completing a reflective write up. The chance to have this space to think and reflect deeply about my subject was amazing; consequently I began to apply the same model of research and reflection to my other units of work. That’s the thing about being treated like a professional, it makes you more inclined to act like one.
We need to make more links like this and it needs to be more consistent. Why for instance don’t schools have access to research journals? Why can’t teachers be offered the chance to attend lecture or tutorials at university to maintain their connection to their subject? Why can’t we broker connections between academics who make their subjects their life and the teachers who are responsible for bringing this subject to life for the children in their care?
The government could and should take an important role in helping to set up these connections.
I believe the days of whole school inset must be over.* We need to start creating CPD which is more individualised and allows teachers to pursue their interests. If we give teachers the choice to engage with CPD that is meaningful to them rather than telling them what they MUST focus on, I believe you will get more buy-in from teachers and a higher impact. I saw this in my visit to Turnford School this week, where teachers were given choice about their CPD focus area and were consequently highly engaged in specific coaching sessions: reading research; debating and planning how to develop their practice.**
So how do we make this work? First of all we need time. Teachers have hectic days where “free” lessons are often absorbed with dealing with students, catching up with marking or with department admin. There needs to be a ring fenced CPD budget which is used entirely for the purpose of covering teacher time out of lessons to pursue their specific research project/school visit/lecture or other meaningful CPD.
I also think we can use Local Networks more effectively to create targeted CPD. I’ve been to Local Subject Networks; they are currently quite depressing affairs, which seem to focus around discussing D/C borderline and how to play the examination game. Instead, why not create networks formed of the amazing Teaching and Learning/Research Leads who currently create/present at/attend phenomenal events such as ResearchED, TeachMeets and Pedagoo. These type of forums allow teachers to tailor their own CPD by choosing the sessions they attend. Smaller scale events could be facilitated by these teachers locally, with a focus such as assessment. Teachers would be given a question such as: “What is meaningful assessment?” and would be given some pre-reading material; they would be expected to come to the meeting with thoughts and ideas; there would be a form of debate and consequently an outcome which could be shared back at their own school. ***
So what would this outcome be? Speaking of assessment, we have finally come to the realisation that for this to be meaningful it needs to be more than a load of numbers on a spreadsheet; we must use information formatively. Why can’t we do the same with accountability? We need to move away from the tick box approach to assessing the work teachers do and consider options seen at schools such as Huntington, KEGS, or Turnford where teachers produce research papers, journals, blogs and videos which reflect their learning.
I am concerned about the implications of always linking CPD to school standards, as if CPD can only be successful if it then results in a jump of 5 levels of progress. Effective CPD doesn’t always have to result in a measurable success [I would argue that it is always successful in that it makes teachers think more about their practice and how to improve] but should be an opportunity for teachers to engage critically with research, pedagogy, educational philosophy and subject developments. Headteachers should be held accountable, by simply demonstrating that they have used the CPD fund to give teachers time to pursue meaningful CPD and then present the portfolio of work that teachers have produced.
These ideas of CPD only work alongside a belief in the impact of the long term over the short term. I fear that – both in politics and education – we have become increasingly focused on short term measures. Government must be braver and adopt a long term approach, which will professionalise the teaching body and revolutionise our education system.
* I have had some excellent feedback on this from Alex Quigley (@huntingenglish) on Twitter, which I will respond to in a blog post to follow.
** A more detailed post on this visit will also follow in due course.
*** A format we have used successfully at my school – and which will be discussed in the above posts.