In Mark Enser’s blog on the subject part one and part two, he argues that the current funding crisis in England’s schools might have the unintended consequence of forcing teachers back on to their own resources and, as he suggests, start doing their CPD for themselves. I make a point of trying never to disagree with Mark. He urges the profession to engage with the Chartered College of Teaching, and to get reading the books from the chalkface, from the likes of Summer Turner, Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby. Mark is fond of a Teach Meet, and he wants more in-school professional development to be collaborative and opt-in. He’s not wrong. He is not alone in often finding external professional development – the kind we call ‘training’ or ‘courses’ – dull, pointless and even (sometimes) dangerous. And internal inset can often be no better, as Fish64 reminds us here.
I have recently left the classroom to take up a programme leader position at the London Centre for Leadership in Learning, at the UCL Institute of Education. I set up this Twitter poll to find out what people still looked for when, for whatever reason, they found themselves being ‘facilitated’ by an external pd provider. (And in the sincere hope that I might be able to meet some of their expectations.)
You can read comments on the poll here. One particularly interesting strand in the conversation was the suggestion that teachers at different points in their careers might be looking for different things from their pd. It’s not surprising that those newer to the profession like hoovering up tips: they’ve got many cats and are looking for as many ways of skinning them as possible. Some of these tips are what other teachers (the longer-serving or the precocious parvenus) call fads, or snake oil: there is no evidence to support their efficacy and what links them is their sciencey plausibility. Oddly, however, some colleagues still like them, they persist in using them and weirdly they seem to work for them. The research base for Learning Styles is non-existent, apart from all those professionals still deploying them and getting good stuff out of their pupils out of sight of researchers. This is not a blog in defence of the pursuance of nonsense, but a plea not to disdain colleagues who have found ways that work for them. I suspect many young teachers look to Twitter for inspiration and for collegial support, and the occasional tip.
Given I’ve filed a few teacher planners in my time, I can feel for those for whom another tip would take them over the tipping point. Many of us aren’t looking for ‘another way’; actually, we wouldn’t mind if you told us it was OK to stop doing some of the things we have felt for a while might be pointless. External pd, for us, is a chance to meet up with others of similar bent. You can do a lot of talking and listening, even thinking, on a day out of school with others enjoying the same release. Collaboration is what professionals do, combining experience with wisdom to arrive at new insights. At best, this goes way beyond the confirmation that ‘we are doing it right already’. Competent facilitation disturbs, discomforts, disrupts: it provokes you until either you have shifted your position, or you understand better why you hold the positions you do. And (my Twitter poll suggests) an exploration of the evidence base matters a great deal too. Here are some of the theories, this is the evidence and … it might work for you too.
This 2015 report for the NCTL by the UCL Institute of Education and Sheffield Hallam is the most authoritative account we have of ‘professional development that leads to great pedagogy’. It reminds us that pd must be grounded in the real context of the school, start with the end in mind, and is best when collaborative and informed by expert external input. It was referenced by The Teachers’ Professional Development Standard in 2016, which argued that effective pd was a ‘partnership’ of teachers, school leaders and pd providers. The prerequisites for this partnership to be successful are:
1. Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.
2. Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.
3. Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.
4. Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.
And all this is underpinned by, and requires that:
5. Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.
None of this contradicts my poll. Respondents still want externally-supported pd (only 6% avoid it), they want it to be research-informed and collaborative. And, sometimes, they want to be told stuff.