Let me ask you a question:
What was the last CPD you did?
Now here’s another question:
Are you thinking right now about the last course you went on?
Lots of people do when you ask them about CPD. They tell you (sometimes slightly defensively) that they were ‘on a course’ just last week. They’ve got the certificate to prove it.
I know all about these courses. I’ve got a folder full of certificates myself. I was looking at them all last night and a thought occurred:
What impact has all this actually had on my practice?
To go on these courses, I had to give things up. Time in my classroom. Dinner with my husband. More than once, my kids’ bedtime. I had to bolt out of school, race to the course venue to try and get there on time (usually unsuccessfully). I had to accept that I’d need to do my marking late at night or get up at the crack of dawn since the course was in the evening. That’s a lot of work and a lot of compromising with my work-life balance happening there.
Good job these courses have all been worth it then, eh?
Picture the scene:
I’m sitting in an overly hot room with other tired people at the end of a long day. I’m only there because the title of the course sounded like it might vaguely fit with some of the things I’m interested in. Others are there because they’ve been told to attend by senior management, because it ticks a box if someone on the staff has ‘done the training’. You can spot these people, because they look even less happy to be there than the rest of us. The session begins and I find I am listening to someone very well-meaning talk me through every slide of a very long PowerPoint, in punishing detail. Now it’s time for the obligatory group discussion. I’m not sure what we are meant to be discussing as I mentally checked out and went to my happy place somewhere around Slide 17. I shuffle round in my chair though and get chatting to a couple of other teachers. One mentions she’s had a tough day with a boy in her class; she just can’t seem to get him to engage with learning. I have just begun to share a similar experience I’ve been having at school when suddenly time is up and we are supposed to report back to the group on whatever it is we were meant to be discussing. I notice none of the other groups are particularly forthcoming with their answers either. Then it’s feedback sheets all round, maybe a certificate for your CPD folder if you’re really lucky, then we head off home.
How many times I have spent that hour-long car journey home thinking ‘Well, that’s two hours of my life I’m never getting back.’
And they don’t even give you cake.
Now clearly, not every course I have been on has been like this. I’ve done loads of brilliant courses, lots of them in the Scottish Borders, that have had a real impact on my practice. But understanding CPD as purely ‘going on courses’ is very limiting and I’ll tell you why.
Consider the example above. Where’s the learning here? And why do we think that’s all we can expect from professional development?
Would you accept that standard of provision as good enough for your learners? Of course not! We strive to give them the very best conditions for learning. Don’t you deserve the same? My head teacher once said ‘Without being a learner yourself, you are unlikely to be able to set the right conditions for learning.’
So how do you learn best? For me, it’s about sharing. I want to talk about what I do and I want to hear about what you do. I want to magpie all interesting stuff from what you tell me and think about how it might work in my setting, for my learners. I want to examine my practice and justify why I do what I do. I want to look at what I’m doing through the lens of the best research and see how it measures up. Through that process, I get better.
And it starts with sharing.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if that was what we thought of as CPD? A room full of teachers who set their own agenda, sharing what they do, talking about what they’ve been reading, bouncing ideas around and cherry-picking their favourite bits, then going back to class and trying something new. Keeping in touch with each other and sharing again, this time about how the ‘something new’ worked out?
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘Yeah, sounds ok, but no way am I sharing what I do. You’re thinking ‘I’d rather stick my head in a basket of rats than share my own stuff with a room full of teachers.’ How do I know? Because I’ve heard it before, more times than I care to count:
What have I got to offer?
What can I possibly share that would be of interest to others?
What if I’m way off-beam and what I think is good is actually rubbish?
The lack of confidence teachers have in the validity of their own practice never ceases to upset me. Why wouldn’t it be good enough? I trust your judgement. If you’re telling me it works for you, I want to know about it. This is what you do. This is your craft, your passion, your talent. Own it. Be proud of it. And for goodness sake, have the guts to share it with me.
I understand that the ick-factor is high. I get it, I really do. Sharing can be scary. But you know what? It’s time to get over it. Would you accept the basket-of-rats response from your learners? Hardly! We are constantly encouraging our young people to share what they do and give each other high quality feedback- it’s the mantra we embed for all improvement; know where you are, know where you’re going, know how to get there.
And it starts with sharing. So if you wouldn’t accept these responses from your learners, don’t settle for them yourself:
It’s time to practise what we teach.
Because the clue’s in the name- professional development. If it’s not helping you develop professionally, it’s a big, fat waste of everyone’s time. What I’m talking about here is actual discussion. Not sitting listening to an expert tell you how to be better. Who knows your practice better than you? Only you can decide how to be better. How? Through professional dialogue that results in measurable, improved practice. Sharing what you believe is excellent about what you do. Putting it in front of others and discovering if they agree.
Scary? Absolutely. It means taking a chance. Trusting others to be respectful with something you have invested in. But it’s no more than what you ask kids to do every day. Share your learning. Ask for feedback. Use the feedback to make your performance better.
I want to be part of a profession where sharing what I do is just part of what I do. It shouldn’t be scary, or icky, or involve baskets of rats. It should just be what we do in order to get better. And wherever possible, it should involve cake. So I set up TeachMeet Borders.
There’s one happening near you and it’s going to be brilliant. You can expect teachers like you, sharing their own practice on a range of different topics. You can expect teacher-led discussion about practice and pedagogy. You can expect non-scary, non-judgemental teachers, just like you, who are giving this sharing thing a go for the first time too. And obviously, you can expect decent cake.
TeachMeet Borders is about carving out time and space in our busy lives to talk about what we do and giving teachers the chance to share practice and challenge each other. You can expect plenty of ‘Wow! I’ve never looked at it that way’ moments, but it isn’t just about leaving with a bunch of new tricks to try in your classroom; it’s about taking time to reflect on what you do and how you can make it better. Because real, systemic change happens when you look in, then out. In, then out.
Personally, I won’t be happy until high quality professional dialogue and reflection are fully integrated into our everyday practice. We are professionals and we should be developing ourselves professionally; if it’s not good enough for your learners, then don’t accept it for yourself. You’re worth more. And your learners will get better from you as a result.
So here’s my challenge to you- stop letting professional development be done to you. Be active, not passive. Come to a TeachMeet Borders event and find out what CPD that actually works feels like.
It will mean being a bit brave. It will mean spending literally two minutes (I have a timer and everything) talking about what you do. But we will give you encouragement and respect and cake.
And we can’t wait to meet you.