Effective staff learning days have always been a challenge, even more so since COVID with these often happening fully online. With current easing of restrictions it may be possible to run hybrid days combining some face to face and some online events. Many of the same considerations are needed in the planning stage for these to be effective.
Teachers, like students may lack motivation, they can be distracted, easily forget things and struggle to transfer learning from one content into another. Fortunately, there is good evidence base about how we learn most effectively e.g. ensuring opportunities for retrieval practice and revisiting ideas over time which we can also apply to teacher and leader development.
When organising whole college training days, it is essential that everyone can see how the day and specific session options relate to their role. It helps for the day to be planned to address a whole college target, for example ‘Becoming more resilient and solution focused’, then everyone will benefit. If some people can’t attend, make sure they receive presentations, record online presentations, share files online and use other ways of using technology to capture the day. It is important that line managers support staff to catch up on the learning from the day.
What conditions are best for CPD to be effective?
‘There is a danger that in focusing too much on the what and how of professional development we lose sight of the conditions within which it takes place’, Kraft and Papay, 2014
The conditions in a college can lead to the day or any CPD offered being viewed positively as developmental or negatively as threatening depending on how they are experienced. Professional development will be most effective in a culture where the everyone feels valued and trusted, and where the purpose of the CPD is clear and aligns with the individuals’ goals. A warm welcome from the Principal/SLT at the start, refreshments if on site /online coffee drop in rooms for colleagues to meet and chat informally at breaks if virtual. Letting everyone know what to expect is really important. When staff know what they will get out of the day’s training for example, ’Help them to understand and manage their own and their students’ behaviour more effectively’ or ‘Experience strategies to build their own and students’ resilience and wellbeing’ etc they are more likely to be on board right from the start.
Reflecting on how CPD is most effective by reviewing decades of research found that ‘CPD must provide teachers with the theory underlying the new instructional strategies they’re learning, demonstrations, and opportunities to practise the strategies in their own classrooms’, Joyce and Shower ( 2002). When planning here are some questions to consider:
How do staff generally view CPD ?
- From discussions with groups of teachers, CPD is thought of as ‘providing training to develop a skill’, but effective professional development is much more than something that is delivered to teachers.
- Delivering CPD suggests a 'top down' approach, which is not empowering for teachers. This is the opposite of what is recommended in the government standard for teachers’ professional development from 2016. The standard promotes the need for teachers and other educational staff to take ownership and control of their own professional learning.
What involvement from SLT is most effective?
- SLT passing on their knowledge is less effective than teachers actively and collaboratively constructing their own understanding and skills.
- For training to be most effective, leaders need to be in the room with their staff, joining in with the activities. Hierarchy and ego need to be left at the door. Listening and equal collaboration helps place value on what is being discussed/delivered.
- In order to be most effective whole college staff learning days should be a catalyst. They should provide the opportunity to think about and discuss new ways of working, which are then agreed, introduced and embedded over time. If leaders are ‘present’ and hear the same messages as their teams, they are then able to refer back to these on a regular basis, in order to drive forward whole college improvement
How to get teacher buy in?
- To be able to get teacher buy it is important to communicate how exactly the learner experience will be improved. As teachers we use differentiation in the classroom and see students as active contributors to the learning process and the same should be true of professional learning.
- Like students in a class, each teacher has different levels of experience, different priorities they want to focus on and different ways they like to learn. It can’t be presumed that one style of professional learning will fit all.
How will the day influence the changes in behaviour you want?
- What do you want individuals to do differently?
- Engaging in CPD is pointless if it doesn’t support individuals to know or be able to do something new or different .
How to decide on content ?
- Some are used to improve work-life balance e.g. strategies for managing this and opportunities to talk with colleagues, enjoy activities with others and reflecting on how to prioritise and manage time better.
- Others are intended to provide professional development for staff.
- Some sessions are need just for information sharing e.g. ’Look at our improvement plan targets and see how we’re doing against them. How long do these need to be? Use technology to keep things efficient.
How should you market each session?
- Clear outcomes
- Is the information about the outcomes clearly stated from the outset? Including the skills and practical strategies learned by participants and the intended effect on the pupils in the classroom
- Relevant and targeted:
- Is it carefully pitched to meet the needs of specific groups of teachers?
- Does each session clearly indicate who would benefit from the training? Does it meet your staff development needs?
- Does it explicitly match what’s been outlined in performance reviews as areas for development?
- Highly engaging
- Does it sound engaging for participants?
- Does it include interactive elements, case studies, practical strategies and actively promote collaboration with peers?
- Is there evidence that it has an impact on the skill levels of teachers and the learning of students?
- To help measure this, have they included thoughtful suggestions for assessing how successful it is in transforming practice?
- Follow up
- What follow up support is on offer?
- Is it sustained over time? How can you evaluate the impact?
- When are there opportunities for further support?
Enabling cross college collaboration
- People are drawn to others who look, think and behave in a similar way to them. Often on all staff training days groups enter the room together, seemingly joined at the hip, and bags are put on chairs to save them for a mate. This is the perfect time to mix things up.
- Whilst people like to be in their comfort zone, some of the best feedback is where people are mixed up and have the opportunity to get to know others they might not normally talk to. It opens minds and helps colleagues learn about other areas and to hear different perspectives.
- This involves some advance planning and there are lots of interesting and fun ways of mixing people up.
Further reading https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2019/05/05/effective-cpd/