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Delivering CPD as a Project

In my previous post I rattled on how I was trepidatious at the prospect of our new CPD programme being rolled out; in part this was because of September jitters but was also because it will require staff to take ownership over their development like never before.

I try to read lots of other educational blogs and notable educationalist’s twitter feeds and there seems to be an agreement that in order to create a high-impact CPD programme you need to:

A) Give staff independence and the freedom to pursue their own goals within a framework that suits the school’s developmental needs.

B) Have a system that is not perceived by staff as increasing workload or that is a ‘high-risk’ and ‘high-pressure’ environment in which you sink or swim.

C) Give an element of choice; such as the opportunity for staff to choose which workshops they attend or allow visits to other schools that may help in personal development.

D) Create a culture in which staff desire to become better practitioners and know how this needs to be achieved; as opposed to a culture in which staff feel pressured into having to achieve new standards that are given to them by SLT.

When I began the process of developing our new system last year with a colleague, I kept the above pointers in mind and reflected on my time as a PGCE student where I often found that my experience out of the classroom didn’t quite tally up with my experience inside the classroom.

I wanted a system in which staff would be rewarded for their research and work outside of the classroom or school environment, and would be given a menu of opportunities that they could sign up for and attend and in doing so have a truly unique experience. No two members of staff will have done the same activities between now and July.

As such the fundamentals of our system are as follows:

  • CPD days will be disaggregated – there will be 6 hubs over the course of the year that staff will attend after school. There will also be an extra disaggregated day that staff earn through maintaining an Independent CPD Log/Journal over the course of the year.
  • Hubs will be split in half.
    • For the first half you will meet with the same working group throughout the year that focuses on an aspect of the school’s key targets which are in line with their personal targets. These working groups are given the freedom and scope to choose their own ways of working towards a key question provided by us.
    • In the second half of a session you will attend a workshop on a topic of your choice; there will be at least 4 topics to choose from.
  • The independent CPD log is a low-pressure method of helping staff pursue their CPD goals over the course of the year. It is simply one side of A4 per term in which you have to spend no more than an hour over 6 weeks logging what you have done/discovered/read or researched.
    • This is differentiated so that if a teacher struggles to achieve this they can instead use IRIS to record a lesson and reflect on what they could do to improve it.

At the end of the year the different working groups will present their findings to the other members of staff in a way that we haven’t yet decided on! So far we are considering a careers-fair style event where each group has a stand in which they present their findings. Or instead it might be an article they produce that goes into a school CPD Handbook, so over the years what we discover can be kept on record for new members of staff to benefit from – as yet we have not weighed up the pros and cons, (and what is realistic), in terms of this aspect of the CPD.

If I were on the receiving end of this CPD I would feel out of my comfort zone; I would certainly be nervous at the prospect of being in charge of my own time and how I filled it. However, I would also be terribly excited at the prospect of pursuing my own agenda. I have said before hand that we know ourselves best and therefore know what we need to be better at. It is logical therefore that we put ourselves in charge of this crucial aspect of our development.


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Catering For Everyone Vs. Pleasing Everyone

When we returned this September it wasn’t just the prospect of returning to the classroom that gave me those familiar new-year jitters. It was also the fact that we would be forging ahead with a new CPD programme that I was instrumental in designing.

When you create a new scheme of work or trial a new idea in the classroom you know full well that there will some students who groan and resist change. For some reason we are incredibly resilient when it comes to this sort of criticism – after all, they’re students, some will always find a negative amongst a sea of positives.

However, this same resilience can sometimes escape us when we design new approaches for our colleagues to try. Perhaps it’s because adults are so much more difficult to gauge than students? A child will usually be honest, many will spare our feelings if they dislike something, but they will nevertheless let their feelings be known. Adults are more slippery customers. They often hide their true feelings behind a veil of manners and in doing so, even when we receive praise, we question its validity.

It was with trepidation then that I watched and listened as a senior colleague outlined some of the ideas behind our new CPD programme. For the most part people seemed neutral and receptive. There were a few nods and utterances of agreement. Some friends even complimented the resources provided…

Then it dawned on me.

We don’t mind it when students criticise new ideas we introduce into the classroom, not because we’re thick-skinned, it’s because we know the bigger picture. We know in our hearts that we’re doing what we’re doing for the proverbial ‘greater-good’, and as such we can endure criticism if it means a more positive experience in the long run for our pupils.

So I tried to adopt this attitude to the new CPD programme. Will some people love it? I hope so! Will some people detest the prospect of change? Definitely! But no matter what, I know that what we are doing is opening a door to a more positive and individual CPD experience that should develop a more reflective and scholarly approach to teaching and learning.

When it comes to the end of the year and we ask for feedback, I truly hope people are honest and critical – I want it to be even better next year and this relies on honest feedback.

The experience taught me an important lesson; that I care a great deal about how my colleagues perceive their CPD. It also reminded me that ‘catering for everyone’ is different to ‘trying to please everyone’ and in the pursuit of the latter you run the risk of preventing the former.

In my next post, titled ‘CPD as a Project’ I will explain in greater detail how we are delivering our professional development this year and will try to outline both the positives and the negatives of our new approach. This should be with you by the end of next week.

Mr P

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‘Trainee Teachers’ – When do we stop being one?

I have spent a lot of time recently researching and planning CPD for the coming academic year; as such I have reflected a great deal on the formative moments there have been in my teaching career.

One thing I often reflect on is my PGCE and my time as a ‘trainee teacher’; the more I reflect on it, the more I realise it blurs into my NQT year. When I begin to reflect on my NQT year, the more I realise it bleeds into my second year when I got my tutor group and full teaching timetable.

The point I’m making is probably quite transparent: I can’t think of a defining moment when I stopped ‘training’. Before I became a teacher I said that my reasoning behind wanting to pursue a teaching career was because I ‘never wanted to stop learning’. At the time I meant about literature and English. However, it has come to pass that the thing I never stop learning more about is the art and science of teaching.

There was a brief time when I thought I had this job pinned down and I knew exactly what I was doing and why. In retrospect that was probably when I was least effective both in and out the classroom. As Socrates said:

“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing”
Since then I have regularly taken stock of my position and attitude; Itry to evaluate and adapt my methods on a continuing basis.
To return to where I began, through trying to create an effective schedule and pattern of CPD next year, I realised that we need to help everyone return their mindset to when they were trainees. We need teachers to be open and receptive to new ideas and innovations and have a desire to experiment with these in the classroom. However, we need to harness their experience and ability to critique what and what isn’t worthwhile. This trade-off is difficult to balance, and I am not sure we will be entirely successful in doing so. But through striving to achieve this it should have a positive impact on a greater percentage of teaching staff than in previous years.
Something which all new teachers relish and seem to respond well to is the idea of choice. If you give PGCE students and trainees a choice of workshop to attend, they will usually participate fully and be receptive to its content, in order to justify their choice of workshop. This is why teach-meets can be so successful, because you share a room with like-minded people who chose to spend their time the same way you did.
Choice is therefore something which I would aspire to build into next year’s CPD schedule – each CPD event should allow staff to pursue something different, worthwhile and challenging.
When teachers choose a workshop session, they are saying “this is something I can be better at, show me how and guide me” – at this moment they are more like trainees than ever, and are hopefully just as receptive.
But how can we harness the experience and wisdom that comes with years of teaching? The obvious answer is to know your staff well and to decide who is an expert at what. If you have a teacher who would never attend a workshop on differentiation because she believes that she already knows all there is to know about the topic, (and you also agree that this confidence is well-founded), then why not get her to actually run the differentiation workshop?
Yes, she would be able to share her good practice with the rest of her colleagues, but moreover, she might also learn something new. How often have a class of students you teach, who have never experienced a topic before, suggested ideas or responses you’ve never considered before? From my experience, teachers are very similar…
I also believe that trainee teachers are the most reflective practitioners in the business; this is something which we sometimes lose and forget to maintain. When you have to constantly complete lesson evaluations and weekly journals, you soon get very good at knowing your strengths and limitations. This is why I am aiming to create opportunities next year for our staff to be more reflective and I am developing a CPD journal for them to complete with this in mind.
So, there it is. When do we stop being ‘trainee teachers’? I would argue never.
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Luck of the Iris 

Not to be confused with a song by the Goo Goo Dolls or a terrorist organisation, Iris is the platform my school has bought into to help improve teaching and learning. Essentially it’s a tool to allow reflection through enabling teachers to record themselves delivering lessons which can be viewed later on. It’s not just a camcorder however, there are a couple of nifty tricks up its sleeves that make it rather clever…

Most obviously is the lanyard you wear that enables the camera to track you around the room, clever stuff, although slightly Orwellian. It comes with two units, (both iPads), that mean you can film yourself and the whole room at the same time. You could focus one camera on a student or even get them to wear the lanyard to focus on the impact your teaching has on a specific student. Useful for tracking the way you cater for PP or SEN students perhaps?

However, it’s not for the feint-hearted. I’ve been running and cycling a lot since November and despite my trimmer figure even I couldn’t bare to watch myself wobble around the room. If you’re a self-conscious sort, you might want to brace yourself. However, if you can get over the initial shock you will rapidly spot things you never even realised you were doing; not all of them good. 

We’ve all observed others and probably given feedback; even when observing a shocker you may just focus to feedback on the main areas for improvement. But with Iris you get the uncensored, unadulterated version that up until that point you may never before have realised was a problem. In my recent experiment with it, I noticed how often I talk from the front, shouting instructions like a puritanical preacher. I need to move around more!

I’d recommend that if you do use Iris, try to focus on a small section of the lesson. Limit your first reflection to 10 minutes and you might find it less overwhelming. As I use it more I will try to share my experiences. 

It holds a lot of potential for the future, imagine creating a portfolio of outstanding lessons you could share with employers? Imagine being in charge of your own appraisal observations, the possibilities are impressive.

For the time being though, it will be used to allow teachers to see what the students see every day: Sir’s balding head and rotund rear. 

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Happy New Year?

I have been reflecting over the past fortnight, following my summer hiatus, on where I should focus my attentions over the coming weeks and months. Like many teachers I am spread thinly, with many areas needing my attention.

For the first time this year I am a Year 11 tutor; already this has led to a great deal of contacting home and ensuring all tutees are focusing in the right places. I have decided that being a Year 11 tutor could be a full time job in itself, checking in on students in various lessons and making sure they are lining up their ducks ready for post-16. As it stands however, I have even less free time than last year so I will have to make do and manage. Not a gripe – merely an acknowledgement that it’s simply too important to put at the bottom of my to-do list.

Equally, I am still aiming to improve literacy across the school and I am hoping to fight this battle on the display front for the first part of the year, using the success of last year’s CPD as the impetus to keep momentum going.

Literacy, of course, is something that despite being vitally important, is also very difficult to monitor regularly. If literacy is improving, GCSE results and the quality of written work should also improve; but how can we separate the impact of developing literacy with the impact of improved teaching and learning? In fact, do we need to?

Following some challenging GCSE results in the summer as a result of some questionable decisions by the exam board, another focus has to of course be the way we teach Year 11 and how we can ensure we do not repeat those mistakes next year. Easier said than done, especially when Year 10 are doing 9 – 1. (Next blog post will be about that…)

In short, I am not sure where my focus lies for the time being. Perhaps that is the teacher’s lot? We will never be able to sacrifice one aspect of education to specialise in another, not should we try to. All we can do is make sure that we’re doing right by the people who rely on us.

So, will it be a happy new year?

It will be if you make it one…

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To PEE or not to PEE?

First off, I bet that blog heading has been used before; it was too good an opportunity to miss.

This year I marked GCSE exams for an exam board for the first time. Initially it was for the extra income, then I started to realise it was beginning to improve the way I taught the Literature GCSE. One thing I soon picked up on was how certain students who were using PEE were simply unable to achieve higher bands of the mark scheme.

In order to achieve Bands 4, 5 and 6 it requires students to analyse language and lexis in detail. This doesn’t just mean writing about lots of language techniques, it means writing a lot about just a couple of techniques. This increased depth of analysis is wonderful when you do come across it, but alas PEE often ham-strung students who thought they were doing what we wanted.

When I was at my lowest ebb and I was frustrated at how few band 4s I was awarding, I began a new centre and started to notice a trend. All of their candidates were analysing language and quite a lot were really honing in on quotes at a word-level. What was this witchcraft?!

I began to notice a pattern when I observed that essentially all of the students were still using PEE; however they seemed to be going one step further. What they did, I can only identify as: PEEWE.

Point > Evidence > Explain > Word > Effect

PEE was as normal, but W and E added something extra. All students were picking a word from the quote and identifying it, as well as attempting to explore its impact on the reader.

For instance:

Through Steinbeck’s use of the verb ‘flopped’ we can determine he wanted the reader to be reminded of when Curley was injured by Lennie. They both ‘flop’ and it is a verb which suggests weakness, humiliation and an animalistic demise. This is further reinforced by Steinbeck’s use of the noun ‘fish’. This is an interesting animal with which to compare the ‘bear-like’ Lennie, as of course fish are the natural prey of bears…

Now I am not suggesting that we all start teaching PEEWE instead of PEE, PEEL, PEED or whatever you use. In fact my point is that we need to actually consider what habits we can teach students that will ultimately empower them to achieve everything required without fuss. Clearly the teacher who had taught his class PEEWE was confident enough with the mark scheme that he/she realised it would ensure that his/her students would achieve at least Band 3/4 without too much difficulty – and they did. Ergo, if we are to truly start teaching our students effectively we need to consider what it is that examiners will want to see.

This is such an obvious statement that I feel foolish writing it. But if it’s so obvious, why have we persisted in tirelessly using PEE all these years without a thought to what the overall outcome will be? Shallow analysis that lacks insight.

I have always thought that PEE was a bit basic, PEEL, which my school used was even a little distracting. How about from now on, before jumping on any bandwagons, we begin considering what we want to see as an end product, and work backwards from there? In other words, let’s get back to basics.