20 Things Teachers Want From CPD
High-quality CPD can be very hit and miss.
CPD can sound very grand but quite often this amounts to a wobbly DIY programme of self-directed learning made up of personal reading, online professional development, Edu-Twitter, Teach Meets, TED Talks and informal conversations in the staffroom.
As part of this scattergun approach you might find time to engage in action research, study for a qualification, participate in video learning teams, share best practice, keep a reflective journal and co-plan lessons with a mentor or team up with a coach. If you are lucky, you might get to do an international visit and exchange.
It also involves structured professional development and more formal training events that take place on and off-site, ranging from in-house training, researchEd, seminars, subject conferences and festivals. These might include specialist courses, lectures, being part of a Teacher Learning Community or research school.
CPD isn’t something to leave to chance, especially when you are inviting someone to come and speak with your school. It can be an expensive ‘business’ and so you need to get value for money and training that comes with some guarantees.
Here are a few ideas about what teachers want from their CPD and what to consider:
1. Best evidence
Teachers want to be told what works, not sold myths, legends, fashions, fads and crazes that are flash in the pans that can leave them with egg on their faces.
Training workshops must share ideas that are tried, tested and supported by credible research, not half-baked reviews promising the Earth or ideas that are outdated. No snake oil sales pitches please. Look what happened to learning styles, Brain gym and the learning pyramid – all debunked as bandwagons driven by unicorns and leprechauns.
Teachers want hard evidence and they won’t unfold their arms until they’ve got it. Mention Ofsted and ‘outstanding’ and their arms will never unlock.
Training workshops regularly fail to deliver timely, context-specific knowledge. What works in one school isn’t guaranteed to work in another and so training has to be tailored accordingly so that ideas and strategies aren’t forced and shoe-horned in. The session has to be designed and implemented with information that is relevant – the shoe has to slip on.
This means fitting materials and resources to teachers’ specialisms and level of expertise, not saying “Here’s a copy of my latest book it tells you everything you need to know about teaching – enjoy!”
If Senior leaders can identify the needs of the school and read the terrain, staff will buy-in, not opt-out.
CPD events can throw everything at you – too much. In two hours you might have sat through a ropey and pointless PowerPoint with over 100 slides and then expected to be awake at the end of it. Less is more when it comes to CPD and that means lean and to the point training so that you can absorb it and implement it.
Teachers want energising with relevant content, not overwhelming so they drown in superfluous ideas. They also need time to think and reflect so they can mull over new perspectives and approaches, try things out and revisit CPD with a clear head.
Platinum CPD builds in DEAR: discussion, experimentation and analysis and reflection, and gives out the PowerPoint and handouts before kick-off so people can familiarise themselves with the content. Keep presentations short.
Whole-school CPD is needed on occasions but certainly not for every inset day. Staff don’t need to sit in on training that is only aimed at a fraction of the school. Training events that cater for particular Year groups, Key Stages, subjects or levels of responsibility are far more useful than generic broad-brush slaps of CPD. Content has to be targeted towards your particular professional needs.
All staff need to make themselves heard and define the training they want to see as it has to mesh with their existing experience (from developing to master), knowledge and needs. The importance of personalised CPD is paramount. As the Meerkat says: “Simples”.
Communication with other schools is vital. Training days held on home turf should involve other teachers from neighbouring schools so that everyone has an opportunity to meet colleagues from other schools, and share ideas, experience and good practice. This prevents teachers being inward looking and feeling isolated.
6. The speaker
Trainers and consultants vary dramatically in their expertise and approach so getting the right person ‘in’ is crucial. It’s always wise to beware of the self-proclaimed expert.
Some schools like to utilise their own staff as they know the school best. This can work but in-house training keeps you in the bubble and can also be blinkered. That’s not to say there aren’t many examples of exceptional practice in schools because there are many teachers at the top of their game and in demand from schools far and wide.
An external speaker needs to be selected very carefully. Celebrity teachers are more common than ever and they can work wonders and inspire although ‘big names’ often come at a ‘big price’ and it is easy to be seduced by ego and reputation.
The key is to select an accredited and skilled communicator who knows their stuff, a chameleon teacher that is in tune with what the classroom looks and smells like and is still in touch with the day-to-day realities of your ‘core business’.
7. The bio
CPD is about getting down to it and so what teachers don’t want is a 15 minute introduction of the speaker’s exotic travels, background experience of working in “tough inner-city schools” and having survived 12 Ofsted inspections.
The bio of an external speaker is normally sent out prior to an event and that should be that. CPD time is CPD time not a time to bask in the glory years and take selfies of the audience. Just get on with it. Housekeeping and fire drills can be done in less than 10 seconds.
Sit-down and listen sessions are never a great way to teach colleagues because people soon start to fidget and get frustrated or just lose the will and nod-off. CPD has to be engaging and involving. It’s great when a speaker can share a few jokes and tales but you aren’t there for the entertainment – sessions need to be minds-on, hands-on and get people moving.
Active CPD doesn’t mean burning 2000 calories but it should involve plenty of participation beyond pouring the bottled water and giving your speaker a standing ovation and a Hollywood handshake. Practical practitioners won’t waste melting precious time with silly ice-breakers and role play but get down to doing what matters with a diversity of attention-grabbing activities and practical tips that provide choice and flexibility.
Effective CPD challenges, prods and pokes deep thinking and encourages everyone to get their hands dirty by debating, creating and collaborating.
Creating opportunities to talk is important so that colleagues can respond and share. Colleagues must be able to trust the trainer so they are at ease about discussing their successes, failures and challenges. A CPD event that doesn’t encourage risk-taking fails teachers.
What teachers want are safe spaces to talk openly with each other so that they can share ‘n’ tear experiences. What they don’t want is something too extreme though where it turns into a traumatic version of Alcoholics Anonymous.
10. Go off-site
Budget is always going to be an issue and so meeting at school makes sense to keep costs down. However, the benefits of meeting away from your usual surroundings are huge and can recharge batteries and inspire fresh thinking. There are fewer distractions too.
You don’t have to go posh and hire a hotel meeting room but opt for something that supports the local community such as a community centre or café. Most staff welcome the opportunity to meet somewhere different.
11. Sustained duration
The best CPD isn’t just an isolated incident but a long-lasting event that involves post-training and revisiting so that teaching, learning and assessment can be monitored, enriched and improved. This involves materials and ideas that can be used immediately in class and shared across the learning community.
CPD teachers and trainers check-in on their staff and check to see if further support is needed. This might be an email, a telephone call or a direct message on Twitter. More usefully, great CPD involves a further visit to discuss and reflect together and build further experiences. Putting the ‘continuous’ into CPD is crucial and that requires focus, intensity, cycles of trying, editing, and follow up.
12. Eases workload
CPD is always going to mean a personal investment of time into learning new approaches and trying new things but this shouldn’t add to our workloads. Staff are looking for CPD that will impact positively on pupils but not at a personal cost involving layers and layers of more things to do. CPD that can ease workload pressures is what everyone wants.
13. Calendar Talk
Teachers are pretty sick of being told about 21st Century learning and don’t need a CPD session to tell us yet again that “we are teaching children who will be doing jobs we don’t yet know exist”. Most teachers will know it’s the 21st century and saying it doesn’t sound mysterious or amazing.
14. Start and finish on time
There’s nothing worse than starting a session late. Actually there is – finishing late. Teachers are time poor and they don’t need someone who has poor time management skills messing up their commute home. CPD sessions must stick to the time and like meetings, that means no AOB.
15. Don’t treat us like dummies
The long-standing CPD model has been based on the idea of deficit where teachers lack knowledge and skills so someone parachutes in and fills the gaps with a wonder workshop. This ignores the great wealth of knowledge that teachers do have and can share with each other and the speaker. Teachers are there to be developed and there to be tapped into as co-collaborators.
16. The environment
The room you hold a training session in will make or break it. Too hot, too cold, external noises and badly positioned tables will give people an experience to remember for all the wrong reasons. Trainers have to put themselves in the position of the audience. Teachers don’t expect luxury but they do expect careful planning, a seating plan and any barriers to learning to be removed.
17. The one
Staff aren’t fans of colleagues that dominate discussion and hog air time. There’s always one, two if you’re unlucky. What they want is for a speaker to address any concerns that people may have in a break or after the workshop so concerns can be shared on a more personal level. Sharing is important but this doesn’t mean one teacher should use the session as a one-to-one whilst the audience listens.
18. Acronym city
Most teachers will be familiar with a fair few acronyms but there are always going to be some that are new. Teachers want trainers to be aware of this and spell out what they are saying so that no one is left scratching their head. Keep it simple stupid (KISS) and cut out the jargon too.
If CPD feels like ploughing a field in the rain then it’s not working. Teachers need to enjoy their professional development and so teachers want workshops that are fun, dynamic and creative so they can develop confidence and have a laugh too.
Teachers are always hungry and need feeding and so deserve better than a couple of packets of home brand custard creams and some bruised bananas. An amuse bouche would be nice but teachers don’t expect anything Michelin star, just something decent to keep the troops happy and marching. Caffeine and sugar-hits are welcome but something healthy would help.
Teachers are always searching for ways to develop their craft and build effectiveness, but they need quality CPD to make it happen. When CPD is done well, then teachers grow in stature, they become more confident and they deliver more impact. When the CPD isn’t up to scratch and doesn’t meet the needs of teachers, then it causes more harm than good.
High-quality CPD creates intelligent contexts for teachers to learn and support each other and build a community of powerful pedagogues that can transform the culture of their whole school.
All teachers want is to be better at their jobs and keep their professional skills and knowledge up-to-date. If this can be personalised, relevant, sustained, supported and collaborative then its smiles all round. That’s not too much to ask is it?