All great schools have something in common. They are full of classrooms of teachers who enjoy talking about teaching, sharing ideas and trying things out. Similarly, they will have leaders who facilitate and encourage this. It’s not a complicated idea, but it does require a shift in how we think about the leadership of teaching and learning and CPD across schools. The following point are worth consideration by school leaders:
A ‘Tight but Loose’ approach – Gone are the days when CPD is centred around how everyone should conform to the same style of teaching i.e. the rigid ‘3 part lesson’. Teaching is a creative profession and as so, as long as they are successful, teachers should be encouraged to teach in a way that best suits them. So, identify some key aspects of teaching e.g. challenge, explanation, modelling, deliberate practice, questioning and feedback, and then allow teachers to implement these principles, in a way that best suits them. Build your CPD programme around these principles.
Find the ‘Bright Spots’ – In their book, ‘Switch: How to change things, when change is hard’ (bit.ly/uked14nov08), Chip and Dan Heath describe what successful institutions do: they find what is working and do more of it – they ‘find the bright spots’. Do this in your school. Find teachers that are using successful strategies in their classrooms, and use them to lead CPD for other teachers. CPD strategies that do this, like 15 minute forums, can be explored in my new book ‘Perfect Teacher Led CPD’. You have a huge number of experts in your classrooms, in your school – use them.
Look outside – Use the experts within your school to develop teaching but also look outside. A growing number of teachers are sharing their thoughts and practice through social media such as twitter and blogging. Alongside this, it is now easier than ever before to access educational research papers and books. Many schools are creating new ‘Research and Development’ roles, to support their staff with becoming ‘research aware’ and then ‘research engaged.’ Do you know what academic research the education department in your local university is undertaking? Could this be coupled with your school? Is there a ‘Teach Meet’ happening locally that your staff could choose to attend? If not, could you host one? These are all excellent avenues of CPD that should be explored and positively embraced.
Layered approach to CPD – As a school, do you ensure that there is variety of CPD activities open to staff, that allows them to access CPD at a level that suits them? See image.
A fresh approach to lesson observations – lesson observations should be a really useful form of CPD. Sadly though, in recent years, they have become reduced to labelling teachers with a 1-4 number. This doesn’t need to be the case. We need to change our approach to observations – stop giving lessons a grade and make them a professional and supportive dialogue between two professionals. Allow all colleagues to be involved in lesson observations – not just those in a leadership role. There is so much to learn from watching our peers, so provide opportunities for staff to do this. Why not take it a stage further and set up a ‘Lesson Study’ programme in your school? Usually carried out in groups of three, teachers plan, deliver, observe and then review a series of lessons together – looking to develop a particular aspect of their pedagogy.
To summarise, Professor Dylan Wiliam says: ‘Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.’
A fresh look at CPD is needed by school leaders, in order to create the right culture and climate in schools – one that is supportive, collaborative and encourages teachers to explore, challenge themselves and grow. This requires schools to develop a ‘bottom up’, one size fits all approach. For too long now, teachers have been shackled by unfortunate fads and gimmicks, telling them how they should be teaching. This has disempowered and demoralised large sections of the profession. The challenge for us as educators then, is to seize back our profession. We need to let teachers teach, make them excited about teaching and learn from each other.
Shaun Allison is Deputy Head at Durrington High School, West Sussex. He is author of ‘Perfect Teacher Led CPD’. Read his blog at classteaching.wordpress.com and find him on Twitter @shaun_allison.