Many years ago I was browsing my Twitter feed when I spotted a conversation between two educators about Geocaching (essentially putting an item in a location and letting someone else find it by posting the map coordinates or clues online). At that time I had heard of it but had not tried it, so I began to ask a few questions and explained my interest. The reply came that the gentleman was a tech consultant and his advice wasn’t free. So I simply asked someone else, got my answer, and unfollowed the other guy.
Thankfully, this attitude is now vanishingly rare on Twitter these days and advice, help and collaboration is the norm. Yet the same isn’t true in the educational world at large and schools are wasting their funds by inviting in consultants and going to courses without exploring other options first. Don’t get me wrong. I fully recognise that there are times when schools have reached an impasse and need outside help to move forward, but it seems that calling someone in is often the first reaction.
ONE – Expert Staff
Your colleagues are far more brilliant than you know and have many hidden talents. They are likely hidden for three reasons:
- no one has asked them about them.
- modestly about their hidden abilities.
- they think they will have more work to do if someone knows they have that talent.
For example, a colleague of mine worked in our primary school for 7 years without anyone knowing that she was an amazing pianist, as she felt she would be asked to play in assemblies constantly. Those of us who have a way with computers will tell of the countless hours that are spent away for teaching to fix little tech issues for others, which we don’t mind doing of course. I have conducted many staff training sessions on a variety of topics at my school.
There are yet more colleagues in your school who have useful interests, and while they may not be experts, their curiosity in a topic of skill means that they have done much of the groundwork to develop that area in school. As a school team, we need to harness these talents and interests by creating an atmosphere of collaboration where skills and talents are shared, not just taken.
Pool ideas from everyone. Some of the most popular courses I see online are designed to introduce iPad apps into your teaching. Putting aside the fact that pedagogy and the student’s needs should be the drivers of designing learning opportunities, not that you have an interesting new app you need to work into a lesson if you ask your staff to suggest interesting apps and/or research a few new ones to introduce to colleagues. Therefore, there is little need to ask an expert to read out their list of apps at your inset and show you how to use something which is very intuitive.
TWO – Give it Time & Ownership
If we are asking colleagues to develop something of value, we need to ensure that they have enough non-contact time to develop, trial and roll out a training session for the staff. To be frank, many of the courses offered by visiting experts are a shortcut to simple ideas that everyone with a few spare hours could research online and deliver to other colleagues. Asking colleagues to develop an initiative can have numerous benefits over asking someone to develop an idea from outside. Yes, we don’t want to re-invent the wheel, but sometimes a bespoke wheel for a particular school is needed. Ideas and initiatives that will have a true impact on the learning of students across the school will take some time to assess, research and implement, but it is worth the investment of time, and should not be an add-on to what the teacher does already. Schools should consider the price of hiring a consultant for the day and whether that money could be better spent on giving release time for a colleague instead. Sustaining a worthwhile initiative should be the job of everyone in the school but haven’t one or a few ‘go to’ people to fly the flag and keep up the momentum within the school, rather than an inset for one morning, no matter how inspirational it is, certainly has advantages for the longevity of the idea.
THREE – Think Bespoke
In my experience of both sleeping through insets and dozing through courses that a one size fits all approach to professional development is neither productive nor desirable. Not every member of staff is at the same level of understanding or at the same stage of implementing it, so training, just like with students, needs to be differentiated to the individual. Guest presenters may be great at pitching to the middle, but in any whole staff CPD you can see both bored and perplexed faces at either end of the bell curve. While whole school training has a place in schools, it should be reserved for wholly new ideas which everyone will benefit from. The day of passive professional development is coming to an end, with educators seeking out their own development opportunities becoming more common.
FOUR – Ask the School Network
In schools, teachers are outnumbered, and don’t the pupils know it! But schools can use the abundance of skills, knowledge and insight into their to their CPD advantage. Most pupils have a good idea of what works for them and this source of information shouldn’t be ignored as an important part of your CPD network. The digital leaders initiative has shown that pupils can be more skilled than many of their teachers in some areas, and I have often invited my group of digital leaders to assist my colleagues during training sessions.
The school community beyond the school gates has a wealth of untapped skills and knowledge available just for the asking. However, it is not always easy to discover what the community can offer. The children are a wealth of information, and while a teacher shouldn’t pry too much into the professional life of a child’s parents, primary school children have a wonderful habit of dropping their parents in it. For example, in my Year 5 class last year I was elated when one of my children volunteers his microbiologist dad to come in to talk about bacteria and to culture Petri dishes with the supposedly washed hands of class. The school governors, as ambassadors of the school in the community, have a role to play here.
If the skill or knowledge isn’t available within a school, it may be available in the wider cluster or chain of schools. Local schools are working more closely than ever before, but this can be limited to the senior team acting as a critical friend during activities like work scrutinies and moderating, or learning walks. But perhaps more valuable is to share, swap and disseminate the knowledge and expertise of frontline educators in nearby schools. This can be organised on a one-to-one basis, or in the style of a teach meet.
FIVE – Get Online
Teachers have access to real experts via the online network. If your Twitter network can’t help you, they probably know someone who does, and within hours of an ‘ask Twitter’ request you will be pointed in the right direction.
Many questions have already been asked and answered. The UKEdChat archive of discussion at ukedchat.com/archive is a treasure trove of ideas and the near 300 sessions covering a vast range of topics. If a session doesn’t quite answer your query, you have the Twitter handles of educators who are interested in the topic there for you to ask.
Additionally, there are plenty of online CPD opportunities now available, such as the programmes on our UKEd.Academy site – click here for more information.
You’ve considered and/or tried all of the above, but you still need assistance. Guest presenters have a lot to offer, both in terms of inspiration and expertise, and there is an abundance to pick from on Twitter – Choose wisely.
This article was originally published in the December 2015 Edition of our UKEdMagazine