Skip to main content

Jump In The Deep End!

Depth in continuous professional development is just as crucial as depth in learning? We in Scotland have recognised the importance of deepening pupil's learning and understanding, and this is reflected in one of the seven key principles of curriculum design underpinning Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). What this has allowed schools to do is to slow down in order for our learners to deepen their learning and understanding, to understand how the learning connects across the curriculum, into the real world and in different contexts. A well overdue recognition that it is depth of learning that is important, not just coverage.

Unfortunately, I don't think we are there yet in applying the same principles to CPD! I have long believed that in CPD we have also been too involved in encouraging staff and schools to do lots of different 'things' in terms of professional development, moving from one to another, with little regard to the impact all these activities actually had on practice and for learners. How often have we heard the lament from teachers that they have not had chance to draw breath, and embed a new development or initiative before they are moved on to the next one? We have all been guilty!

The result? Teachers who are constantly busy, because they are conscientious and committed, but frazzled and frustrated because they have not been given the time and space to embed, and therefore achieve and see the benefits, of some very useful and valuable developments. Sound familiar?

I believe that we are just beginning to recognise the folly of previous approaches. As with curriculum, we went for coverage rather than focusing on depth. Just as how we have begun, at least in Scotland, focus more on depth in the curriculum, we are need to adopt the same principles to CPD. We are now more focused on the impact of CPD that is evidenced in the classrooms through improved attainment and achievement in our learners. My own maxim is that if what we are doing does not have positive impacts for our learners, let's stop doing it and do something that will!

Key to new approaches is the recognition that all schools and staffs are different, and start any development from different positions. That is not to say that their focuses for development will not be similar, but I think that more people recognise that a 'one-size-fits-all' approach is no longer fit for purpose. Any development activity requires enough flexibility in its model of delivery to allow schools and staff to adjust and alter according to local circumstances.

When we have lots of areas to focus on in school and staff development, I feel it is crucial that we adopt a connected approach to developing these, rather than seeing them as individual aspects. So, we need to look at curriculum, pedagogy, learning experiences, assessment, planning and reporting to various audiences in a connected way, all crucial in the learning process. This is really important in helping staff and schools deal with vast change agendas in a managed and controlled way. After all, more people now understand that school and staff development is a journey with no end. It's a continuous process.

More schools are recognising that to really embed change and developments we need to slow down. It is no use rushing from one development to another, as was more common in the past. We need to give staff space and time to really engage with new learning and understanding. They need to try things. They need to make mistakes and learn from these. Crucially, they need time to talk together and to share. Anything less and, I would suggest, that you are just wasting staff development time and monies and will achieve minimum, if any, impact for learners. No-one aims for this with any development. We aim to have positive impacts for learners, so why not take the steps that will give us the greatest opportunity to achieve this?

The other change perhaps in our thinking around CPD is that it needs to start in,and be focused on, the classroom. The direction of travel should be informed by a schools' self-evaluation processes, including teachers own reflections and observations of their practice. The best CPD activities are those that school and staff identify themselves. The most effective development comes from within and is not imposed from outside.

The final key that I would say is vital in deepening approaches to development had to do with the culture and ethos within schools. This need to be open, challenging but also supportive and with high levels of trust. Staff need to see that leaders have high, but realistic expectations for staff and pupils. Those leaders should encourage innovation within an environment that makes it safe for staff to make mistakes and admit what they don't know or understand. This is what all learning is about and applies just as much to staff learning as it does to pupil learning.

So my advice is to jump in the deep end of learning and staff development.

Popular posts from this blog

Some thoughts on Scottish education

This week I was asked if I would go along to speak to labour MSPs and MPs about Scottish education and schools. My brief was to talk about education. its current state, the reality of how the attainment gap can be tackled, how teachers can help government address the challenges of poverty, and how we might start to reinvest in our schools and our teaching staff. The politicians did not want to hear from the 'same people' who always spoke to them, and wanted to hear from someone 'fresh from the chalk-face'. I had forty five minutes, about twenty minutes input from me then a discussion and question and answer session. No pressure there then! Anyway, I gave it my best shot.

I started with a brief introduction to myself and my background, to give them some idea of who this person was, and why they might be able to help them and I tried to cover most of the following in my time slot.

I started with some the positives from our system.

Stuff we should be proud of:
Our learners …

Structure and systems versuses learning, teaching and leadership

A couple of days ago Education Scotland announced that they planned to make changes to how they carried out school inspections as, 'the first step in a radical new way Education Scotland will work to support and drive improvement in schools.' This new 'radical' approach was to carry out more inspections, coupled with employment of new HMIEs and 'associate assessors' so that they could raise the number of inspections from the 180 expected to be undertaken this year, to a target figure of 250 for the following year. Amongst their stated aims was a desire to engage with every school in Scotland each year in order to support schools, teachers and school leaders and to drive forward improvement. They will also seek to include the 'younger voice' in inspections and include more use of learners in the inspection process, aiming to produce a How Good Is Our School (HGIOS) for young people to help them become engaged. (give me strength!) In addition, they will b…

Scottish education governance announcement

John Swinney has today made his long expected announcement regarding the governance structure he wishes to introduce into Scottish education. This announcement followed a consultation on his proposals and his determination that Scottish education needs to improve, and part of the way of achieving this is by giving headteachers, teachers and parents more say in what goes on in their schools, As you can imagine, there has been a lot of resistance to his proposals, especially from local authorities, who have an almost 100% responsibility for public schools at the moment.

When he stood up in the Scottish parliament, Mr Swinney announced that his new governance structure would be underpinned by three 'key pillars. These are to be enhanced career and development opportunities for teachers combined with a Headteacher Charter, Regional Improvement Collaboratives and Local Government.

The 'statutory Headteacher Charter' would sit at the heart of these reforms he said and this would…