What do all great teachers have in common? Likely, many attributes and qualities but all great teachers never stop learning. I am a very strong advocate for teachers taking ownership of their own professional development and learning because when I did this it improved my teaching practice and many aspects of my life. Taking responsibility of your own professional development can enhance, and eventually even transform, your teaching practice.
In my book, Love To Teach: Research and Resources for every classroom, I dedicated a chapter to continuing professional development (CPD) entitled Own your own CPD! Throughout my teaching career, I have discovered new, interesting and exciting ways to do this.
Previously (and perhaps possibly still in some schools) CPD had a stigma associated with termly inset days that teachers would roll their eyes at. These insets often involved a team building task (resented by teachers, who would rather be planning, marking or doing anything else to reduce their workload) or being introduced to the latest fad in education. Another issue with CPD is that schools have often adopted the one-size fits all approach.
This whole staff approach can work, I have attended many sessions that I found useful and have also delivered many whole school professional development sessions to colleagues. Whole school training depends on context and delivery. It is not always the best method as a staff body will often vary in levels of confidence, years of experience, different subjects taught, different age groups, and so on. Professional learning should not be limited to inset days or twilight sessions as it is an on-going process throughout our career and as professionals, we should be taking leadership and ownership of our professional development.
A stand-alone single CPD session or inset day won’t transform teaching practice. It might be useful, but the impact will be limited. I attended a course focusing on moving teaching from good to outstanding. On reflection how can a teacher who has been teaching for six years (at the time of the course) progress from ‘good to outstanding’ in one single day? This experience made me think very carefully about the paid courses I would attend in the future, is the juice worth the squeeze?
That is not to say that there aren’t great courses available for teachers, because there are. For that specific event, I failed to do my research and I had unrealistic expectations. Professional development is an on-going and long-term process, not a short-term quick fix. I stated in my book that “one-off expensive courses in a hotel conference room with a free lunch won’t change your life but taking control of your professional development can”.
In recent years, teachers around the world have shown that they are leading the way, with ownership of their own professional development. This can be very empowering and enjoyable. I recently created an infographic with six suggested methods of professional learning for all educators.
The infographic above is simplistic and was purely designed to inform teachers of the different approaches to professional learning and development they can adopt. A very interesting and important question was raised in response to my infographic from Secondary Headteacher Lee Cummins. Lee said “I couldn’t agree more. I’m just not sure that everyone knows how and where to access ‘the best’ of each of these forms of professional learning. Would be really interested in how others share this with teams of staff“. I thought Lee raised a very valid point and I have some suggestions as to how to do this.
At my new school The British School Al Khubairat (BSAK) in Abu Dhabi there are many ways this is achieved. The first method is their professional learning website for staff where educational blogs, presentations and other resources are shared by Deputy Headteacher Nigel Davis. This is a great method of filtering through all of the content that is available for educators (as I continually see articles online promoting brain gym, learning styles and other topics that have been debunked!). The site is a very useful guide pointing teachers in the right direction of high-quality research and materials to enhance their professional learning.
Another method is through leading by example and sharing. Deputy Headteacher James McBlane at BSAK, read the latest book by Mary Myatt The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence. James thoroughly enjoyed the book and found it useful, especially given the current foci and direction of the school.
James then ordered copies of this book for every Head of Department to keep, read and discuss. I attended the HoD planning day and we read specific sections of the book that James directed us to, then reflected on how this could be applied to our school and we were invited to share our views and opinions too. Myatt’s book was a great source of insight, discussion, learning and I am looking forward to reading the rest of this book.
This shows the value and importance of leaders at all levels leading by example and passionately promoting professional learning, as well as financially. However, there are classroom teachers that have contacted me or posted online about how they have read educational research that their colleagues aren’t familiar with. Using debunked learning styles as a classic example. That teacher knew that creating a variety of tasks to cater to each individual “preferred style” is not an effective strategy yet during a formal observation from a line manager feedback was provided urging more use of VAK in the classroom. This is where problems arise. We need to close the professional learning gap. Professional learning is something all educators should engage with from classroom teacher to Headteacher – we should never assume our learning journey is over.
A strategy I used to share excellent resources to support and promote professional learning was a monthly teaching and learning newsletter. When I suggested the idea to SLT at my current school Brighton College Al Ain they were very supportive and enthusiastic. The newsletter would include recommended reading, a blog of the month, resources, app suggestions and more as shown in the example below. If this is something you would be interested to find out more about you can read my blog about the newsletter here.
Below are the six methods I featured in my infographic with more detail as to how and where to access what I believe to be ‘the best of’ each as mentioned by Lee in his tweet.
Currently, there’s a wide range of amazing educational books covering different areas of interest from general pedagogy, leadership, literacy, cognitive science and much more. Obviously, some educational books are better than others. I tend to read books based on word of mouth and recommendations from colleagues or educators online. I have shared my top ten favourite educational books, you can read that here. Carl Hendrick suggested Ten books that every teacher should read and I have enjoyed all of the books suggested on this list.
You should also check out (if you haven’t already) this hilarious and catchy song by Matt Walker and Tim Barker, known as the Carpool 4 School duo, with their song Book Talk Thursday for lots of recommended reading via the medium of song!
The quality and variety of blogs written by teachers and leaders in the classroom and across schools are amazing. It is a great way to reflect on your teaching practice and share good practice with others – I thoroughly enjoy blogging. There is also no pressure or deadlines with educational blogs so I tend to go through phases of writing a lot of blogs to not writing many depending on my workload or other commitments. Blogs don’t tend to be too long so if you are struggling with time then blogs can be an easy, quick and accessible method of development, insight and reflection. Some great educational blogs I would highly recommend are:
Twitter has been a revelation to me and had a huge impact on my professional development as it has for many other educators around the globe. Teachers are connecting on Twitter to share advice, resources, anecdotes and it is an excellent platform to share blogs, articles and research journals. There is a supportive community of educators on Twitter where teachers can learn from and support one another.
Twitter has introduced me to educational blogs I may not have found, many of the educational books I have read were recommended through Twitter and I have found out about CPD events through social media too. There are hashtags educators can use to find out more about specific fields, subjects or topics for example #CogSciSci focuses on how cognitive science can be applied in the subject and study of Science or #PrimaryRocks a hashtag for Primary educators. There are also regular Twitter chats to get involved ranging from international chats such as #TeachUAEchat with discussions about leadership, technology and much more. If you’re not using Twitter or using it in this way then I recommend getting connected today and you can follow me @87history.
Podcasts have become one of my favourite forms of professional development. CPD on the move! I listen to podcasts when I’m driving or at the gym. I like listening to them and often learn a lot. There is now a wide range of educational podcasts available for teachers to download and subscribe to freely, including subject-specific podcasts and general education based podcasts. Educational podcasts I would highly recommend checking out include:
A TeachMeet event is an organised but informal meeting of educators, across different sectors, to share good practice, practical ideas and personal experiences or insights into teaching. This phenomenon has become very popular in the last decade and is sometimes known as an ‘Unconference’. These events tend to take place during evenings or weekends so that there is no cost involved in regards to cover and supply. The downside to this is that teachers do have to attend these events during their own personal time.
Popular events to look out for that are either free or very reasonably priced include #BrewEd which are very informal events that take place usually in a pub, where drinks and discussion about education flow in addition to a variety of presentations. ResearchEd events are increasing globally where naturally the focus of these events are educational research and how that be implemented in the classroom.
If there are a lack of these events in your area then you can use your initiative and organise one. I would recommend asking colleagues to support you with this because organising an event in addition to the demanding duties of being a teacher can be challenging but organising and hosting an event can also be very enjoyable and rewarding too. This is another area where social media is very useful as you can easily find out on Twitter if there are any events taking place near you or if you do decide to organise an event social media will help you to promote the event to educators outside of your own school.
At BSAK they hold regular “TeachEats” this involves different members of staff volunteering to present and share teaching and learning ideas or discuss educational research, books etc during a lunchtime. Again, it’s informal professional learning in a friendly and relaxed environment where colleagues can learn a lot from one another whilst eating their lunch!
If all or any of the other methods above are being used then it is likely you will be introduced to or familiar with educational research. I have previously blogged about educational research sharing journals, articles and websites that I have found very useful, insightful and informative. You can read that blog here.
Again I want to stress the importance of creating a culture in schools where teachers and leaders are all engaging with research and being evidence-informed. This then becomes part of the on-going discussion and reflection. Language such as cognitive load, working memory, schema, desirable difficulties etc become part of the professional dialogue and vocabulary as shown in my infographic below with suggested areas of focus and reflection when discussing learning in the classroom.
Thanks for taking the time to read my post. I am always keen to connect with and learn from other educators so if you have any feedback, questions or suggestions please do not hesitate to get in touch. To read more about professional development and other research and resources then you can order my book here.