This blog first appeared on the Pearson School Model blog
The third of the debates hosted by the Teacher Development Trust around CPD took on the hot topic of whether schools should be forced to schedule staff collaboration time? David Weston, their Chief Executive, outlines what the participants disucssed:
The majority of teachers, leaders and researchers attending this debate supported the idea that schools should be mandated to schedule collaboration time, although a sizable minority objected to the use of compulsion. Where there was unanimity, however, was accepting that collaboration is a vital part of effective professional development, and that schools often find both cultural and practical obstacles to making it happen.
We were joined by experts from both sides of the Atlantic, with Rebecca Raybould from the UK’s Centre for the Use of Evidence in Education, and MaryAnn Mather from the USA’s TERC Using Data project. MaryAnn drew on a key point from the CPD research and stressed that it is not enough to force schools to follow behaviours, such as scheduling collaboration, without ensuring that the relevant training and support is available to the school leaders to ensure that they understand both the underlying rationale and the do’s and don’ts of making it effective.
During the debate we had several practical ideas about how to overcome the practical difficulties of scheduling time. In one primary school, year teams are regularly freed from their normal teaching time by senior management and special needs teachers who take over the lessons to allow the regular teachers to engage in joint planning and marking sessions. In a secondary school, older students come in later on a Wednesday and younger students are timetabled with cover teachers or external groups to ensure staff have time to work together. The benefit of this system is that staff remain fresh in the morning and can concentrate on teamwork, rather than leaving it until the end of the day where staff are often tired and unfocused.
Rebecca Raybould cautioned attendees that there was a huge spectrum of collaboration, from the effective practices where staff are genuinely challenged and work through problems together, to the ineffective practices where teams become comfortable talking shops with no drive to change or seriously reflect.
The difficulties of overcoming difficulties in this field were a cause of some concern. One teacher recounted a problem in her CPD team sessions where the group was undermined by an individual who treated the whole process as a joke – no trust was built up and nothing serious was ever able to be tackled. MaryAnn described a school that her organisation worked with where both the CPD facilitator and the coach were both due to leave at the same time, leaving an inexperienced team behind them. A secondary school head of department complained that collaborative work is difficult in his school when the senior leaders are strongly challenging teachers’ reluctance to share ideas and observe each other, while never volunteering to engage in these difficult processes themselves.
After some discussion of these issues, the key points identified were:
• that school leaders should lead by example when it comes to sharing videos of their lessons or inviting others to comment on their planning,
• that leaders need to set a clear expectation that collaboration is an expected part of teachers’ professional practice, and that engagement in these processes will be expected and assessed in performance management meetings,
• that collaborative teams should work with outside experts and coaches to help them through difficult problems and challenge them to attain greater levels of performance,
• that staff in teams need to have training on the best ways to engage with their peers, to support them, observe them, plan with them, and helpfully critique them.
The webinar debates will continue on Mondays at 4pm and Thursdays at 7pm until Monday 16th July. They’re open to anyone and you can sign up here. There will be an ongoing disucssion on Twitter using the hashtag #bettercpd.
The slides used in this debate are available here.