Teachers are incredibly busy people and any time available for professional development and training is very precious. In order to get the most out of any time and resources you’ve been given then it’s worth following a few key principles.
Start with the students
If you’ve been given some input in to the choice of training you’d like then focus first on your own classes and students. Reflect on the success of different groups and individuals that you teach, using your markbook and any other sources of data to help you. Which students tend to achieve particularly well with your teaching, and which less well? Are there any topics where students learn especially well from you, and are there any topics where they tend to struggle with your teaching?
If you don’t have any control over the training then think carefully about which students might benefit particularly from any new methods presented on this course, and which topics might be especially assisted by the new ideas.
Identify the expertise
Once you’ve identified some key students you’d like to be able to teach more effectively, find some professional development opportunities to help you. You could find a course that is targeted at this area, or maybe locate a colleague at your school or a nearby school who is a known expert (possibly an AST or SLE).
The best training lets you go back later to check your progress and help you along the way. You might want to find a combination of a course and an expert or consultant to work with you. If you didn’t have any control over the choice of CPD then you can still identify an expert who can help you put the ideas in to practice and support you along the journey.
Work with a similar colleague
If you can find a colleague in your school (or a nearby school) who has identified similar needs then you can massively increase the effectiveness of the training. Arrange regular sessions where you can discuss examples of students’ work, observe each other teaching and guide each other to apply the new principles and ideas you’ve learned. This can really help when you’re having a tough day or when you have a particularly challenging group of students. In training it’s always fair to say that ‘two minds are better than one’.
The best people to work with are those you trust and who are similar to you. Ideally you both want to feel you have the same amount to gain out of training alongside each other.
Keep it going
The classroom is a stressful environment and it’s very easy to slip back in to old habits of teaching. Research suggests that you have to keep practising and adapting any new methods and ideas for at least two full terms to really embed them.
Straight after the initial training you should write an action plan. Write down what you want to achieve, and when you want to achieve it. Decide on your success criteria – what will be different about your students’ learning if it all goes well? Now think how far you’d like to have developed by the half-way point. How will you know if you’ve achieved your goals, and who will you turn to in case things aren’t going as well as you’d hoped?
At a suitable point during your professional development work you should consult the external expert one or more times to make sure you’re on track with the new ideas. Also, your partner can help support you when the going gets tough, and you can support them when they’re flagging.
Maintain focus on the students
It’s very easy to get distracted by your own behaviour in the classroom (and that of colleagues) but remember to keep focusing on the particular students you picked out at the start. Make them the focus of lesson observations and be sure you’re assessing their work to find out if your efforts are being successful. It’s very easy to ‘perform’ new methods without the students ultimately benefiting but it’s all the more satisfying when you can see your hard work is really paying off with them so keep them in mind at all times and focus on their behaviour and not yours.