Everyone at school loves to learn, whether they’re a child mastering a new skill or coming up with a great idea, or a teacher inventing a new way to help explain a difficult concept or winning over a difficult class. Personal growth feels good, and it keeps you wanting to get up and go to work every day.
Some schools really understand the power of professional learning, while others haven’t quite got there yet. But even if your school still (wrongly) thinks that CPD solely means a one-off day out on a course, you can always take a lead and organise your own CPD group. Here at the Teacher Development Trust we’re here to help you along the way. Follow our tips and not only can you build a group which increases your enjoyment of your job but also one which really helps your pupils learn more effectively and enjoyably. And that, at the end of the day, is why you got in to this wonderful job of teaching in the first place.
1. Form the group and decide your goals
It really doesn’t matter how many (or how few) people want to get involved at the outset. If you’ve got more than 6 then you might want to work as two smaller groups, with occasional larger meetings to feed back. Decide on a regular meeting time (perhaps once a fortnight straight after school or during lunch) and try and arrange to have some refreshments there (perhaps you could have a snack-rota). In your first meeting, decide your goals. The best goals specify a particular group or type of students and identify a learning need. You might try and brainstorm some different options and then decide which one will be your first focus. Try to be fairly specific: “improve the problem-solving abilities of boys in year 8 history” is better than “increase enjoyment of lower school students”. It helps if all members of the group have a relevant class where they can try out the new ideas.
2. Identify the sources of ideas and expertise
The next phase is to get everyone in the group to find some interesting ideas about how to pursue your goal. Some people might start with books on teaching, some might try Twitter (it’s surprisingly helpful – see this guide on Twitter for teachers) while others may want to look up research papers or Google for resources and websites. If there’s some money available then you could identify a course, consultant or resource on GoodCPDGuide (some of the resources are free) or talk to colleagues at your school, nearby schools, or local universities who are known to be experts in the area (e.g. Advanced Skills Teachers or Specialist Leaders of Education). Do try and identify your go-to expert who can occasionally give you a bit of encouragement and support and keep your group moving along the right lines.
You may want to spend one or two sessions discussing and refining ideas before people commit to an idea that they will try. It is better if people can work on an approach with at least one other person so that they can support each other, but not everyone needs to try the same idea.
3. Experiment, enquire, adapt and reflect
In your pairs or small groups you can now spend a little time together planning lessons and resources to try out your ideas. Start from the endpoint: what change in pupil learning and behaviour do you want and how can you support pupils to get there? Use ideas and resources from your research to plan a series of lessons to introduce the new approach, and try and decide what an observer would see if your plans are succeeding. You can then try out your lessons and keep a record of what happens. You could try making notes after the lesson, inviting your research-partner in to observe the students, video the lesson (perhaps using specialist observation equipment like IRIS-connect or similar if your school has it), and/or ask the students for feedback.
Focus all observations on the specific learning behaviours that you are trying to achieve – don’t give feedback on anything else unless specifically asked, and try and spend more time finding out what students are doing (and understanding why) rather than just watching the teacher’s behaviour. Make sure you clearly and specifically agree which aspects of student behaviour are being observed before your colleague comes in to the room. The observer isn’t in the room to diagnose and fix problems, they are there to provide a second set of eyes and another perspective to let the teacher reflect upon what happened and decide how to adapt and refine their ideas.
At each subsequent meeting teachers should briefly report back on their most recent experiments and then spend a while finding common themes and discussing future steps. It is almost inevitable that as you try out new ideas you uncover further difficulties that need addressing. Many of these will need further research, while others will need discussing with the expert advisor. One very useful activity for the meetings is for everyone to bring in examples of work or video clips from their lessons which can be compared and evaluated so that everyone in the group develops a shared understanding of what successful learning looks like.
Sustain, support and celebrate
Really effective CPD groups maintain the same goal and stick with it for at least two terms. Research suggests that if you take all the meeting time, lesson time, thinking time and discussion time then you need at least 30 hours of work on any one skill before the improvements start to stick, and preferably much more. Talk is useful, but a large chunk of the time should be actively planning, trying out new ideas, evaluating the learning and seeking further information. Some weeks will be really tough, for example when you’re near the end of term and there’s a tonne of marking. Make a commitment to each other to stick with it, turn up regularly, and help each other get through tough times. Publicly celebrate breakthroughs, especially those that took a huge amount of effort. Changing practice is immensely hard and immensely rewarding.
When to finish
Keep adapting, refining and experimenting until everyone in the group is seeing consistently improved learning for the target group of pupils. It’s very likely that they’ll see improvements with other pupils too, but it’s vitally important not to let the goals become diluted or let them gradually drift. In the course of your discussions and experiments it is inevitable that people will discover other areas of interest that they’d like to explore. Once your 30 hours/two terms are up and you’re all satisfied that improvements have been consistent and noticeable then you may wish to pick another topic or change the groupings. You might find some staff wish to pursue the idea further, perhaps with Masters or Doctoral level research. Whatever your outcomes, be proud of your work and work with senior leaders to celebrate your achievements. Most importantly, do email us at the Teacher Development Trust and let us know how you’ve got on as we’d love to share your stories.