The Teacher Development Trust works with hundreds of professional development providers through our GoodCPDGuide database and a key part of our mission is to help everyone improve the impact on pupil outcomes in the long term. We’ve distilled some of the key ideas we use in our consultancy services in this blog.
1. Help your customers choose
Teachers get much more long term benefit from training and professional development when they start by identifying a specific group of pupils that they want to help. It may be a group who are under-performing or possibly a group who would benefit from some extra stretch. Research shows that by focusing on specific children your customers will absorb more information and be able to apply it more effectively than if they are coming for reasons of career development or general interest. Once the need is about specific children or groups then the learning becomes more meaningful. If this need is also a focus of the schools’ Self-Evaluation Form (SEF) then it becomes even more powerful.
- Make sure all your courses and services make clear the potential benefits to pupils – the more specific you can be about the groups who will benefit, the better the advert.
- Encourage participants to share their own aims, the needs of their pupils, and the relevant points from their SEFs.
2. Keep it relevant, build on existing knowledge
Like the best classroom teaching, the best adult professional learning is pitched at the right level for each person. Every teacher will come in to the room with slightly different theories about learning, teaching, and school management. Many courses fall in to the trap of presenting ideas and techniques without engaging with these fundamental beliefs. Teachers then commonly filter and adapt the information they receive to fit their own beliefs rather than really understanding the new ideas. Every adult is also building the new methods on top of completely different foundations of skill and self-confidence – the more that trainers know about this the better they can deliver their courses.
Finally, teachers (and indeed assistants and governors) are significantly more likely to maintain focus on new ideas and techniques in the longer term if it is presented in a way that they can use in their own practice.
- Take time to pose challenging statements to force your customers to challenge their own beliefs. It means a harder day for them, but much more effective learning.
- Make sure you understand the skills, confidence levels and needs of every attendee before any training begins. Facilitators and consultants need to analyse this and use it to shape the way they present information and work with people.
- Make sure you know the needs of young people that your customers are working with. By making the training delivery relevant it will help people use the new ideas in their working lives.
3. Focus on learner outcomes, not teacher actions
Many teachers mistakenly believe that the way to improve is to concentrate on the way they behave in the classroom. A much better idea is to focus single-mindedly on the way that pupils are learning and behaving in classrooms. Lesson observations work so much better (and are less threatening) when the focus is on pupil learning, and lesson planning is more effective when teachers consider what the students are doing. Many a teacher has modified their classroom habits to satisfy tick-box ideas without ever improving the learning.
- Keep your customers focused on learner outcomes. Make sure there is a particular focus on those who were identified before the training began.
- Don’t train teachers how to behave differently, support them to achieve better learning and behaviour. It’s a very important difference!
Collaboration is an over-used word. At its worst it means non-challenging swapping of anecdotes, pointless and overused pads of poster paper and pens, and ‘sharing good practice’ as a method of spreading tips and tricks. However, done well, collaboration requires some difficult conversations, jointly developing/challenging ideas, examining and debating the best approaches and taking a meaningful responsibility for the whole team’s improvement. Too many courses put people in groups and let one person dominate. It takes skill to work in teams, and members will need some coaching to make sure they develop the skills to do so effectively.
- Make sure your customers aren’t working in groups to produce bland, agreeable lists of ideas. Let them use the time to challenge each other’s ideas, debate the meaning and value of different approaches.
- Teach people how to engage with each other. Give guidance on what sort of feedback is allowed – should it be questions only or positive-points only? Groups might nominate one person to ensure that everyone has equal time ‘at the podium’.
- Make sure your customers have the materials to take back to their schools so that they can engage their own colleagues in the same debates and discussions. It’s a powerful selling point when courses provide materials that will effectively cascade learning rather than just providing a ‘cheat-sheat’ of superficial lesson add-ons.
5. Action planning
No teacher should leave any training opportunity without a decent action plan. Most teachers report that, a few months after training, they’ve implemented nothing and forgotten nearly everything. A decent action plan sets SMART goals, and anticipates possible road-blocks with ‘rescue-mechanisms’ built in. It also needs to specify the tools with which trainees can measure how effective they are currently being so that they can refine and adapt their approach if necessary.
- Leave a decent amount of time at the end of each session to create (or update) action plans.
- Provide your customers with surveys/tests/ideas on how to check their effectiveness over the coming weeks and months. Share common obstacles and problems and how to overcomes them.
- Provide a way for your customers to keep in touch and ‘check-in’ with you occasionally to make sure they’re on the right track. Ensure they have each others’ contact details so they know who else they could turn to for ideas.
- Keep copies of the plans and email them after the course (perhaps after 1, 3, and 12 months) to remind them of their ideas and give them a ‘life-line’ of help if they need it.
At the Teacher Development Trust we want everyone in schools to have the very best professional development they possibly can. Why not gather your team together and spark some discussion about the ideas we’ve presented above? Perhaps you could talk to other providers to find out what they do and compare their ideas? Make an action plan! You may wish to contact us for further details and support or look up the GoodCPDGuide for other CPD experts.