What Exactly Are We Developing on Development Days?

In all of my fourteen years of teaching I’ve never known a time when workload was such an issue for me. Perhaps it’s an age thing; perhaps I just don’t have the energy to cope with what I used to be able to do. More than likely though it is the increased expectations of a new curriculum, with new courses to adapt, when nothing else appears to be slipping from the table. So at no other time has Professional Development been more important for a workforce which, at times, seems to be approaching breaking point. But, what exactly makes effective CPD?

It is not often the expert who schools buy in at considerable expense to speak to whole staff gatherings. I have listened to some wonderful speakers on Education over the years – and some not so wonderful – who have both entertained and moved me with stories of effective strategies and wonderfully inspiring classroom experiences. But, though I often leave feeling much better about myself, I am no further forward in implementing whatever they we’re supposed to be talking about in the first place. Transference is a hugely difficult thing to achieve. There are so many factors to contemplate when we adapt change in the classroom.

It is not often the Local Authority ‘official’, chosen to attend an In-service Day to impart the latest wisdom on LA target setting. Sitting on uncomfortable chairs for an hour, watching someone talk me through every word of a Powerpoint Presentation rarely teaches me what they want me to learn. I generally become more understanding of the way we expect our pupils to learn, though, and can comprehend exactly why we can bore them with uninspiring delivery. Perhaps if they convinced us why it is important rather than simply telling us that it is, we may reap more benefits from days like these.powerpointless

I would even go as far as to say that it is not often the ‘course from the catalogue’ which we decide might interest and inspire us when we get back to class. We can all remember the time when we’ve sat in a seminar on something incredibly inspiring, determined to go home that night and construct a series of lessons around it immediately. More often than not the reality of our day-to-day business results in that folder going on a  pile of folders we may never get to. In time, that great feeling is forgotten and you can’t remember what you were thinking about in the first place. So what might work then?

It seems to me that the way we ensure our development has impact – and surely that much mean better learning for the pupils in our classrooms – then we need to be convinced that it will have impact. We need to recognise the shortfalls in the abilities of our pupils and, as a result, recognise the deficiencies in our own teaching. Then, perhaps, Professional Development will achieve the sort of outcomes we’ve been missing. I can look back on countless hours of wasted development time and would weep if I wasn’t so busy. We need to remember that Development Days are not merely a day out of the classroom. They are Development Days. What exactly are they developing?

4 thoughts on “What Exactly Are We Developing on Development Days?

  1. Kenny. As ever, on a personal note, your posts leave me with so many questions and very few answers but they also leave me with a determination to seek those answers and the understanding that the “journey” taken to seek a solution is far more important than possibly the solution. Thanks (I think!!!)
    Currently I am a “Local Authority ‘official’, chosen to attend an In-service Day to impart the latest wisdom on LA target setting.” I do try my hardest to share the passion I have on the subject I am presenting on and of why my presentation is important. Don’t ever get me started on poverty, financial education and the importance numeracy has on our society. I guess that is why I am a numeracy development officer. However please keep in mind that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and what may be important to one’s teaching may have less of an impact on an others. I do share your frustrations on the way such events are presented and hope never to have fallen in to that trap. Though no doubt I have at times….. Please forgive me & those who do for we on the whole are passionate about and truly believe in the areas we re presenting on. Our time, like all those in teaching, is far too precious a resource to waste to be doing anything but.
    I do think the question you posed in your last paragraph is something we as a profession or as a collective in school do need to pose and indeed demand an answer to. You recently asked on twitter for people to finish the sentence “leadership is…” well maybe one answer to this is “Leadership is establishing a professional learning environment in which all are allowed the opportunity to develop and learn”
    Thanks for giving me the opportunity of trying to be better…..

  2. I still remember my first experience of an In-Service Day after I arrived in teaching, from industry, 8 years ago. It was a “death by PowerPoint” affair, presented by a well-meaning individual intent on raising awareness of new legislation.

    The content, though, could have been disseminated by email without losing anything. It could even have worked better that way, by offering links to further material. Somehow an all-staff session must be more effective in ticking audit boxes, I guess, regardless of how much learning takes place.

    The really striking thing, though, was the sheer opportunity cost. For a day, we had all these incredibly busy people together, in the same place and at the same time. That time, if used towards what I’d now call collaborative professional enquiry, could clearly improve learning in the school.

    By comparison, knowledge of the latest legislation is a “hygiene factor”: necessary, but incapable of improving learning. It seemed odd to me that it should have first call on such precious time.

  3. Kenny, as always, a relevant and topical post, thank you.

    To cheer you up, I attended a recent in-service day in Fife which was well-organised, well thought out and targeted at the specific needs of the teachers it would benefit. It produced useful resources which have been shared nationally (via http://sptr.net), clearer understanding of National assessment and developed new skills in writing open ended questions. There was a 3-slide powerpoint to introduce it and these contained little more than mood-setting images.

    Somebody is getting the message!

  4. Change is difficult and takes time – lots of time – along with intentional, measured pressure. Michael Fullan and other researchers have written tons about the difficulties of change in an organisation (and a classroom is an organisation).

    I tried something different this year:
    1. Bring in a guest speaker to articulate and model what should happen.
    2. Work with teachers to articulate how their classrooms will look different and identify a date that is reasonable to expect the changes to be part of regular classroom practice.
    3. Give teachers time to prepare materials that will make them able to successfully practice the new knowledge/skill. Encourage them to practice on their own.
    4. Bring in coaches to watch and talk them through practice sessions.
    5. Encourage more practice.
    6. Allow for peer coaching and feedback.
    7. During classroom walk-throughs and observations, comment on the new practices. Bring them up in post-observation discussions.

    On this timeframe, we can expect to make one big cultural shift per year.

    If we introduce too many things we risk burnout or, more likely, good intentions that never come to pass.

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