Development of Research into Professional Practice

You choose the seat furthest away from the front so that you can talk to your friends and take the mick out of the speaker (I’ve witnessed this enough from others to know it’s not just me). You write notes to each other, whisper and attempt tasks with minimal effort to both get a laugh and avoid looking stupid. Educated professionals can be the worst students because, like the students they teach, they are often gifted and bored.

Just because we are older does not mean we are suddenly capable of learning without limits. We are human. As humans, we get frustrated and bored when faced with unproductive learning experiences. Just like that PP student from a poorly educated family sees no point in learning to write academic essays, teachers who see no immediate purpose to their professional development will find it difficult to engage.

After being subjected to three hours of CPD dedicated to underlining dates and titles (I’m not joking), I can understand very well why pupils whose prior learning is not taken into consideration, pupils who are not challenged or directly engaged through contextualised approaches and pupils who are gifted and bored may get disruptive. We study learning in the classroom to improve outcomes for students and then sit teachers in rows and expect them to respond like sponges to the research presented. This is not the case at every school in the UK. There are many wonderful examples of excellent environments for teacher learning. Unfortunately, such environments are the exception and not the norm.

This week, I visited the Houses of Parliament to celebrate the launch of research commissioned by the Teacher Development Trust. The research tells us what inspired, actively involved teachers already know. Teachers, like all learners, need time, clarity and structured outcomes; they need opportunities to collaborate as professionals in order to hone their trade; teachers need to study pedagogy and subject specific literature to inform their knowledge and practice. Learning needs to be purposeful, high quality, contextualised and continuous.

Many teachers (despite the CPD on offer in house) already make time, set themselves clear goals and develop extensive learning communities through social media and events. This happens out of a desire to improve and takes place in teachers’ own time.Would teachers need to take professional development into their own hands like this if the development on offer ‘in house’ was adequate?

The research produced with the TDT is a great step in the right direction to guide CPD leaders towards doing the right thing. However, professional development leaders (both internal and external) may need to look at teachers as the disillusioned learners they most likely are. Barriers to learning that have built up over years of poor quality CPD will need to be carefully removed if cultures and beliefs are going to change.

As a CPD leader, a learning coach or CPD provider, how can you reengage the disengaged? I am training a team of future coaches over the next six weeks. We will be unpicking this question as part of the process. I will reflect as we go but for now, here are some ideas linked to the research.

“Achieving a shared sense of purpose is an important factor for success.”

Link to the full report

Step 1: Listen, observe and get to know the context

“A didactic model in which facilitators simply tell teachers what to do, or give them materials without giving them opportunities to develop skills and inquire into their impact on pupil learning is not effective.”

One size never fits all and generic approaches rarely inspire. Getting to know your learners shows that you are investing time in them as human beings. When we make connections with other human beings, we find it easier to learn from them. This is true of students of any age. If you are delivering professional development in any form, questions first, imparting knowledge later. Nobody likes a “know it all” but when you respect, connect with and feel respected by that “know it all”, you are more likely to engage in what they have to say.

Step 2: Collaborate

“…successful facilitators encouraged and/or helped teachers take on a degree of leadership of CPDL, and, according to the strongest review, treated them as peers and co-learners. This relationship enabled successful facilitators to share values, understanding, goals and beliefs with participants, but also to challenge them successfully.”

Knowing what learning is helps. If observation of lessons is going to make a difference, you need to be able to dissect the learning that is taking place and develop a clear path towards successful outcomes for both teachers and pupils. Teachers often complain about being observed by leaders that are poor teachers, which leads them to distrust the conclusions given about the lesson observed.

Targets for improving pupil outcomes should come from knowledge of pedagogy and subject related issues rather than a list provided by an outside agency. Use subject and pedagogy knowledge to question lesson observations against teachers’ intended outcomes; work together to develop future steps based upon formative discussions. Do not have improved practice in one classroom, or indeed one lesson, as a single end goal to professional development. Have the teacher recognise this process as something that can have an impact upon the wider school community. Develop coaches and CPD leaders as well as better teachers. Plan long term goals together.

Step 3: Follow up on improvements

“…create a rhythm for CPDL, regular school meeting times such as departmental and phase meetings are used as opportunities for following up and tracking learning from CPD sessions.”

The “not another initiative” staff will be provided with ammunition if professional development conversations are one off and never followed up. No matter what fiddly bits of school life must be done, make sure that time is planned in advance to review learning progress. Teaching and Learning is the core business of any school. Keep it at the core. Deep learning does not happen in one off lesson observations and feedback. Continuous professional collaboration can result in a deeper understanding of specific learning targets but not if it is at the bottom of the “to do” list.

Cross-posted from The Learning Geek

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