I guess all schools have an emphasis on CPD (continuing professional development) these days.
It sounds such a good idea – of course we should carry on learning and improving what we do, rather than sitting back and complacently assuming we are perfect already. Handled correctly, it is indeed fantastic. But handled wrongly, it can be a pain in the proverbial.
So how does it go wrong? In the same way as things often go wrong – when they become a box-ticking exercise.
For example, suppose a school decides it wants to encourage all its teachers to keep their subject knowledge up to date, and accordingly tries to get everyone involved in suitable CPD for this. Well, that’s a very useful exercise if, for example, you are an English teacher obliged to teach a new text, or a Language teacher acquainting yourself with cultural changes and new idioms in the relevant country. It isn’t so helpful if, like me, you are a maths teacher who has taught every module there is (and some that don’t exist any more) and know all the content very thoroughly. Actually, I would quite like a course to update my subject knowledge in maths – I love my subject, really enjoy learning new things about it and relish an intellectual challenge. Only problem is, it would have no relevance whatsoever to anything I teach in school! That’s not to say that I couldn’t get lots of useful ideas from CPD for how to teach maths successfully and engagingly – but that doesn’t count under “updating subject knowledge”.
Then we have the equivalent phenomenon when all are required to improve their ICT competence. Now ICT is a wonderful thing and there are lots of fascinating things you can do with it. But there are some ways of using it that are just not appropriate for some subjects – is it really sensible to try to get a maths teacher up to speed with helping kids create a voki, or even a blog? Come to that, do most teachers need to get up close and personal with spreadsheets? A nodding acquaintance is enough for anyone but a hard-core datahead like me, surely?
I actually (most of the time) like the way we do CPD in our school. Although you can sign up for some interesting external courses (I’m going to one on how to promote intellectual resilience and risk-taking), a lot of it is delivered in-house. That’s good for lots of reasons:- you can provide a lot more as it’s cheap, you can do short sessions on relevant stuff and put them after school or in the lunch hour, people are more relaxed asking their colleagues anyway and the deliverer is likely to have a better idea of the abilities and needs of their class! The downside, of course, is the preparatory work you have to put in if you are one of the people leading a session (I don’t know what I was on when I volunteered to lead 8 of them – I think I need to sellotape my mouth shut sometimes!).
We all have to sign up for at least three courses over the course of the year – and we can opt for as many as we like – but there’s no requirement to have them in certain categories. So some people, for example, have come along to my “Powerpoint for Beginners” and “Excel for Beginners” this week, and went to a “Smartboard Basics” session led by a colleague the previous week. Others have focused on sessions about teaching methods, or pastoral issues. Admittedly, a couple of colleagues appear to have signed up for courses based on who’s leading them (one opted for one of mine on the basis that “you always bring sweets or cakes for people” and “we can go to the pub afterwards”)!
And on that note – perhaps I’d better get back to working on my “Understanding the Exam System” course which is the next one I’m due to present.