If you’ve dared to read the comments on various news articles published over the past year, you’ll have no doubt seen some quite hurtful and unfounded comments about the integrity and practice of colleagues in the teaching profession during the pandemic. If you spent long enough scrolling through the comments, you would see how poor the perception of teachers is to many- the rhetoric that teachers are lazy, unfit to educate the nation’s children and are enjoying some sort of jolly as the schools are ‘closed’ seems to have gained popularity on social media.
My experience and my perception as a senior leader couldn’t be any further from this.
Whilst the last year has undoubtedly posed some of the most significant challenges of many of our teaching careers, it has been inspiring to witness the flexibility, openness, patience and dexterity that colleagues have demonstrated in the face of unprecedented challenge. The professional learning that has been created, planned and undertaken at very short notice by colleagues up and down the country has been nothing short of an incredible feat.
What has been exciting to witness, are teachers who have taken charge over their own professional learning- recognising and confronting the challenges posed by teaching remotely and working hard to adapt and find strategies to overcome them. The result has been that teachers have become unafraid of the uncertainty that this new territory brings and it has crystallised what we already know to be the fundamental ingredients of successful teaching and learning.
At this pivotal moment, there’s an imperative now for school leaders to capitalise on the incredible professional learning that has taken place and to continue to edge forward to improve the learning experience for our students when we meet them again in the physical classroom.
I am proud to be a part of a new Facebook group- the brainchild of Assistant Headteacher Jill Robinson (@Starkey251). This group is a forum to support senior colleagues responsible for leading Teaching and Learning across their schools or trusts. I recently posed a question, asking leaders of T&L and CPD what their approach to CPD has been during the pandemic.
Understandably, there has been a mix in the responses- some schools feeling frustrated that their polished plans for a structured CPD programme have been temporarily abandoned, some who have seen it as an exciting opportunity to improve their teachers’ engagement with educational technologies, some who are just desperate to get back to ‘normal’.
How have different schools approached CPD during the pandemic?
As you would expect, different schools have responded in ways that are suitable for their own settings, here are a few approaches that have been shared:
‘ We completely pulled back on CPD and concentrated solely on remote learning. When we return, we will start afresh, tackling culture and the basics’
‘ We needed to provide opportunities for staff to have the time and the space to breathe. Little and often has been the key, usually weekly demonstrations and a handful of sharing nuggets of good practice the following week from what they found during trial and error’
‘ Less is more- we put the breaks on showing new tech/apps… departments were encouraged to share what works amongst themselves in their subject areas’
‘ Learning to use the technology has been a massive learning curve for most of our staff’
‘QEM- Questioning, Explanation, Modelling has been our focus…explicit clear explanations have been even more important during locking and this obviously works face-to-face.’
‘ We’ve created 5-10 minute instructional videos for teachers on a whole range of topics and areas they were feeling frustrated with- teachers have been so generous with their time’.
So, what next?
I think above all else, this year has been a suitable reminder that we are all learning, all of the time and it is completely reasonable for teachers to have felt all of the things you should/ would feel when taken out of the realms of where you feel at your most comfortable.
In articulating the associated frustrations of the learning process, I have spoken to, witnessed and offered some support to teachers who have rightly felt unsettled and overwhelmed by having to adapt a career’s worth of habitual practice to this new way of working.
Whilst initial CPD plans may have been curtailed, ultimately we have to see this as an opportunity to continue to develop, move forward, hone practice and know for sure what works in our classrooms.
We know that effective CPD is one of the most significant factors in improving outcomes for pupils and schools- it’s a mistake for us to allow it to be side-stepped in favour of operational demands or ‘recovering’ from what we have been through.
From now, it’s important that senior teams are sensitive to the needs and situations of their staff and their school’s context, but do not become complacent on the return to school; the temptation will be to relax into the natural rhythms of school life again and get back to ‘normal’ but during lockdown, CPD has become a personal pursuit for many who may have previously seen it as an unnecessary addition to an already bulging workload- keep the pace and focus, but be judicious in how this is delivered and sustained.
Capitalise on what has been learnt: Once anything is stripped away from you, you gain a greater appreciation for it and its purpose. This fresh perspective offers space for critical analysis, evaluation and a moment to step back and consider the bigger picture. It’s important to build a mechanism where leaders and teachers can consider what can be learnt, revised and adapted in light of what we have learnt during the past year.
Whilst the pandemic has undoubtedly been challenging, personally and professionally for colleagues in schools, (certainly not helped by negative representation in the media), we may just have experienced our best year of learning to date:
‘ Powerful professional development tends to be a bit disruptive and a bit uncomfortable. While it is easy to veneer existing practice with a shiny new approach, powerful professional learning takes place in the core- in beliefs, mental models and expectations’(Bridget Clay. and David Weston., 2018)
Bridget Clay. and David Weston., 2018. Unleashing Great Teaching: The Secrets to the Most Effective Teacher Development. Routledge.