Reading Harry Fletcher-Wood’s latest blog in his series on practice based development, I have come to reflect on how I can sharpen my own professional development.
Harry is right to suggest that practise is an extremely effective route to improving professional practice. My experience of teacher training and CPD sessions earlier in my career had been loaded full of ideas. There were card sorts of activities to try out, discussions around a range of different elements of teaching practice. In each of these sessions, I left with an unfortunate mix of feeling overwhelmed and disinterested. Such a range of strategies left me with a sense that I had a lot to achieve. Yet, with so many ideas discussed in such a superficial level of depth, no sense of how I might act upon them. So, I might have had ambitions to try some of the ideas out, I would file the wealth of resources in a nice “CPD” folder, which lived at the back of my classroom until there was a new packet of documents to add to it.
Teaching is all about habits and habit formation. When the lessons are coming thick and fast, we fall back on our instincts. These are entrenched, and driven by the values we hold as teachers. Far better then, to focus on just one element of our practice to, and work at this until improvement comes. An in depth discussion of one idea, and deliberately practising its use, is far more likely to have success than a scattergun approach. I have been fortunate that my school has been on a ‘CPD journey’ in this direction in recent years. Teachers have signed up to ‘professional learning groups’, each with a particular focus such as ‘teaching for memory’, where precise strategies are discussed, related to our vision of what we want students to achieve. In a supportive environment, possible strategies are shared, dissected and amended for our own subject disciplines. These are then rehearsed in the classroom, and discussed at greater length in a follow up session to consider their effectiveness.
This has taken me some way. Harry’s blogs have provided me with some further reflections. In combination with my recent MA dissertation, I have come to see this practice based vision as a little front-loaded. I need to think more deliberately about the practise I intend to engage in. So far, the implementation of my habits has been too sketchy. Too reliant on external stimuli. I have been proficient in selecting areas of my practice requiring development, and prescribing a solution. Inevitably, school CPD sessions are too far apart to keep any sense of momentum going.
Harry’s latest blog includes a model from Brent Maddin at the TeacherSquared Teacher Institute that has encouraged me to think more carefully about how I deliberately plan my practise. So far, my planning has been ‘do something’ and ‘have something to discuss’ in the feedback CPD session. This week, my school launched ‘CPD seminars’, evolving the PLG (professional learning group) model discussed above. Colleagues read a small extract from Making Every Lesson Count, evaluated some of its ideas, and considered what it suggested about where we might be able to improve our practice. I selected the idea that students need to ‘layer up’ their writing as a goal to work on, which may well be worth discussing at greater length in a post of its own.
What I do need to do, on this occasion, is be more precise about how I intend to implement this strategy, and the evidence I intend to elicit. Ordinarily, the evidence might take the form of a the extent to which students’ essays improved. My goal is to get students to review their written work, and to change their habits, to see written work as ongoing rather than complete the moment a sufficient volume of work is on the page. This is still true. However, I need to think about what evidence is there that my habits have changed.
I have considered some potential options, which a more proficient teacher-trainer may well be able to expand upon:
- Inviting colleagues or leadership into the classroom to feedback on the language I use when discussing written work.
- Recording extracts of lessons to review the language and tasks used.
- Work scrutiny.
- A termly review of my teacher planner to review whether my homework & classroom tasks are consistent with the layering process I am keen to develop.
- Fixing interviews in the near, medium and long term future to discuss with students how they view written work. Presumably if their attitudes have changed over time, I am being consistent in my newly adopted approach.
It might be particularly useful to have colleagues observe portions of my lessons, to consider the extent to which my teaching practice demonstrates that my habits & classroom instincts have chaged. However, this seems problematic. This places demands on stretched colleagues and there is always going to be a strong temptation to ‘deliver what they’re looking for’. Instead, I’m going to specify the precise changes I want to notice in my practice, and collect evidence as an individual. This seems to be the only sustainable way to develop large numbers of teachers. In this matter, I am accountable to myself. The presence (or absence) of a future post evaluating these changes in my teaching practice will be clue enough as to whether practising practise has worked!