As a teacher in the early stages of my career, I used to have a love-hate relationship with INSET and CPD. I used to actively complain about having hours of my time taken up for the latest fad when I could be planning and marking, you know, doing the stuff I’d always done, the important stuff. The stuff that had an impact in the classroom. The stuff that might make my life a little less stressful. The stuff that would make sure the kids were getting their regular diet of maths lessons. Then the day or evening itself would come around and I would sit there half paying attention, making comedy comments to my colleagues around me and try to mark my books without getting caught.
The INSETs themselves would range from good, to bad, to instantly forgettable. They were generally wholesale and bland but they were a chance for us to stop, to switch off and to catch up with our colleagues.
There was once a great twilight on plenaries. We were awash with EXIT tickets and quiz/quiz/swap activities. I was inspired and my teaching was infused with renewed vigor. The next day I set about putting the ideas into my practice. The last ten minutes of period 5 arrived and I whipped out the gleaming EXIT tickets for the fifth time that day only to be greeted by groans from my teenage audience.
“Miss, have you lot had some training or something?” One brave student asked.
“Why?” I replied.
“Because we’re sick of seeing these bloody EXIT tickets! EVERY teacher has used them today.” I quickly filed them away and gave the students a question related to the lesson itself and we discussed the learning that I hoped had taken place.
I remember a “behaviour specialist” recommending assertive discipline and phone calls home to sort out our behaviour issues. The result? Already overtly assertive colleagues went into overdrive resulting in an increased number of escalated issues. The colleagues who found this “assertive” behaviour unnatural quickly found themselves out of their depth and reaching for SLT support. The rest of us who endeavoured to make positive phone calls home were greeted by unimpressed parents and guardians who were having a similar experience to the students and their EXIT tickets. The SLT very quickly put in place a How to make calls to parents INSET and reminded us to be aware of the school budget when making phone calls home!
The truth is, a lot of the ideas shared at INSET were good tools for teachers to have in their armoury but, if they are applied blindly, en masse and without thought they cause more problems than they may solve. I do still use a number of ideas that I have received through INSETs as a main pay scale teacher but did they really influence who I am as a teacher, my practice in a classroom? I’m not so sure.
I mentioned before that the thought of INSET filled me with dread as I wanted to continue with my day to day routines that would ensure my students continued to receive their regular diet of maths. What if my their diet was lacking as a result of my teaching? Perhaps a regular diet without any reflection of impact or challenge of the status quo wasn’t what was best for the children in my care? I mean, I love fillet steak me but I couldn’t eat it every day!
At my current school INSET is different. In fact the whole approach to appraisal and CPD is not what you would see in many other places. It’s very much the responsibility of the individual teacher to reflect on their practice together with their colleagues and decide what training and development they need. There are wholesale sessions but they are minimal, the emphasis being on the philosophy and teachers asking challenging questions of the themselves regularly is at its forefront. We are committed to always improving in a way and at a pace which works for the individual. Teachers are asked to consider what impact they are having on a day to day basis, not just to the children who will be counted in the school league tables but their contribution to the education of every child. Optional sessions are available if teachers want to brush up on their questioning, AfL or learning styles (I joke! I joke!) etc. but trust is placed on staff to be professionals rather than enforcing yet another differentiation session on those who have already been to six of the same (and who have led three of them!).
This approach is by no means perfect but its strengths far outweigh it’s weaknesses. The result is that students get a much more varied diet which is filled with individual personalities. Teachers are reflecting on how best to improve their own teaching rather than trying to replicate something completely unnatural to them.
Asking challenging questions of staff forces them to think hard. Alex Quigley has begun to write a series of excellent blogs on students’ motivation and getting them to think hard (the first of which can be found here). However, I think we need to be equally committed to getting staff to think hard about what really matters and what is going to make a difference. Including them in the discussions by by listening to and challenging their perceptions is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned for strengthening collegiality and increasing motivation. I’m sure there are still teachers who disengage, who’d rather be marking, who complain that it’s a waste of their time but I would like to think that the numbers of these are less than in other schools. Triad based approaches across specialisms encourage greater sharing, an empathy for colleagues and a continual commitment to looking for the best of what’s out there. The message of balance between both looking internally and externally together with continual self-reflection is given regularly and support is offered to those who need guidance. Colleagues are encouraged to use social media but it is never enforced as we want teachers to look for the solutions themselves (there is a much better buy in that way).
Obviously, the messages given in our CPD are echoed in our approach to appraisal with an emphasis on the everyone can improve ethos and it’s our responsibility to make that happen.
In many schools, appraisal follows this pattern:
Panic about exam results and appraisal targets that you can’t remember
Scramble around to find evidence that you’ve met your targets (or at least tried your best to) in relation to the Teacher Standards.
Write off old targets with evidence together with your appraiser – pass or fail.
Set new targets with your appraiser that are generally top down and focussed on exam classes or key groups.
Revisit your targets with your appraiser (if you’re lucky) to check on your progress.
Rest of the year: forget about your targets and get on with doing the important stuff!
Is this not just a waste of time?
Wouldn’t it be more useful to get teachers to work together to identify areas for development in their own teaching, their departments and the school as a whole whilst sharing any ideas that SLT have? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to have CPD which interleaves with appraisal so staff are continually asking the question of what impact is this having on my practice and my students? Wouldn’t it be better to build a culture where everyone wants to get better and feels that they can?
There are no answers with the majority of our INSETs or appraisal meetings, only questions for teachers to consider. I’m sure this causes criticism from some but I’d much rather staff complain about having to think hard than wasting their time because time is very precious to a teacher and it’s only through thinking hard that we grow as people.