Schools have institutionalised development in teaching practice under the umbrella heading of Continuous Professional Development (CPD). Of late, teachers have taken a greater interest in organising their own CPD, and 3rd May 2014 saw the latest in the events organised by ResearchED, the loose collective steered by teacher, blogger and all round good egg Tom Bennett.
The NTEN ResearchED conference at Huntingdon School in York was quite the most frustrating and, at the same time, downright inspiring CPD I have done so far in my career, and I’d advise anyone who wants to develop their core ideas in education to make time to attend something similar.
It wasn't possible to attend everything, which meant that everyone missed some sessions they wish they had attended – and people tweeting memorable or inspirational quotes from sessions happening right next door was something I found, initially, immensely frustrating. But as frustrating as this was, it was also inspiring, as it encouraged me to find out more about the speakers I have missed, and to talk to people about sessions they had attended. Only being able to attend 5 out of 27 sessions meant that we all had to think hard before, during and after the day about what choices we had made.
There are lot of excellent reviews of the day collated here, which in themselves provide enough food for thought to keep your inner learner busy for weeks. There are films of speakers in the main hall here. I want on reflect on the power of ‘festivals of ideas’, and what this might mean for future CPD in schools.
Much of the CPD I have done has seen me spend a day at a drafty conference centre, listening to speakers telling me things I have tried desperately hard to be interested in, but which have often left me frustrated, somewhat bored and with usually little more than a collection of doodles on printouts of PowerPoint presentations. I have always been surprised by presenters who have made no effort to find out what their audience already think or know, at how little delegates are able to discuss the ideas they presented with, and how often I have been unclear as to what exactly I was expected to learn from the experience.
Mostly, I’ve used CPD as an opportunity to put myself in children’s shoes, considering how to avoid the children I work with feeling as frustrated as I do when those tasked with helping me to develop my knowledge, skills and understanding fall short, for whatever reason. We all know teaching isn’t easy. CPD sessions nearly always remind us why.
But some CPD does work. Some of it works really, really well. In the past few years I’ve have had two days of CPD which have stood head and shoulders above the rest. The first was a ‘Teacher Speed Dating’ event, where attendees were asked to prepare short five minute presentations on ideas which had worked for us, much in the style of Pedagoo (http://www.pedagoo.org) although we did this one-on-one and we didn’t get to present to or hear everyone speak. The enthusiasm, originality and sheer inspiration was a joy to behold.
The second event had a range of presenters, from teachers, headteachers, advanced skills teachers and external companies presenting ideas in thirty minute sessions. With three sessions held concurrently in five different time slots, my colleagues and I split up and came together at the end of the day to share ideas and to discuss the ideas we wanted to take forward.
Both of these sessions were hugely motivating. When I reflected why this was the case, it was clear that the element of choice was massively important. Additionlly, since my colleagues and I had attended different sessions or heard different presentations, we had things to discuss before, during and after the day. I missed some things which I wish I had seen, and sat through some sessions which made me want to argue with the core ideas. All of it made me think, and to think hard.
And that’s what ResearchED made me do, too. I thought hard. About the core assumptions being made, about the excellent ideas which were presented, about the next steps I would take to explore and understand new concepts and research, about… being a teacher; being inspired to learn more about teaching; being responsible for my own continuing professional development.
And that’s why I heartily recommend this kind of ‘festival of ideas’ approach to CPD. Give teachers a choice of areas to investigate, and that in itself will inspire them to think hard about what they do, and to share ideas with others who have thought hard too. Thanks to everyone who made NTEN ResearchED York such an excellent event. An inspiring, amazing piece of CPD. And that’s a sentence I never expected to write.