Campfire CPD

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I’ve been playing around with the idea of how to create a culture of Campfire CPD now for a while, both within school and beyond.  Sat within the wider agenda of research informed practice, I do wonder sometimes whether there is a place for teachers talking to teachers about teaching (a phrase I picked up from Sir Tim Brighouse). With research schools and toolkits a plenty, is there a need for teachers to connect? To reflect? To think? Can’t we just take the research and whack it in the classroom?

The answer, from my own point of view, is that teachers talking to teachers about teaching is more important now than ever. Most research articles and findings aren’t in a format to be translated into the classroom and often have limitations caused by either the perspective of the researcher or sample sizes. Just take a quick read of Daniel Willingham’s excellent book to see what I mean.

This means that the professionalism of teachers is even more important. Teachers need to come together in order to figure out exactly what it is we should be doing. Back in 2011 I played around with the idea of personal manifestos for teaching, indeed I encourage trainees and NQTs to develop their Why? as they develop the craft. You see, we don’t operate within a scientific research vacuum and teachers are humans, not robots. Students are people, not data sets. Schools are dynamic, social places. This is why many teachers thrive and are attracted to the profession.  It’s not a simple case of crafting a knowledge oragniser but a complex interaction between young person and adult. There are so many interdependent variables within the classroom that it can not be reduced and generalised.

So, this is all very well, but how do we engage? Firstly, schools need to develop a culture of teacher led CPD. Although online networks are fantastic, there is nothing like the face-to-face nature of working with colleagues. It’s immediate and contextualised. Research can be taken, debated, changed, tweaked, trialed, formed, challenged, tasted, manipulated, rejected, adopted. Most importantly, teaching can reject fads and adpot practices that make a difference to young people.

I was once crititised for having a rather naive view of schools and teachers. You see, I believe that we should be driven by two questions:

  • How does this make teaching better?
  • How does this make it easier for teachers to teach better?

Schools driven by what is best for young people, with teachers being the professionals that make the decision. Together. By talking to other teachers.  This means that we must make time to talk about teaching, rather than operations, in schools.

Campfire CPD (I’m a simple bloke from an outdoor background, we talked around the stove at the end of each day, ‘washing up’ and developing our practice) helps workload. It’s tricky balance. Personally, CPD should form a core part of our job, within the working week. Many of those that show concern for workload, also celebrate the value of weekend CPD.  In my brain, this doesn’t compute and is an issue that we need to grapple with as a profession.

Another limitation of teacher led CPD outside of school, is keeping track of the quality. I’m guilty of this myself, how does one ensure the quality of presentations. How do we get the right balance of brain hurting thought shrapnel (love that phrase from Doug Belshaw) and ideas that can be employed straight away in the classroom the very next day? Whilst teachers talking to teachers can encourage us to work within specialisms of either subject or phase, is there a place for generic messages?

I write this without knowing the answers. Indeed, I am still very much learning. I know that I help oragnise such events, and it’s likely that I’ve been getting it wrong all of these years. I know that my own teaching has improved greatly from participating in teacher led events. However, I have also left conferences with little. Indeed, I could have just read the blog post. Of course, this is linked to my own interests and stage of teacher development. However, I have received the most from the gritty conversations at true unconferences and gatherings. It’s the white space in between the sessions where, when debating with a colleague, the tinder ignites causing the campfire to warm.

It would be easy to turn this in to an advert about the events that I play a part in coming up (instead go here 😉), however I’ll try to offer some suggestions:

  1. Teacher CPD need to allow teachers to model learning to young people. For example, as we grapple with a new online learning platform, we are using the platform to drive CPD.
  2. Teacher CPD needs to be differentiated. At the very least this means teachers being allowed to identify and choose their own learning needs. At a school level, a wide programme of workshops is useful and a blend of online learning, lectures and ideas. Schools should invite in ideas from universities and elsewhere.
  3. Teacher conversations need to be built in to the structure of the school and tightly focused. Whilst we’d all like to think we are professionals that are self-directed, the reality is we often prioritise with other needs. If we are to value the idea of teachers talking to teachers, we need to create the time.
  4. Teachers need time to plan with other teachers.

Ultimately, I take the Geographical Association’s Annual Conference as the benchmark. I’ve given up three days of my Easter holidays now for a decade to attend.  The balance of sessions from primary to university; from teacher led to mountaineer led; from discussions and debates to interactive workshops and articles is excellent.

I’m often surprised, when meeting strangers for the first time, that they have this impression that I may be good at teaching and what I do. I’m not so sure. It’s easy to create a veneer of excellence online. To use twitter to create a smoke screen of respectability.  It’s only through proper conversation that we get that real insight. It’s the interrogation of outcomes (not solely focused on narrow academic attainment) and by talking to young people where the true insight lies. It’s about dancing through classroom doorways and seeing teaching in action.  I invite you to my classroom at any time.

Teachers, talking to teachers about teaching.

Starting in school.

Expanding to the local area.

See you out there.


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