Teaching IS CPD

Ever since being part of the 21st Century Learning Alliance Fellowship back in 2010, I’ve been inspired by Sir Tim Brighouse’s words around teachers talking to teaching.  Low cost, high impact. This has led me to develop the concept of campfire culture and start getting together TeachMeet Solutions.  At the moment, I’m completing my CPD log to retain the Chartered Geographer (Teacher) status that I enjoy from the Royal Geographical Society.  The process has made me reflect on the nature of teaching CPD, and to many I’m sure this post will be a continuation of ‘David states to bleeding obvious.’

The analogy of a campfire can be extended to CPD.  Courses and big conferences and large TeachMeets have their place, but they can provide far too much fuel.  I always leave with a mind full of ideas, but only ever implement a few. I’ve got many notebooks that are filled with analogue scrawls and ideas that have never been realised.  Too much fuel added at the wrong moment smothers a fire.  It’s very similar to endurance running (I don’t want you to think that I’m developing an unhealthy obsession with fires): If the runner eats too much to start with, problems crop up later on in the race.  It’s about gradually feeing fuel and carbs to the body.  The odd shot of brandy helps too….

To get a fire really going, the camper needs to slowly and patiently add fuel slowly over time.  Patience is required and good timing.  This represents what CPD should be: the gradual addition of ideas (fuel) over time.  Reflecting on my own career, my practice has developed by treating the craft of teaching as my CPD.

Of course, as already mentioned, there is a place for large, external CPD, however I would argue that online locations, such as subject forums, Twitter and Facebook, have replaced the need for large scale events.  Indeed, social media supports the gradual nature of improving teaching.

We also have to consider the classic response ‘I never get and CPD because I’m not allowed out.’  There are two responses to this.  The first is to go out and seek CPD opportunities during our holidays.  There is a need to balance work-life but, as teachers, we do have a shed load of time in the holidays. Therefore, using a small proportion of that could be used on visiting subject conferences (I typically use a week from the 13 week holiday).  The second is to find opportunities that provide funding – over the years I have applied for and received many grants for research and teaching initiatives.  Not only did I receive access to coaching and opportunities to connect with inspiring educators, but I had a certain degree of autonomy in school that external funding brings.  Examples are the Microsoft MIEE programme; Google Innovative Educator; 21st Century Learning Alliance, Royal Geographical Innovative Teaching Grants and so on. These initiatives have always fed into my job. Sure, giving up time to travel to a committee meeting is a mission, but they feed straight into my practice.  In the storm of curriculum changes, subject associations and other have done the thinking so it’s well worth engaging with them.

I’d also advocate joining your subject association. This drip feeds in CPD over the years.  Geography is particularly blessed with two high quality organisations in the Royal Geographical Society and Geographical Association.  Their literature provides a gradual release of fuel and I’m happy to have the Chartered Geographer (Teacher) and Fellowship of the RGS as a result.  It does make me question what the College of Teaching would add to my Subject Based CPD.

The thing is, teaching is CPD.  Here are small selection approaches that I’ve used over the years:

  • Reflect on teaching and evaluating lessons is important.  It’s why checking books and the progress of students is such a vital component of teaching. If there are particular groups or individuals that have misconceptions, I speak to them and see how I can adapt teaching.
  • I’ve always been in and out of lessons. Whether if it’s to see how others deal with that really high attaining student, or girl with behavioural issues, or just pinching ideas. Twitter is a rich source of teaching ideas, but so is your own school.
  • Read the TES, the such better Schools Weekly and subject association magazine in order to try out new ideas.  Ever since I’ve been a teacher, school CPD has wrongly focused on generic skills and neglected subject specialist issues and those around transition. There is no need to tell teachers how to teach if they are able to talk to each other.
  • Test out and take risks. I’m open to most ideas and to give them a try.  I’m open with the students. If it works, great. If not, then learn and move on.
  • I’ve always found time to blog about teaching.  It reminds me what’s going on and what worked well. 
  • Get out of your classroom and wander around the school.  Walking the corridors is great CPD.
  • Video yourself.  I’ve been doing this for years, mainly because I’m obsessed with myself.  Whether you use IRIS or an iPhone in the corner, seeing yourself teach really will transform what’s going on. It;s also a great way of improving behaviour management and model great learning.  I’ve used clips in the past with individuals students to talk through their choices in class as well as with whole classes to celebrate their learning.  I also film myself rehearing key moments of lessons, particularly modelling when I want to demonstration to be sharp and focused.
  • I’ve always invited others in to see my teaching and be honest with their feedback.  Even now, it’s disappointing when a member of staff visits my lesson on a learning walk an then neglects the even better ifs – I’ve never taught a perfect lesson in my life and I’m always open to learning.
  • Speak to students in focus groups. Student Voice is often poorly done – get a few after school, provide some food and chat to them about your teaching. 
In terms of school leadership, time needs to be given to teachers in order for them to engage in the activities above.  This is very challenging in the current climate of real term budget cuts. School need more funding so that they can unlock the potential contained within their walls. This is the only sustainable and feasible way of destroying in-school variation. In terms of me being education secretary, this would also solve workload. More money to schools means less workload for teachers and better continuous CPD.  More money to schools in order to overstaff and reduce the contact time of teachers means that the profession becomes more attractive and therefore recruitment and retention will improve. It’s not really rocket science. More money to school can create space for sabbaticals and secondments to develop CPD and teaching further.
Trying to wriggle out to a course?  Start your CPD by teaching.  Teaching is CPD.

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