One of the most successful ways in which teachers can improve their practice is through their participation in continuing professional development (CPD) programmes. However, we’ve all attended INSET and external CPD events once or twice a year in which, ironically ignoring everything we know about how learning best takes place, we cram a clearly overwhelming amount of information into a day of glorious perplexity and incertitude. Is it any wonder then that such events often generate more scepticism than enthusiasm?
I remember when I organised a whole staff INSET that was to be delivered on the first day of term, after my school had supplied iPads to all the teachers. The focus of the INSET was on using iPads effectively in lessons and it was delivered by a former teacher who had become a specialist Apple trainer. The day was scheduled so that iPad functionality could be explored, in theory introducing teachers to the gamut of new possibilities now available to them.
However, in hindsight, I failed to take our context into account and happily organised for the same INSET programme to be delivered to reception teachers all the way through to sixth form specialists. Large chunks of the INSET were dedicated to trialling some of the different apps that were available. One of these apps was a tool that allowed students to create animations using on-screen puppets, which could be recorded and submitted in class or as homework. After one hour of playing with puppets on an iPad’s screen it became clear that Year
4 teachers were by and large excited and eager to put what they had learnt into practice with their pupils, but also that my colleagues who taught economics in the sixth form were considering putting an end to it all. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.
In this article, I would like to explore what makes great CPD, as well as what the unique challenges are of organising technology-focused training for teachers. In addition, we will catch the briefest of glimpses into the psychology behind human behaviour and how this may affect how your CPD is received and, ultimately, the success of the technology implementation.
What makes great CPD?
We can all agree that effective CPD should inform and improve our practice. When planning a CPD programme, consider the following:
- What is the purpose of training teachers? Is there a shared sense of purpose? Are teachers happy about receiving the training or do they view it as unnecessary?
- What are the needs of the teachers in front of you? Make the training relevant to their practice and their daily experience of teaching in a classroom.
- Would you deliver material to your pupils as a one-off, never to be revisited? Then why would you do it in a CPD session? Focus instead on spacing out the training so that it takes place over time, preferably throughout an academic year as a minimum, revisiting concepts and tools periodically during this time.
Perhaps the most important consideration, however, is that you should not embark on this planning process alone. Be affiliative and involve colleagues who can help you with both the planning and delivery of this programme. And hang a welcome sign on your door, keeping it open so that colleagues continue to join you as the programme unfolds.
Top tips for running technology CPD
Running technology CPD brings its own unique challenges, some of which are foreseeable, but others may well have the potential to catch you by surprise:
- Wider than usual variance in teacher aptitude. Technology is one of those things in life – like not being good at maths – that many people feel a degree of pride in when stating their inadequacy with a shrug of their shoulders. And so some of your colleagues will be very technology-savvy but many others may need to start with the most basic training. It is crucial therefore to avoid the one-size-fits-all approach to CPD and build in differentiation into your CPD programme. It would be a good idea for you to offer one-to-one sessions to your most technologically-challenged colleagues.
- Reluctance to participate. Technology is often seen as a not always welcome addition to the classroom: a luxury that is not really necessary at best or a hindrance to learning at worst. Section off parts of your CPD programme and dedicate them to explaining the whys and wherefores of the technology implementation. Illustrate your points with plenty of examples of the technology in action, achieving the purpose you set out to achieve.
- Temptation to make the training all about the technology. Avoid delivering sessions that are all about learning to use specific bits of technology. There is nothing more tedious than guiding a large group of people through basic functionality, such us how to open an account or how to log in. Instead send out these details in advance and, during the session, focus on the intersection between technology and pedagogy, highlighting how the technology can help achieve specific pedagogical purposes, with built-in opportunities of initial practice for participants.
- Does the technology actually work? I don’t mean this in a pedagogical sense, but rather in the sense of technology actually turning on and operating as intended. Double check and triple check that the technology your CPD session is built around is working well. Get your IT support team to perform a check on the technology at the venue. Don’t be fobbed off with an ‘It should work’ – either it works or it doesn’t. Be exacting. There is nothing worse than starting a CPD session on technology in which the technology fails at the outset, with someone quipping ‘That’s technology for you!’ Technology should work, and it is the ICT support team’s job to ensure that it does.
- Forgetting about the children and their parents. The easiest thing in the world (that 20/20 hindsight again) is to forget about the children, or worse: to believe that as children of the digital age they are somehow born with innate digital powers that negate any requirement to introduce the technology and its pedagogical purpose, and train them as you would the teachers. Don’t assume this. You will need to train them too, especially if you are rolling out the kind of technology that involves heavy student use, such as mobile devices (including Bring Your Own Device schemes) or new virtual learning environments. Consider also keeping the parents informed throughout the programme via newsletters or even information evenings.
In-house vs external CPD
External CPD can get a bad rap. Quite justifiably sometimes, as neither parachuting someone in to school for a day nor being sent away from school on your own for a course tend to result in the kind of long-term positive impact that is more securely associated with CPD programmes that are sustained over a period of time. This doesn’t mean that external CPD providers should be ignored, just that their participation needs to be built in throughout the programme, not just in one burst right at the beginning.
If you are purchasing a digital resource, then negotiate a sustained commitment to the provision and participation in a long-term CPD, preferably locking it in on the contract. Apple, Google and Microsoft all have certified trainers that you can draw on. Major educational technology providers will also employ or at the very least be able to recommend specialists that have experience of school implementations. Use them initially to train your group of digital champions – the folks who have been identified as potential allies, helpers and ambassadors for the technology implementations – and then as part of a wider staff CPD programme, alternating between sessions that are led by colleagues (most) and external trainers (fewer).
Planning and preparing your training
- INSET. Negotiate time allocated to training staff during termly INSET with your school’s senior leadership. These are good times to bring in external trainers, should they be available or should you require them, or to run a carousel led by you and your digital champions.
- Lunchtime and twilight sessions. Publish a programme of regular lunchtime and twilight sessions, ideally differentiated so that they attract participants of similar levels of aptitude or expertise.
- Briefing takeover. With your senior leaders’ blessing, of course. Propose to them the need to dedicate a briefing to updating teachers on the progress made or to further illustrate how the technology should be used or, hopefully, how it is being used.
- Residency. One idea that has worked really well in schools is to invite a specialist trainer to take residence periodically in the staffroom for three to five days. This facilitates a more ad-hoc approach in which teachers spend quality one-to-one time with the trainer when they have a minute, perhaps over a coffee. Heads of department can also invite the trainer to their departmental meetings to discuss the technology implementation in context. This may sound like an expensive luxury, but it may be offered at no extra cost if negotiated at the time of signing a contract or terms of purchase, for example.
- TeachMeets. These are informal gatherings of teachers, generally after school or at the weekend, in which interested teachers – not just from your school – come together to share and discuss practice. Usually teachers volunteer to speak for a short time about a resource or an approach they have adopted. Not everyone is a speaker; folks are welcome to attend simply to watch and take note. Regular TeachMeets can be particularly successful if themed (e.g. technology) and organised in cooperation with other schools, taking turns as hosts.
How human beings make and justify their decisions is a fascinating area of study. Psychologists have long warned about our proclivity to fall prey to irrational decision-making, logical fallacies, prejudice and bias, which often determine why new ideas are adopted. Psychology has shown that we instinctively place more importance on our own ideas than on those of others. It’s a well-documented psychological phenomenon called the Not Invented Here Bias. This bias suggests that your idea could be rejected by others simply because it is not their idea, and not on its actual merit.
This suggests that you should consider carefully how your message is being delivered to colleagues:
- Be humble and avoid sounding as if you know best. Even if you do know best about the technology, you may not be as familiar with how technology is applied in a particular subject or context.
- Challenge misconceptions decisively but considerately. Show that you understand the root of the misconception. Treat anything that you might believe to be a misconception as an opportunity to learn about where your colleagues are coming from. And always remember that you too are prone to misconceptions.
- Don’t be prescriptive. Describe instead the technology use in broad strokes, focusing on how it supports learning and providing opportunities for colleagues to connect the dots so that a picture of how the technology might work in their context emerges in their own minds.
I have often heard colleagues quip that one of the best ways to get school leadership to adopt your idea is to craftily make it look as if it was their own. It turns out that this is backed up by science!
The Teacher Development Trust has conducted research on the provision of CPD and has identified the features that characterise effective CPD. You can access their resources here.