Imparting knowledge of teaching is not always best done from the “top,” explains Andrea McMahon.
After attending his first Learning Lunch in the newly-established Centre for Excellence in Teaching (CET) at Newham College, maths lecturer Anwar Faruqh summarised his experience, saying: “What an excellent idea – it’s like having our own Institute for Learning on our doorstep”.
His enthusiasm is exactly the sentiment that those involved in centre hope will gather momentum and inspire other teachers in the college to take ownership of their professional development.
Engaging in activity whose primary purpose is to develop professional practice is the bedrock of expert teaching and training.
The recently updated Teaching Standards capture this clearly as demonstrated through the three domains: professional values and attributes, professional knowledge and understanding, and professional skills.
The sections outline aspirational standards for those practitioners involved in the education and training of post-16 adults, and provide a jumping-off point for teachers and trainers to identify areas for their professional development.
The new CET at Newham College provides a forum for us to talk about teaching, to share ideas and to learn from each other, to collaborate, to review and review what we do in the light of experience, to reflect critically and enquiringly on our current practice, and, ultimately, to get excited about what we do. After all if we’re not, then how can we expect our learners to be?
Professional development is most effective when a bottom-up approach is favoured over a top-down one.
Colleagues reading this article are likely to instantly recognise a model of CPD which is based on the latter — in that model, the ‘expert’ decides on the content to be ‘delivered’ and the participants are largely passive recipients of this.
In a few cases, such an approach is appropriate. For example, Ofsted is due to visit and there is a body of staff still without mandatory safeguarding training.
One of the problems with this model, however, is that the impact of the training is rarely felt where it matters most — in the classroom. Often there is no time for reflection or critically reviewing the learning from the training.
A superior model asks teachers to work together in a community of practice. This resonates with me because it allows me to engage with colleagues in a meaningful way creating the opportunity for me to shape my own personal and professional development.
At the same time as offering a menu of activities for teachers to choose from, the CET encourages them to have a voice so that the learning is bespoke. The menu so far has included a Learning Lunch, a themed workshop focused on all-things teaching and learning including ‘strategies for starting lessons’, ‘ideas for plenaries’, ‘how to break the ice with a new group’ and ‘checking learning’.
It has also included an e-teaching workshop which includes a demonstration of an online (and free) e-tool that is quick and simple to use followed by facilitator-supported practice; a Teach Meet during which teachers have a five-minute slot to present an idea, activity or strategy that can be used in different teaching and learning contexts; one-to-one coaching sessions which are teacher-led and focused on helping teachers with any aspect of their practice they request support with.
Future plans include a termly book club during which teachers can discuss and debate pedagogic articles of interest; a ‘share and replace’ noticeboard which invites teachers to take a resource on the proviso that they will replace it another one; a teacher-led discussion on moving from a grade two to a grade one Ofsted judgement; and sessions on setting homework and the using group work in the classroom.
Through engaging with these kinds of activities, we are in a good position to inspire and innovate, and to create learning opportunities for our students that demonstrates our passion for what we do.
CPD that is meaningful, personalised and interesting is an absolute priority for teachers. I doubt most would argue with this. There is, though, the simple fact that in the busy day-to-day job of teaching, the time factor involved in coming to sessions may put people off.
However, I would argue that the benefits to be gained from freeing up even a small amount of time far outweigh this. With some thought and careful time management, we can redress the balance between the time needed for classroom-related duties and our own professional development.