‘Learning is a change in long term memory’
It is well known that I have sat through my fair share of dreadful CPD sessions. I may have mentioned more than once to anyone who would listen about the time I arrived to find we were going to be making coloured hats. I have sat through presentations which I could neither see nor hear properly. I have carouselled and role played and made posters in CPD more times than I dare admit. 23 years in school is a long time after all.
I am very aware of the issues with CPD provision and the problems that occur when leaders leap from one exciting idea to another, cram everyone in the hall after a five-period day in the middle of November and generally do all of the things which we try to avoid doing with our students. It is no wonder that there is a certain amount of cynicism and those delivering may be met by a sea of cross and tired faces and firmly folded arms, set up in defence of the next new thing.
However, there is something interesting I keep seeing popping up around this- and this is around what people expect CPD to DO.
On the one hand people aren’t necessarily keen to change practice. If it ain’t broken, why fix it? Generally, I would agree. Sometimes though even the best teachers may find some things could be a little bit broken or could work more efficiently with a few tweaks. On the other hand though, I am hearing lots of ‘this CPD didn’t change me, therefore it can’t be any good. This CPD is broken’. It seems we may have fallen into the trap of either being staunch resistors of change or passive recipients of these sessions which are meant to offer all the answers with little stir from us. If they don’t rock our world, we are quick to walk away, dismiss the whole thing and never think of it again beyond swapping tales with other teachers exploring terrible CPD.
But just as with our students, learning and change in our thinking does not necessarily happen TO us. It is an interactive process where we examine our prior knowledge and experiences, explore what new learning means to us and consider what we might do with it. Then we need a chance to try it and see what happens before more reflection. It is a process not a moment and we know learning is something which will happen over time, if, and only if, we think deeply about it. Afterall, memory is apparently the residue of thought. We will forget and fail to learn that which we don’t think deeply about and sometimes we have turned up to those sessions convinced that we not only don’t want to think about it, but like any disgruntled student, won’t.
Now I know there are plenty of sessions where there was zero learning, no opportunity to think and the conditions were not right for that to happen anyway. Equally there have been plenty of sessions where people were expected to be passively told what to do and then take something away to do in the lesson tomorrow which would be chased up in moments by a clipboard. That is not a good option either. However, increasingly I am seeing sessions where people are being given time to explore, follow up opportunities and support, who are still keen to say ‘this CPD is broken- it did nothing for me’.
Well to be quite frank, if you aren’t thinking about it deeply, if you are considering what you will do tomorrow or what’s for dinner (back to creating the right space and conditions for people to be attending to the important information) as opposed to how you might design questions to deepen understanding or convey a different aspect of your subject knowledge, then you are unlikely to take much from it all. My question to you though is would you accept this from your students? Would it be okay for them to sit through your lesson and not think much about it? Would it be okay for them not to do the homework follow up task, the revision, or the practice as they decided they weren’t a fan of what you wanted them to do? I am all for giving people options and choices and I know teachers are professionals with a wealth of knowledge, but if we dismiss new learning so readily, where might that leave us?
I don’t want to suggest that teachers are behaving like disengaged teens, although I think there has been a certain amount of disaffection caused by poor experiences in the past. But if we all want to learn and develop (which we all do), then we can’t just expect The CPD to do the hard part for us. Good CPD should provide new knowledge, a new perspective, a new way of thinking about a problem or issue and then we bring our experience as teachers alongside it to consider how that might be solved. It is an interaction. It might take time beyond the session, and it may well require opportunities to return to it time and time again. If we don’t do our part, then it won’t matter how ground-breaking, inspirational, or funny a session is, if won’t have any impact on our practice and it won’t then have any impact on our students.
Maybe it is worth considering for a moment as to whether it is the CPD that is broken or if we need to look at it from a different angle. We don’t want CPD that is done to us, but equally we don’t want to embrace the opportunity it might bring to challenge our thinking and our practices to see what might be even better. The change CPD may bring will happen in the main within us, so perhaps we need to think about why that is or is not happening before we throw it all out of the door.
Zoe’s latest book, The CPD Curriculum, is available now.