Sometimes strands spend a long time seeking each other, fumbling without light, and interweave without knowing that it is exactly what the web wants.
‘Adds-ons’ have often the bane of my professional life. Let’s add on something about students’ social and emotional needs. Let’s add on something about careers. Let’s add on something around cultural capital. Let’s add on something about diversity.
I have no problem with any of these things being part of an effective education, in fact they are often necessary. But it is the idea of them being something additional that I have an issue with. Time is a precious commodity, with very few people thinking they have enough of it, and ‘adding on’ is never going to make that any easier. Also, we rarely, if ever, do anything justice when it approached in this way and it frequently ends up an afterthought. If it matters, it should be woven through the fabric of all we do.
The same if true for CPD. All too often this has been seen as something which is extra to our day-to-day work and, as such, is met with frustration, derision and even dismay. Having to do a twilight session at the end of a five-period day on a Friday is never going to be met with welcome arms, even if the session itself is great. If something gets delivered in an INSET and is rarely if ever mentioned again, people are going to inevitably look back an only the remember the time that had been wasted.
It isn’t just the timing of these sessions that are the problem though. It is also about the content and how we communicate what it is for. Rushed and sometimes garbled communications about what the session will be about, often reveals the level of thought and planning our time deserves may not be in place, and we need to be clear about what we expect everyone to take from these sessions. We need to have done our homework first to ensure that we are communicating what we want to happen clearly, and part of that homework means taking the time to explore it with those very people we want to enact the changes we need before we set aside time for everyone to gather together or ask people to take part in a course.
Most importantly we need to stop thinking about development as an event which takes place only on those days when we do gather people together. To come back to my original point, this shouldn’t be an add-on, it needs to be woven into the fabric of everything we are doing. That means thinking really carefully about what, and who, the development is for. What is the issue we are trying to fix? Is it an issue that everyone is experiencing, if so to what degree? Does everyone need to be involved? Is it the same in all subjects and phases and if so, what might it look like there? If we decide it is an important enough issue to develop in our schools, we want everyone to work on addressing it. It won’t happen unless everyone understands how it will work for them and their role in achieving it.
We need to think carefully then about creating spaces for this to be communicated and reflected upon. It needs to be at the fore of all the key conversations we have, and it needs to be part of our everyday discourse. We need to explore how we might guide those discussions, so the messages don’t get lost amongst the million things we do over the course of the week. If the most important conversations centre around admin and paperwork, then we can’t expect people to be also having deep conversations around their practice. Strip out things which will detract from this, even if they may be important in other ways, especially from meeting time, and consider carefully what needs to be included in an email or quick message in a briefing, and what needs to be given proper time for people to explore it.
Leaders need to model this. They need to be having these same conversations amongst themselves, with staff and with students. If CPD is consigned to the role of someone to set up twilight sessions and INSET days, then it will only ever be an addition to an already busy day. It is unlikely to be well received. Instead, it should be an integral process of improving teaching and learning, behaviour, and outcomes. It needs to be explored and celebrated in newsletters and bulletins. Lesson visits need to consider it. Discussions around students’ work and outcomes need to examine it.
Time for add-ons is rarely forthcoming. But I would suggest we don’t need them. Instead, it is about having a sharply focused direction which enables development to be at the heart of all we do. That will give us the confidence to reduce some of the things which are perhaps less likely to have a high impact, even if the reduction is temporary while we explore something that could be even more powerful.
It is a key component in the culture of any school wanting to develop and we shouldn’t shy away from that. We shouldn’t apologies for wanting to do it and we shouldn’t be afraid of interrogating our old practices so we can be sure we are getting it right. Because if we do get it right and it leads to more effective planning and practice, it should also lead to a stronger sense of purpose and clarity of thinking amongst our teams. I know that schools especially now are being buffeted by many storms and there are thousands of demands placed on them every day. But if we can really make development part of the fabric, we are in a stronger position to weather those storms whilst still returning to what really matters.