We might be in the middle of a lockdown but professional development is just as important as ever. As a teaching and learning manager, I am always on the look-out for ways to grow my knowledge and professional network for the benefit of our staff and the college.
The inspiration for this article came from my wonderful colleagues and the team behind the #APConnect programme, a community that has brought advanced practitioners and those with an interest in teaching and learning together over the past three years. That network has kept me going this year and I will be forever grateful for their support. As part of the programme, I have been involved with a research and scholarly activity group and I challenged myself to organise a research and scholarship conference at City of Bristol College.
Coincidentally, it was suggested by colleagues in our HE team to have a CPD event in January. They traditionally find it difficult to attend the whole college day in summer due to award boards. So, just last week, a few select colleagues and I organised a virtual three-day event, primarily for our HE team, but with everyone at the college invited to attend. Keynote speakers and workshops focused on the importance of collaboration, research and scholarly activity. They gave staff the opportunity to share and discuss their projects and the space to discuss learning and teaching.
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The event has sparked opportunities for collaborative working in a range of areas and has given us the opportunity to consider what scholarly activity we would like to undertake. Since the event, some of the team have created a writing group to give them a supportive space to seek feedback on their work. They have also established a reading group where they will regularly meet to discuss articles, publications or book chapters that may be of interest.
The benefits of online teacher CPD
It was probably the easiest CPD event to organise and some staff said it was one of the best they have ever had. I began to think about why such events have been so successful over the past 12 months, and I came to the following points:
- With Zoom, Teams, etc, CPD is more accessible than it has ever been. There is no travel time or cost, which means you can access events in other parts of the country that would have previously been impossible. Many staff have commented that by taking out the commute, they have had far more time for other things. I have been able to listen in to talks at the end of the day while cooking the children’s tea - I never would have been able to attend twilight events in a past life.
- This reduced travel also benefits the organisers in arranging top notch keynote speakers. We had the joy of welcoming Dr Peter Shukie and Lou Mycroft to our event from the comfort of their own homes in northern England.
- Talking of comfort, if I had rocked up at a conference venue in my slippers, I’m sure someone would have had something to say. That’s enough on that one!
- The added value of breaking down the distance barrier is that I have been able to connect with people that I may have never encountered before. I have grown my network and made friendships with people that I share so much in common with. You all know who you are!
- The final advantage of this new way of learning and working is the empathy we all have for each other and the humility. We have all realised that, however great we are in the classroom; online teaching is a completely different beast. We have had time to reflect and take stock on what we need to develop and we can be grateful that so many educators have been willing to give up their time to share what’s working for them. This has paved the way for new voices to share their stories and be heard in addition to the usual crowd.
This huge influx of flexible CPD opportunities has been an eye-opener. So much of organisational learning still adheres to outdated and passive models – the top-down "transmission of training". Every individual needs and wants different things, and this way of working has given educators the CPD that is personally and professionally relevant to them.
Its been a tough old ride this year and some would argue that there isn’t a substitute for physical and face-to-face interaction. I would agree to some extent. But we are where we are. We are all craving that human interaction that we need to make the most of what we have got. To me CPD is an essential part of being an educator – we must always be learning and that can’t stop because of Covid.
Amy Woodrow is teaching and learning manager at City of Bristol College