6 ways CPD sessions break the rules of good teaching

You'd assume that teachers would be good at running training sessions. You'd assume wrong, says Callum Jacobs

Bad CPD session

You’d assume that one thing teachers would be good at, as professionals in the field of education, is running training sessions for their colleagues.

But, if you’ve recently been through a school Inset day, you’ll know that this isn’t always the case. 

What happens to all the good practice we demand for our students when we have to teach the staff? Here are some of the most common schoolboy errors when it comes to those dreaded staff CPD sessions.

1. A lack of differentiation

There have been some mixed reports recently about how effective differentiation in the classroom is. But surely, when addressing the entire school staff, we need to recognise that some people have been doing the job longer than others, and consequently won’t need to hear the same ideas. 

Explaining the importance of effective questioning and of Bloom’s taxonomy might well be very useful for teachers in the first few years on the job. But to a lot of teachers, there’s an element of grandmothers and egg sucking here. And if I have to sit through one more lecture on growth bloody mindset, someone’s going to get hurt.

2. Excessive teacher talk 

Another hot-button issue in education is the amount of time in a lesson teachers should devote to explaining new ideas, before letting the students get on with things themselves. 

There’s no consensus on the ideal amount of time to give to the presenter. But surely it’s got to be less than the entire session. Hands up who’s drifted off after the first 10 minutes anyway?

3. Excessive audience participation

As much as teachers don’t really want to be talked at non-stop for an hour, most of us don’t want to be made to prance around the hall playing half-witted educational games, either. Or, worse still, being paired up with one of the weirdos in the science department (all due apologies – but, come on, you know what I mean) and made to discuss one of our memorable “learning moments”. 

I know some people actually enjoy this kind of thing, but I’m sure the majority of grown-ups find it to be a massive ballache. Being put through this by an over-enthusiastic trainer has seriously made me question the wisdom of forcing the kids to play these daft games in class. 

4. Death by PowerPoint

Don’t get me wrong, PowerPoint is a useful tool. Frankly, I’d be lost without it, but it’s easy to use badly

Any presentation in which the number of slides hits double figures is information overload. And, if the slides aren’t just huge blocks of text that are way too small to be read from any distance beyond the first two rows, they’re likely to be incomprehensible graphs and charts showing the school’s amazing Progress 8, Alps and exams results, or a flowchart of the deputy head’s guaranteed-to-work-even-though-we’ve-tried-and-failed-with-a-dozen-virtually-identical-models-before behaviour-management system. 

One simple piece of information per slide, please. Better yet, a funny picture of a cat

5. Late starts and finishes

Do teachers usually make a fuss about kids turning up to their lessons on time? Yes. 

Do staff training sessions start on time? Not in my bloody experience. 

There are always a few staff who drift in five minutes late, treating the start time as a vague suggestion rather than an accepted fact. So the session starts late, which means it often ends late. 

The palpable simmering fury of a roomful of teachers in the time period between the scheduled end of a CPD session and the actual end of the session is quite a thing to witness, and suggests to me that there’s not a whole lot of meaningful learning taking place in this space.

6. Awareness of students’ needs

The absolute worst time to have a three-hour session reminding staff of all the things they probably know anyway is the first day back after the summer holiday. Which is a pity, because that is how 90 per cent of schools spend their precious student-free Inset days. 

On the first day back of the autumn term, this is not what teachers need to be doing. What they need to be doing is sorting out all the crap they didn’t do at the end of the summer term, and preparing for the onslaught of kids who will be descending upon them the following day. 

What might work better is to save the back-to-school Inset for the end of the first week. Or maybe just ditch it altogether.

Callum Jacobs is a supply teacher in the UK

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