'Evidence is clear: teachers are doing all they can'

'The remarkable level of support and collaboration from across the education community is inspiring,' says Richard Holme

Richard Holme

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As the lockdown continues, teachers are gradually working out how best to cope with the challenges this has created. Schools have adopted a variety of approaches, ranging from setting formal timetables to pupils, delivering synchronous real-time teaching, or posting work for learners to access in their own time.

Where there are issues around access to technology, teachers and school leaders are trying to maintain contact and provide learning materials in other ways. The evidence is clear: teachers are doing all they can.

In this environment, one thing that is unlikely to be top of the agenda for teachers right now is the yearly performance appraisal, and target setting for their own professional development. Yet, there is a surprising amount of professional learning taking place, although in a more informal or unconscious manner. Teachers are reaching out to provide support to colleagues across Scotland, and around the world, in ways that we have never seen before.

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There are all the usual channels like Twitter, including professional learning communities such as #EdChat and #Pedagoo online. The Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) community is providing guidance to all and sundry, as teachers wrestle with Glow (a digital learning platform in Scotland) and Microsoft Teams. Groups of educators that are using other platforms such as Google are doing likewise. Inspired by the high-quality free events being offered by the Teacher Development Trust, and ResearchEd's Robin MacPherson and Mark Healy have started PL Gaitherin’, which will stream sessions every Saturday at 10am.

All this is being supplemented by grassroots professional learning that, under normal circumstances, would occur face-to-face. Expertly coordinated and compered by Graham Andre, a primary teacher from the Isle of Wight who appeared in the BBC programme No More Boys and Girls, the first online #BrewEd event took place last weekend.

Running for an entire Saturday, there was a huge variety of speakers, streamed live and accessed around the globe. Within 24 hours over 16,000 people had engaged live or with the recorded event. Amazingly, the character and spirit of the face-to-face event was maintained. The online nature allowed people to chat and interact, and brought together teachers from a vast range of backgrounds. The BrewEd founders, Ed Finch and Daryn Egan-Simon, are planning more events during lockdown, and other educators are setting up CPD opportunities.

In normal circumstances, teachers might be overwhelmed by this choice of CPD and tune out, but right now people are just trying to get on and learn what they can, where they can. And something that shouldn’t be overlooked in all this is the benefit of community spirit and collaboration.

Also, there are the WhatsApp groups and private messages between colleagues and peers giving advice and helping each other out. In some ways the ethos that led to TeachMeets, the precursors to much of this grassroots CPD movement that began in Scotland nearly 15 years ago, seems to be stronger than ever.

Of course, the traditional CPD model of school or local-authority-led training sessions just isn’t a viable option right now. This might not be a bad thing as some of the formal barriers to CPD have been forgotten, hopefully for good. The remarkable level of support and collaboration from across the education community is inspiring.

Once the lockdown is over, the world will have changed – and so, it seems, will the way teachers learn.

Richard Holme is an education lecturer at the University of Dundee. He tweets @richardjholme

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