Think of going on a CPD course or a start-of-term Inset day and you possibly sigh at the thought of death by PowerPoint, filing out tiresome workbooks or small talk over lukewarm tea and coffee.
But why can’t learning new skills that can also aid teaching involve ballet lessons with the Royal Opera House, building robots with LEGO Education tools or creating Plasticine tableaus of famous poems?
These are, in fact, just some of the ways teachers are developing new skills and boosting their confidence to teach across the curriculum, from English and PE to digital skills and, sometimes, just for a bit of fun.
CPD: dancing days
Of the above, it’s perhaps the ballet lessons that are the most striking. Gwen Perfitt, head of Year 6 teaching at Corringham Primary in Essex, explains that this involved two teachers going to the ROH to learn ballet moves that they could teach to pupils in Year 2 PE lessons.
“The Royal Opera House offered some CPD training so two staff went to London and spent the day learning various ballet moves from The Nutcracker. They then used this as part of a 10-week project in PE to teach children moves from the ballet,” she says.
Not only this, but the staff could also then film themselves and pupils practising the moves and share these with the ROH to receive feedback and tips from professional ballet dancers. The school subsequently did this again with the ROH around Alice in Wonderland for its Year 3s.
To some, the idea of a dry and bland CPD PowerPoint session may sound preferable to donning Lycra and learning to plie. Ms Perfitt admits one member of staff was somewhat nervous about taking part, but she says it was a great way to build confidence in their teaching and developing new skills.
“Once they’ve done this course you can see them saying, ‘You know what, I did that [course], and if I can do it, I can teach you to do it, too.'”
It’s not just bespoke skills like ballet for PE lessons where hands-on training can prove beneficial. Broader issues such as ensuring teachers have the digital skills required to teach pupils in this area can also be tackled effectively through hands-on training.
This is exactly what Welsh special school Ysgol Hen Felin did to ensure its teachers had the digital skills needed to meet the requirement of the Digital Competence Framework.
“When the DCF came in it was a big push for us to start using more IT and digital skills. A lot of staff were under-confident in that area and didn’t know where to start,” says head of KS3 Steph Lewis.
To tackle this they turned to the Big Learning Company (BLC), one of several companies that specialises in providing training using LEGO Education products to boost confidence for teaching digital skills.
Ian Coupland is the manager of BLC and says they regularly work with teachers who lack skills in this area and don’t believe it is something they can do: “A lot of teachers, when we sit down with them, the first thing they say is, ‘I’m not good with computers.' So confidence an issue.”
However, by working with them in a hands-on manner they are able to overcome these perceptions and help them realise it is something they can teach.
“[To address this] a task we like doing is using the LEGO Education WeDo 2.0 to [get teachers] to build the basic MyLo the Science Rover. It’s a robot that they can build in about five to 10 minutes, and then explore the coding and programming element with the WeDo app.
“They connect it via Bluetooth and make it move and when they do that we get the same expressions of excitement from teachers as children, which is really nice to see. Not only that but it shows them just how straightforward it would be to pass that on to children, too.”
Ms Lewis says this ability for teachers to be involved in the lessons with the BLC has had a big impact. “You can sit on a training course and be told how to do things, but when you see it actually being done and can try it yourself it makes a big difference and staff pick up on things far more effectively,” she said.
“From this demonstration, myself and the class staff became confident to attempt to deliver and support sessions of our own to allow the pupils opportunities to continue to develop these new skills.”
Using hands-on methods to develop new skills and boost confidence can apply in almost all subject areas. English teacher Lauran Hampshire-Dell says she uses Plasticine to help children visualise different scenes in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
She first saw this idea during a teaching training course and she says it gave her the confidence to realise she didn’t always have to just talk during a lesson to achieve the outcomes she wanted.
“It’s great to learn how to communicate with more than just your voice. Teachers can find that hard to accept but talking is not always going to get the job done so you have to be willing to try different ideas,” she said.
And sometimes boosting teacher confidence doesn’t always have to be about a specific teaching outcome, but for morale and fun, as Ms Perfitt from Corringham Primary notes by explaining she once organised for staff to receive professional singing training at the start of an Inset period.
“When it started they [the teachers] were saying, ‘Oh God, no…singing in public!’ but by end of it they were having a whale of a time, belting out songs. It was really nice boost to people’s morale,” she says.
“It was partly [organised] to show ‘this is how you can get children enthusiastic about singing’ because for some [pupils] as they get older they get less and less inclined to sing. But partly it was just about thinking, ‘Let’s skill up the staff and do something a bit different at the start of an Inset.'”
With all this mind, perhaps it’s time to start thinking of new ways to bring hands-on training to your next CPD or Inset session.