Continuing professional development (CPD) is high on the agenda at the moment. The Early Career Framework, the new national professional qualifications (NPQs), and various subject reports coming from Ofsted mean that professional development seems to be on everyone lips.
There is a continuous buzz around the proliferance of freely available CPD online and in books. Everyone is talking about it. Everyone wants it. Everyone seem to be involved and singing from the same CPD hymn sheet.
Well, actually, that’s not quite the full picture. There are many people working in schools where CPD is simply not the top priority. In these schools, the idea of spending your own time studying for a course, reading a book or attending an online session can be dismissed as unimportant or, worse, met with derision.
Obviously, it would be wonderful if all schools and leaders were to embrace professional learning. But the reality is that this is not yet the case. Sometimes there are some complex and compelling reasons underlying this, and changing attitudes can be a slow process.
Professional development: Becoming a CPD maverick
This means that there are some poor lone souls out there, desperate to develop and explore their practice but who don’t have the support within their schools or departments to do so. This can be both frustrating and demoralising, but it doesn’t have to be the end of it. There are still many good reasons to take hold of your own professional development and become a CPD maverick.
First of all, remember that learning in itself can never be a waste of time. We often say to students that they should value their own learning more – if we aren’t modelling this, how can we possibly say it with any real conviction?
Even if your colleagues or leaders don’t seem to value your learning, your students will, and they are always inquisitive about what their teachers are reading and learning. Realising that learning isn’t something that stops when you reach the age of 16 or 18 is a powerful message to share. And having enthusiasm for what you teach will only ever be a positive thing.
Not only that but those things you are learning will have an impact in the classroom, and that means it is doubly positive for your students. Understanding your subject in greater depth or considering a new approach to a topic will have benefits that we shouldn’t ignore – regardless of other people’s attitudes to it.
Hard as it is, don’t let those who don’t value CPD get in the way of you trying out new things on a small scale. I am a big fan of piloting new approaches with a class, and there are few who will want to prevent you doing this, especially if you have explained the potential benefits.
Even slight changes to your explanation, or the way you plan how you will present an idea visually, can still have a huge impact on learning, and those tiny changes are a key part of your development, which can then be scaled up later.
How to avoid the isolation of going it alone
As you explore different aspects of practice, you may also find yourself becoming more efficient, stripping away any flab that may have started to weigh things down in your lessons, and giving you a clearer path into the learning.
This not only has a positive effect for the students but for you, too, as you reduce the time you spend chasing ideas that simply aren’t having the desired impact. This can then mitigate against some of the time you may be spending in the evenings and weekends developing yourself through reading, reflection or discussion.
However, it can, of course, feel isolating when you are going it alone. It’s easy to give up when you feel your efforts go unnoticed and nobody else wants to engage.
To avoid this, connect with those beyond your establishment. While it might ultimately be better to be able to explore ideas with those who are in your same context, it doesn’t mean you have to stop or lose out. There are many subject and phase communities on social media – network groups that are now starting to meet face to face again, and even big conference events happening right now.
There is a wealth of experience and expertise out there that people are happy to share – but also support that they will offer in a myriad different situations. Some of my richest developmental conversations and reflections have taken place on Twitter. So take hold of those opportunities, as they will help you to reflect on what you are doing and help you design a plan for your next developmental steps.
Finally, although it can feel disheartening to finish an exciting new education book or come back from an event full of excitement and renewed vigour, only to have it poo-pooed by those you most want to share it all with, don’t let that dampen your spirits.
Big trees, we know, can grow from tiny acorns. Your enthusiasm, adaptations to your work and the general sense of wellbeing that comes from engaging with your own learning may well be contagious.
Before you know it, others may sit up and start to take notice – and you might find you are not so alone, after all.
Zoe Enser is lead English adviser for Kent. She tweets as @greeborunner