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Pick and mix to suit your needs

Douglas Blane asks five teachers to describe their best CPD experiences

Professional development comes in almost as many varieties as the teachers who take part in it. A lecture on spreadsheets, a session on stress-relief, a residential weekend on the untapped potential of the brain: it is all CPD.

Recurring comments about the best programmes include:

* management participation and backing

* interactive

* challenging

* practical

* fosters teamwork

* releases children's potential

* encourages self-reflection

* treats teachers with respect

If you are wondering what to do with the 35 hours allocated to your CPD, five teachers give their recommendations.

Elaine Wyllie principal teacher (currently P7), St Ninian's Primary, Stirling 20 years' experience.

Learning Beyond Our Limits

"This was an interactive course on how the human brain works and how children have virtually limitless potential to learn.

"I remember the number of new ideas we were exposed to, the solid research the programme was based on and how refreshingly rooted it was in the day-to-day lives of children and teachers.

"I felt liberated and empowered by the experience. It highlighted the importance of critical ingredients of learning and teaching that I hold dear: independent learning, working together, creativity, contextualised learning and formative assessment.

"It was presented by an experienced teacher who had a clear idea about life in a classroom and a high opinion of class teachers and the important job they do.

"Teachers and management attended together, which gave us the confidence to challenge practice in our school and make innovative improvements as a team. It made us more reflective and reminded us that teachers have a right and a responsibility to think about what we are doing and why.

"The very best bit of the course focused on research, conducted in many countries, into what parents and teachers wanted most for children. The unanimous response seemed to be: 'I want them to be happy, to be themselves and to make the most of themselves.'

"I believe children's happiness and self-esteem are fundamental to their ability to learn, and it was very life-affirming to hear that teachers and parents all over the world know that."

Lindsay Rooney class teacher (currently P5), Harrysmuir Primary, Livingston, West Lothian 5 years' teaching experience.

Critical Skills

"You have to come up with new ways of working so that kids stay motivated.

Most methods have a limited shelf-life before children get bored. Critical Skills offers a way of creating a community ethos in the classroom, which I think will keep on being effective.

"Our headteacher had done the course and been very impressed.

So she now has someone at every stage with critical skills experience.

"On the course we had teachers, headteachers, university lecturers and classroom assistants. It helped me to meet people, and some of us are still in contact and supporting each other.

"We learnt to turn topics into challenges, to get people working in teams.

It's about collaboration, communication and making kids independent learners.

"They got us to address challenges that put us in the children's shoes. For example, we had to create a poster that encapsulated the personality and interests of the whole group. That was good, but daunting. The course definitely took us out of our comfort zone.

"I now do that kind of thing with my kids: put them into groups to design something that incorporates everybody's ideas and then present it.

Everybody has a role and feels included in a community environment. I try to set aside half-an-hour each day now for a team-building game.

"If the same kids have their hands up, you often don't give the others time to think. So this is about making everyone feel valued, giving everyone the chance to voice his or her opinion."

Rhona Goss principal teacher of sciences, Monifieth High, Angus 16 years' experience.

In-service training by Forum Interactive

"Forum Interactive is a theatre-based learning consultancy which tailors sessions to the needs of the client. We asked for one on the use of an inclusion room - a facility for pupils who need extra help - which we were about to pilot.

"Many staff members were unsure as to how this would operate and whether it would have any benefit. This method of introducing the concept proved exceptionally valuable.

"The session was in the form of acted scenes, with three characters and a narrator. In one scene the staff were used as a class. Between scenes we could question the characters, to elicit motives and feelings, and the narrator facilitated discussion.

"The feeling of watching the situation develop, based on our responses as a group, allowed us to analyse the processes. Those of us who were uncomfortable with role-playing could reflect on the situation as it developed.

"It was compulsory CPD for staff, but there was unanimous commendation. We were all hooked, even the cynics!

"The actors encapsulated the attitudes of staff and pupils extraordinarily well. Everyone could identify with the situations and, because the process was objective, staff were able to discuss freely the scenarios and attitudes. Many staff admitted to recognising in themselves some of the more undesirable traits portrayed. But this was a very non-threatening way of seeing the effect of these traits on other staff and pupils.

"It was a superb way to tackle emotive issues, thought-provoking and extremely entertaining."

Brendan McCloskey class teacher (currently P7), St Andrew's Primary, Airdrie, North Lanarkshire 6 years' experience.

Co-operative Learning www.kaganonline.comKaganClubFreeArticlesCompartmentalization.html

"Teachers around North Lanarkshire have been trained in co-operative learning and our headteacher is very keen on it. Without that management commitment, it would not have been nearly as fruitful or enjoyable.

"It means we can always turn to a colleague or boss and ask if they want to have a look at something in our class. It's so different from trying something new when no one has a clue what you're up to.

"We use a co-operative learning style, not only in the classroom but also in staff meetings and workshops with parents.

"The way it works is that the children form small groups - home teams - and agree on a name and identity. They set their own targets, and right from the start they take a pride in how well their group is doing.

"They don't work in their groups all the time; only when the teacher sees a good opportunity. In the run-up to the general election, the groups in my class were coming up with their own political parties and policies.

"Co-operative learning is good for social skills, such as encouraging others and not putting them down. It tackles behavioural issues, because individuals are letting the group down, not just themselves.

"It helps kids who aren't confident about their social skills.

"I have one wee girl who would hardly speak. Now she has strong friendships, speaks up in class and is a happy, bubbly child. She feels that her peers respect her and want her to do well.

"For me, co-operative learning provides a structure for the way I believe children should always be treated: with respect."

Rab Walker principal teacher of art and design, Dunfermline High, Fife 29 years' experience.

Comenius Project www2.britishcouncil.orgsocrates-sfe-development-projects.htm

"I've always tried to link up with schools in other countries but have met with only limited success. A couple of years ago the British Council suggested that we go to Norway to meet other art teachers and try to put a project together.

"Accommodation was in a top hotel, with good grub, great company and 10-foot high snowdrifts.

"I met art and design teachers from Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Norway. I was talking to teachers who were totally committed and very experienced: it was like having died and gone to Heaven.

"Our kids' work is very bold and in your face, so we got a lot of attention.

"We listened to professors of education and Comenius officials, who explained how to construct a project and showed us case studies. They also helped us to fill in the extremely complicated application forms, which had to be done simultaneously by the six countries.

"We are now linking up on a film-making and information technology project called Who Am I?, which is about identity through art.

"We can learn so much from each other. It is very ambitious and I'm really excited about it.

"The experience has taught me how to operate at a European level. In the past I was just knocking on doors with good intentions. It wasn't the right way to do it. This is."

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