Saturdays have traditionally been the true day off at the weekend for teachers. Sunday, meanwhile, tends to be dominated by the Sunday-night fear or insomnia all too well documented in staffrooms and across social media.
However, recently they have started not only working on Saturdays – freely and willingly – but also paying for the privilege. Often, they end up scrambling for tickets for events that are full of the edu-headliner big names found on our bookshelves.
And Saturday events get both a rapturous and raging reception on social media. For some, they are seen as an unnecessary additional burden to teachers. They are budget cuts writ large, in that teachers are giving up their own free time and spare cash to attend these events.
But Saturday CPD is about more than just plugging knowledge or skills gaps that schools cannot afford to address. They are evidence – should ever any be needed – that teaching really is a wonderful and diverse profession.
Pizza and passions
I went to my first Saturday CPD event in March this year. Slightly terrified, edu-star-struck and doubting very much whether what my colleague and I might have to say would receive anything other than a polite smile and a “thank you for coming – that was interesting”, I was truly unprepared for what actually happened.
The room was full of the most diverse range of educators I’d ever seen in one space. All sectors and key stages were represented, alongside delegates from huge government organisations, free schools, academies, independent schools, local-authority maintained schools, early-career teachers, experienced school leaders, education specialists and consultants from up and down the country. All were in one small space, sipping drinks, eating pizza and discussing their viewpoints and their passions.
This was a kind of educational pick ’n’ mix that I’d never seen. Weekday CPD is often tailored to a specific target audience. So, although the delivered content can be truly excellent, the diversity of delegates in attendance can be less so.
No one had been “sent” to the first Saturday CPD I attended; no one was attending to tick off something on their own school’s action plan. No one wore a name badge, and no one had a neatly printed bio in a fancy pack with free pens, and a hungry rep attempting to ply their wares at coffee time. Also, no one had the worry of what was happening in their classroom or school while they were there, and no one could be interrupted by an urgent call back to school.
Stories to tell
The people there all had a story, and the stories they told resonated, challenged, shocked, enthralled and enthused everyone in the room. Some were intensely personal and moving accounts of experiences in a single school. Others were current global studies into the effects of social media. Some were sharing findings from their doctoral studies; others were sharing a brilliant resource or a chance to tell a story that might otherwise have gone untold.
Everyone in the room had a voice, and no one had the shackles and niceties of perceived day-to-day school hierarchy muffling their questions, or the worries of toeing the school party line dulling their input. Established edu-friendships sat alongside new alliances, and phones hummed and buzzed with contact details being swapped and ideas captured.
There was a fizz of opportunity and hope in the air, and since that day I and so many others who attended have gone on to do things that have improved our own effectiveness and ultimately, therefore, given our pupils a better deal.
Day of rest?
But isn’t Saturday meant to be for downtime, and a rest from the pace of the working week?
The beauty of Saturday CPD is that it is optional and you can tailor it exactly. There is no pressure to attend or to even stay for an entire day. You can sift through the plethora of Saturday CPD offers out there and find something that really piques your interest if you find yourself at a loose end at the weekend. It’s also an opportunity to pursue an area of interest that may not be a focus in your current school but about which you are passionate.
Besides, teachers have always studied and improved their own knowledge and skills in their own time. Huge swathes of us read books and articles in our own time, or read online resources or chat with teacher friends over a drink after work. No one would call that outrageous – that’s simply sharing experiences and ongoing study. We listen to podcasts or read magazines and articles in educational publications in our own time, and no one berates us for doing this.
The great thing about Saturday CPD for me is that it has broadened my edu-outlook and horizons much more than any other CPD or self-directed reading. The chance to hear from a diverse range of voices outside my own local area or key stage, the chance to question authors, doctors, practising teachers, leaders and professors directly about their work, the chance to connect with excellence up and down the country, and to discover people who both share and challenge my viewpoints makes me a more robust and well-rounded educator.
Saturday CPD isn’t for everyone. Just as every family, every school, and every individual wellbeing dynamic is different, so too is the want, will or ability to engage with Saturday CPD.
For some, the weekend is family time, or time for hobbies, religious observance or exercise; for others, these happen during the working week or during periods of holiday. The point is that, by providing access to CPD which is grassroots or independent, we have the ability to tap into a much broader range of professional learning and specialist support and study than ever before.
If you’d asked me three years ago if I thought I’d ever willingly pay to go to CPD on a Saturday I’d have laughed in your face. Now that I have attended and felt the real benefits of both attending and contributing, it’s becoming a regular feature on my calendar.
The number of “Eds” out there is increasing all the time, and reflects the diversity of the profession in which we work. The desire to share practice and support among colleagues is also testament to the altruism and generosity of teachers.
The popularity of these events is increasing at pace. I’m fairly sure that weekend edu-magic will continue to happen. And, although I attended a wonderful Saturday CPD conference this past weekend, this weekend I’ll be spending it with my family and friends.
Emma Turner is the research and CPD lead for Discovery Schools Trust, Leicestershire