Build your own path to enlightenment

28th January 2005 at 00:00
Under the threshold: Training is the best way to advance yourself

Do you feel a little lost and neglected after the intensity of the training and induction years? Do you regret not using the induction year more wisely to address something really important to you? Has your teaching gone a little stale? Well, there's good news - professional development is back on the agenda! Well-planned and high-quality continuing professional development (CPD) is being seen as a way of raising standards of teaching and learning, and retaining high quality staff.

The Department for Education and Skills's Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners talks of "new professionalism". There'll be more of a focus on CPD for all staff and a greater link with performance management through "teaching and learning reviews" and career progression. Everyone will need a record of sustained training and development.

You don't have to use the DfES online professional development and career planning portfolio so long as you have some way of recording and reflecting on your development and making the right choices to get you where you want to go.

People applying for the new grade of excellent teacher, for instance, will be expected to be involved in induction; mentoring; demonstration lessons; helping others develop their planning, preparation and assessment and evaluate the impact of their teaching on pupils; and performance management.

It's quite fun thinking about what you'd like to do, but like a lesson plan you need to know why you're doing it. Identifying learning needs is important because it really isn't that easy. Ralph Tabberer, chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, says "There is insufficient time invested in analysing the knowledge and skills that individuals could use to strengthen their teaching." Money and time are precious resources that need to be spent well - make sure they have an impact.

It's great if you can find someone to talk things over with, someone who knows your work and has seen you teach - a sort of coach or mentor. You need someone to bounce ideas off, who can help you focus and who can give you more ideas. It's ideal if someone in your school can take the role but sometimes an outsider is useful too. Here are some questions to think about:

* What are your main strengths and achievements? What brought them about?

* What aspects of teaching do you want to get better at?

* Do you have any new roles that you need training for?

* How do you see your career panning out? What's the next step to get you there?

Once you've chosen the area you want to develop in you need to decide how you're going to go about it. What budget or time allocation do you have? You may think there's none, but ask around. All schools have to meet their teachers' development needs and there should be money and resources available. Whatever there is, it's unlikely to be a fortune so spend it well for maximum impact.

Think about how you learn best? Choose something that's going to work for you within your timescale, whether it's reading a book, watching Teachers'

TV (which starts next month), going on a course or observing someone's lesson.

Most people learn best when they want to learn and when there are ongoing opportunities to ask questions, investigate, reflect, apply and share knowledge in real-life contexts. One of the problems with much training is that it is seen as an end in itself - you just "do" it. That's why so much has had so little impact. Build into your action plan activities that you review, learn from and apply. For instance, if your aim is to get better at taking assemblies:

* Do Observe someone that you admire take assembly; Get someone to observe you taking assembly and give you feedback.

* Review Think about it and discuss it with them afterwards.

* Learn Learn some key techniques for taking assembly.

* Apply Try them out when you take assembly.

Be creative in selecting the activity that will get you nearest your goal.

The range of professional development activities is huge: it's not just about courses. Look around your school - there's often someone you can learn from so ask if they can be freed up to work with you. advanced skills teachers are ready and waiting to be used in this way, but so are lots of teachers. David Reynolds says: "There is a much better chance of learning from someone in the next classroom than from someone 20 miles away."

I'm not sure I fully agree, but his is a good point - and one that's cheap, quick and easy! And you won't be able to get away with the excuse that that new teaching strategy (or whatever it is) won't work with your kids.

Whatever you do, make sure it makes a difference - that you get better.

DfES: Sara Bubb ( helps many teachers with their professional development. She has written Insider's Guide to Early Professional Development (TESRoutledge, pound;12.99) and Leading and Managing Continuing Professional Development (with Peter Earley, published by SagePaul Chapman, pound;18.99)

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