Editorial - Colleagues can show the way to future leaders

27th November 2009 at 00:00
In-house training model is a boon to those who aspire to head up departments

An irony often noted by school staff is how rubbish the quality of teaching can be on teacher-training days. It's hard to take a lecture on the importance of varying teaching styles seriously from an instructor who has spent the last two hours droning from the front of the room.

Worse, the instructor may start expounding on the importance of making lessons interactive, with kinaesthetic elements, failing to notice the bored expressions of teachers who have been stuck in their chairs, silent and rigid, for the entire session.

And worse still is the Death by PowerPoint. There are primary pupils who understand that such slideshows are meant to assist a talk, and that by no means should they turn their backs to their audience and simply read the bullet-points off the screen in a monotonous voice. But this message has yet to get through to all involved in teachers' continuing professional development.

So three cheers for Brynmawr Comprehensive in Blaenau Gwent. Rather than send its staff off on expensive training days, it is running its own in-house scheme to develop potential future department heads (page 6).

The courses are led by the school's experienced senior teachers, but the newer staff decide the areas they want to cover. Trainees are also thrown typical scenarios department heads face and asked how they would respond (Maybe: "Pop quiz, hotshot - there's a timetable clash between you and the PE department over the gym and 60 kids are waiting in the corridor ... What do you do? What do you do?")

Brynmawr's deputy head Alison Edwards, who set up the scheme, is particularly canny to target potential middle-leaders, a group at risk of being overlooked in many schools. While NQTs can expect extra support, and an increasing range of training opportunities are available to would-be heads and deputies, those considering the step to becoming department heads can miss out on the development they deserve. Such thinking is crucial as middle-leaders can be in the trickiest position in schools, wrenched in opposite directions by the pressures of management and the classroom.

Of course, schools in Wales have been organising internal training for decades, with many giving teachers a chance to watch colleagues in action. So this scheme may not be startlingly innovative. But innovation can be overrated. The important thing here is that the international research shows such approaches can work.

The influential McKinsey report, How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top (2007), put a heavy emphasis on the importance of "enabling teachers to learn from each other". It found strong examples in schools in Finland, Boston, and in Japan, where the practice of teachers learning from each other is known as jugyou kenkyuu, or "lesson study".

Hopefully, future reports on this subject will stress how such collaboration can build up potential middle-leaders - and a namecheck will be given to a certain comprehensive in south Wales.

Michael Shaw, TES Opinion Editor; E: michael.shaw@tes.co.uk.

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