Follow learning with mentoring

19th September 2003 at 01:00
It is easy to be fired up by courses, not so easy to apply new ideas once back at work. Follow-up support is crucial to get the best from CPD, writes Dick Lynas

Is your staff development having a demonstrable impact on pupil learning? Headteachers in charge of a reasonably significant budget for continuing professional development should consider how to ensure the serious amount of time and money that training costs is not wasted.

Say your teachers have agreed their development needs for next session and signed up for workshops or courses that look as if they will meet them. The tutors are knowledgeable and helpful, the materials are interesting, the workshop activities are challenging and your staff fill their CPD folders with papers and copious notes and ideas to be incorporated into their work back at school.

Then when they get back, it's business as usual. Like Harold McMillan all those years ago, plans are overtaken by events. Notes and ideas are filed away and life goes on pretty much as it did before.

Does this sound familiar? If so, then they are like the very many people who gain no particular personal benefit from attending workshops or courses and who certainly have no consequential demonstrable impact on pupil attainment or achievement. And senior managers should start thinking about how to avoid this.

As teachers start to do the 35 hours of CPD a year that the post-McCrone settlement requires, it will be difficult and time-consuming for local authorities, headteachers and teachers to be confident that the courses on offer are of good quality, especially as the providers begin to swarm in search of the financial nectar.

The national register of CPD providers drawn up by the General Teaching Council for Scotland should be an important assurance of quality. Providers seeking registration need to meet a range of criteria that relate to their professional skills as deliverers of CPD opportunities and to the quality of those opportunities.

Yet a glance at the criteria laid out by the GTC indicates that they tend, implicitly or explicitly, to focus on the quality of input delivery. There is little emphasis on the importance of school-based follow-up if teacher development is to be transferred to classroom practice.

In this connection, headteachers and their colleagues may wish to reflect upon the research findings of Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers who, some 20 years ago, investigated the nature and impact of teacher inset on classroom performance and came to some very worrying conclusions. What's more, after 20 years they are largely unchallenged.

They found that only about 10 per cent of course participants transferred their new learning to classroom practice if training was confined to discussions of theory underlying a given skill.

Even where participants were then given the opportunity in a workshop to practise a new approach and received feedback, transfer to the classroom was still limited to around 25 per cent of participants.

It was only when initial training was followed up by ongoing mentored school-based activity that transfer to classroom practice rose to 90 per cent of participants.

The implications of this finding are considerable. If Joyce and Showers are still right about their findings, then it means that the majority of participants taking part in a development activity, whether it is in school, off site or on line, will fail to translate their learning into on-the-job performance unless there is school-based mentored follow-up.

However, providing all teachers with a mentor to support their school-based work is beyond the resources of any school. First, the mentoring role is by no means an easy one and itself requires proper training and follow-up.

Mutual trust between mentor and the mentored is the keynote: while this may well be established between a respected senior colleague and a probationer teacher, it is likely to be much more difficult to establish in the case of the battle-weary veteran teacher.

So what is the solution? Headteachers would be wise to arrange for at least some of their staff to go on mentoring training. In the meantime, they may want to ask CPD providers if courses, and course costs, include follow-up tutorial support as well as input. Otherwise a lot of CPD money could be going down the drain.

Dick Lynas is former headteacher of Taylor High, North Lanarkshire

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