Light relief for learners

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
Heard the one about the meeting that left everyone in the dark? John Cairney goes on course for a laugh

The professional development portfolios that increasingly teachers will be keeping up to date don't tell the whole story about CPD.

Behind the bare and hopefully impressive facts about activities undertaken and conferences attended lies another portfolio, a story of teacher reticence and low farce.

A newly appointed staff development co-ordinator in a west of Scotland primary school was surprised by the extent of consumer reluctance when staff were approached to attend conferences or seminars. A degree of persuasion that attendance would be a valuable staff development opportunity is often required.

Sometimes, the old dogs, new tricks syndrome kicks in, with experienced practitioners unwilling to subject themselves to the attention of "a jumped-up guru who has not seen the inside of a classroom for years".

However, from August the development co-ordinator expects the first question about conferences to be: "Will this count towards my 35 hours of CPD?"

Responses to the evaluation questionnaires in another authority appear to confirm her experience. Often they reveal more about the person filling it in than about the course itself, says an official. He has lost count of the number of times the question "Why did you decide to attend this course?"

has been answered with "Don't know" or "I was sent".

Even when there is more than 90 per cent satisfaction with the course, there are always those who zero in on what he calls "janitorial issues" as an excuse to moan. They usually say: "It was too hotcolddraughty" or "The soup was cold."

There are also lighter - or perhaps darker - moments. The trend towards using hotels instead of schools may have benefited the hotel chains and improved the comfort of participants but it is not without pitfalls.

A meeting of senior managers in East Ayrshire last year was thrown into darkness when the lights of the windowless conference suite in a Kilmarnock hotel went out three minutes into a presentation by John Mulgrew, the director of education. The unfazed Mr Mulgrew did not even break his stride, and nor did the 150 or so in his audience, as the presentation continued in total darkness for 15 minutes before scurrying hotel staff managed to throw some light on proceedings.

At the end of a two-hour session on personal and social education in North Lanarkshire, the presenter was flattered when one of his audience came up and thanked him for an interesting experience.

Great, he thought, until he discovered that his words of wisdom had probably been wasted. His flatterer turned out to be a woman who had entered the wrong conference room, then found the subject of such interest she stayed.

In South Lanarkshire, teachers attending an introductory course on using the Internet and e-mail encountered a technical hitch when the Internet connection on the premises proved faulty. There was relief, and not a little mirth all round when, instead of being sent back to their schools, they found themselves battering away at dummy keyboards.

Generally speaking, however, hotels and teacher centres are a much safer and more comfortable bet than schools and, let's face it, meetings in such places are also child and period-bell free and not likely to be interrupted by the headteacher offering morning prayers over the tannoy, as Brian Boyd of Strathclyde University once experienced.

It is not always people and bells which can cause distractions in schools.

A depute headteacher in a Glasgow secondary addressing staff in a science lecture room once found his audience becoming agitated and straining to conceal giggles. Eventually he discovered that behind him, in full view of his increasingly distracted audience, were two gerbils in a cage doing what gerbils do to procreate other gerbils.

"The room was too small and the table too sharp" might well have been the rueful evaluative comment of Brian Coyle, director of consultants Practical Training, when he found himself lecturing would-be managers in a room about one square metre larger than a broom cupboard.

As he stooped to switch on the video equipment under one table, his backside bashed against the corner of another and he spent the next two hours concealing a six-inch rip in his trousers.

Equally "on task" were the presenters of a conflict resolution course in Glasgow. Displaying commendable concern for the comfort of their students, they announced that a recall meeting to discuss if and how the lessons had been applied would be followed by an informal discussion in a local pub.

Teachers undoubtedly would be very keen to try adding that sort of session to their tally of CPD hours.

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