Paddle your own canoe

19th December 2008 at 00:00
Don't wait to have your hand held when it comes to professional development, says Victoria Furness. Watch and learn from those around you. Illustration by Brian Grimwood

End of term heralds a feeling of relief for many teachers, but while you relax into the Christmas break, take time to think about 2009 and what it might mean for you professionally. The new year marks the advent of the Masters in Teaching and Learning (MTL), the new qualification for teachers announced by the Government in March.

The National Union of Teachers has recently put together a series of modular courses with the University of Cumbria that can be followed separately, or contribute towards the MTL.

And John Bangs, the union's head of education, says: "The beginning of 2009 is the time to start thinking about how you can take charge of your career. The MTL is going to be the currency of pedagogic leadership in the future."

The Government aims eventually for the new qualification to be open to all teachers, and expects that every teacher should complete it over the course of their career.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, pledged at the qualification's launch earlier this year: "It will raise the status of teachers and ensure that they get the recognition they deserve."

It is important that you don't sit around waiting to be offered continuous professional development (CPD) - whatever approach you take.

Elizabeth Holmes, author of Teacher Wellbeing and editor of CPD Week, says: "Rather than thinking `nobody sent me on a course', think `I work in an environment where there is a lot of expertise and the possibility to learn every single day'."

In England there's no statutory requirement for teachers to undertake a set amount of CPD - in contrast, teachers in Scotland are entitled to 35 hours of CPD every year. However, schools in England have five school closure days that Liz Francis, director for the teachers programme at the Training and Development Agency (TDA), says are used for training by most schools.

She says teachers should analyse their strengths and weaknesses to get the most out of CPD. "They should have been identified through performance management, but measure yourself against the professional standards, which set out expectations for different career stages, so you can identify the gaps and use CPD to fill these."

At Sharnbrook Upper School in Bedfordshire, four of the five school closure days are used to run workshops, with some voluntary twilight sessions as well. On the remaining school closure day, staff visit another school to identify practices that might fit into their own professional development. The school also encourages lesson observation and feedback and there is an online "yellow pages", which highlights school experts in areas such as Microsoft Word software, so that teachers can learn about technology.

Jacq Emkes is an Advanced Skills Teacher in e-learning and part of the training school at Sharnbrook. Her new year's resolution is to complete her two-year masters degree by September to move up to management. Her thesis is about assessing whether an online learning platform can be used to develop CPD through sharing of good practice and group problem solving. "It's a goal of mine to get others using it in the school," she says.

Catherine Carre is joint head of maths at Sharnbrook and returned to full- time teaching in September, after 12 years working part-time. To develop her career, she plans to extend the work she's done in maths - on targeting pupils who have fallen behind - to the rest of the school. "I've spent the autumn term setting up a structure for my CPD, then in January I'll get stuck in," she says.

It definitely helps if the school has a culture of training and development. "We talk all the time about this being a learning community and we talk to children about our own learning," says Catherine Lawson, headteacher at Hexthorpe Primary School in Doncaster, which was the subject of a Teachers TV programme on CPD.

Liz Ellison, deputy head, co-ordinates the school's CPD for staff. "We were influenced by the fact that old-style professional development - where you go on a course - had little impact," she says. "So we have a lot of professional learning in-house through peer mentoring schemes, teams working together, lesson observations and sometimes teachers watching support staff, and vice versa."

If your school isn't as supportive as Sharnbrook or Hexthorpe, look to other sources of learning, such as the TDA, the National College for School Leadership if you currently have a management role, or alternatively your union.

And if you're considering life-changing career moves, think carefully and avoid planning your future too rigidly, says Elizabeth: "Anything can happen, and also you've got to keep in mind that your interests can change over time."


By the end of 2009, Caroline King will be applying for headships. The deputy headteacher at Southwold Primary School in Hackney, London, is planning the move with her own one-to-one coach.

"I've already started identifying the type of school I want to work for," says Caroline, who is working with Viv Grant, a former primary school headteacher.

Viv, director of Integrity Coaching, says it is important to look at the big picture: "Where do you want to be in three to five years, and why is that important to you? Then look at what you're doing: is anything in your role helping you achieve that, or what else do you need to do to consolidate that?"

By contast, Carrie*, a secondary English teacher in Berkshire, is considering quitting teaching after 14 years. "Through a series of experiences I've lost my passion for teaching and that has led me to start thinking about developing another career," she says.

Her negative experiences came not from classroom teaching, but upon taking up pastoral roles in her two previous schools. "There was poor management and a real lack of support and appreciation, not just for myself, but also the work of good staff.

"I think that Government expectations of teachers who have positions of responsibility is unrealistic. I'm sure that years of overwork and high levels of stress have had an effect on my feelings about the profession."

*name withheld.

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