With each new school year comes a new focus on improving the teaching in our classrooms.
You know how it goes. Inset day enthusiasm is quickly dampened by the revelation of “10 essential improvements” management wants to see in the first round of learning walks.
This is followed with a carousel of interactive workshops related to that improvement agenda, led by PowerPoint-driven speakers with plenty of collaborative activities up their sleeves.
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Little time will be offered for reflection, or consideration how the material might relate to the hugely diverse experience of the teachers in the audience.
We spend most of our time in these sessions frustrated, each haunted by our own epic to-do lists, wanting to get on with our work.
Imagine how different it could be. Imagine if we aimed for something different, something research implies will have a much more positive impact on what happens in our classrooms? Imagine if we decided to take ownership of our own teacher improvement.
There is no denying the importance of CPD. The Sutton Trust is clear that “it is through this good quality professional development that real improvements in teaching and attainment take place”.
There is still, however, much more of a focus on more superficial inset CPD events for teachers, as was one of the findings from the Teacher Development Trust report.
This also highlights that an “essential element of successful professional development is generating buy-in: creating an overt relevance of the content to its participants - their day-to-day experiences with, and aspirations for, their pupils”.
The importance of ongoing, rather than one-off, learning experiences, is also widespread in the literature, with the Centre for Education Research and Policy suggesting that: “Schools need organisational structures and managements that encourage and facilitate on-going professional learning, rather than focusing on monitoring and regulation.”
Our students need us to be as reflective and as focused on learning as we ask them to be. Rather than relying on others to dictate our improvements in the classroom, we need to take ownership of our own development.
What might this look like in practice? It involves honest reflection: what is the aspect of my teaching that I want to work on over the course of a term, or perhaps the academic year? How will I facilitate this improvement?
This could involve engaging with practitioner enquiry, investigating the research that surrounds this aspect of teaching, and evaluating it against what we are doing in our own classrooms. In our busy teaching weeks, how often do we make the space to read and genuinely reflect about an aspect of teaching in detail?
While we can do much ourselves, seeking out dialogue with our colleagues can be especially energising.
We all want feedback on our teaching, but feedback that will help us to hone and improve our craft in the classroom, rather than a crude management checklist. What if this year we seek out coaches and individuals who we can work with informally and who can drop into our lessons and guide us on how to improve?
What if we engage in lesson study projects, taking time to visit other lessons and discussing with others the nuances of successful lesson planning?
Rather than superficial one-off inset days, by taking ownership over our improvements in the classroom we can deepen our intellectual engagement with our profession.
Not only will it improve our practice, but it will do what those training days often fail to do: motivate and sustain our enthusiasm for teaching.
Jamie Thom is a teacher of English in Scotland, who until recently worked in schools in England. His book, A Quiet Education, will be published later this year. He tweets @teachgratitude1