A few weeks ago, Tes Scotland’s Henry Hepburn asked online about what there was in the way of CPD for teachers during the summer. It caused a wee Twitter storm. It also made me reflect on how teachers approach the holidays.
Firstly, let’s be clear that teachers deserve their holidays. They need them and all pupils benefit from their teachers having them.
But we also need to unpack what we mean by CPD. There is still a residue of opinion that sees CPD as going to a course, or an event – that is, CPD is something done to you or for you.
Summer holidays: Why teachers shouldn’t go into school during the holidays
Professional development reviews: How to make them work
Long read: How to set teacher CPD free
Since the 2011 publication of Teaching Scotland’s Future, better known as the Donaldson report, we have moved away from this to a focus on continuous professional development as a process. I wrote earlier this year, on retiring from formal education after 40 years, that the focus on the professionalism of the teacher and on career-long professional learning is one of the main positive changes I have witnessed in the system.
This shift away from CPD as something done to you to the idea that professional learning as a process comes in many guises is to be welcomed and allows me to say, without fear of contradiction, that I do not know any teacher who doesn’t engage in some form of professional development during the summer holidays.
So, what does this summertime professional learning look like?
First, there’s what is sometimes called “learning by enquiring”. That could be Open University courses or something from the myriad of Moocs (massive open online courses – free and available to all) that are out there available.
However, it also includes reading – perhaps education titles such as Paul Dix’s When the Adults Change, Everything Changes, Tom Sherrington’s The Learning Rainforest: great teaching in real classrooms, or Shine by Andy Cope and Gavin Oattes. Of course, there is a host of other books, papers and articles – teachers might even take a look at some of the 400-plus Scottish government and Education Scotland publications for 2018-19, which they meant to read but didn’t have time for during the session.
Don’t lose sight, though, that reading for pleasure can also be a form of professional learning. Think of books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall, the more recent Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman or indeed Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey – Tes Scotland’s 2018 Person of the Year. How can a teacher read books like this and not apply that new insight and understanding into their professional work next session?
There are also teachers who undertake more collaborative learning by enrolling on summer programmes in areas such as language immersion and IT through courses offered by universities and other providers such as Sserc.
However, most summertime collaborative learning is not so obvious to the outsider – but just go and ask any family member of a teacher about holidays. Do you really think a day at the Edinburgh Festival or a book festival or visit to a museum or art gallery or wee hill walk are purely fun family days out? I think not – the teacher is always on the lookout for new experiences, new opportunities, new ideas to take back into the classroom.
What’s more, a lot of learning during the summer holidays takes place in school. Teachers are in and about their schools, particularly at the start and end of the summer break, involved in the “big tidy”, the planning, the setting up, and yes, they talk with each other about work.
Earlier this year, I said in Tes Scotland that the way in which teachers have embraced professional learning pays testimony to their dedication to making a difference and getting it right for every child.
I stand by this and will cheer with them as they wave goodbye to their pupils at the end of 2018-19. The summer holidays are almost upon us and our teachers deserve them and need them – and everyone benefits from teachers getting a break. But we rarely stop learning, even if it’s while we’re lying on a beach with a cocktail in hand…
Isabelle Boyd is an educational consultant. She previously worked as a local authority assistant chief executive and as a secondary school headteacher