Powerful professional development helps children succeed and teachers thrive, but not every teacher receives support that is best tailored to their needs. If you are feeling underdeveloped or want to build on the CPD you receive from your school, here are 10 ideas for taking back control over your own learning.
1, Social media
Twitter can be an incredible source of inspiration and learning. Following the Twitter accounts of some of the top bloggers and thinkers can really stimulate you to reflect on your own practice.
You don’t have to contribute to the debate, although for many teachers engaging in the discussion can help clarify their own ideas. To begin with, simply find a few key people to follow and start reading and thinking.
The best way to use Twitter is to dip in and out: don’t worry about trying to follow everything that is said. Make sure you follow people you disagree with as well as those you agree with – the struggle to understand why people hold different views to yours is a really helpful form of professional learning. Remember to also remain constructively critical of the evidence behind each claim that is made.
Filming yourself can unlock a huge platform for professional learning. It may sound scary, but a video camera at the back of the class, filming material for you to watch later, will help you learn a lot about your practice. It works even better if you find a trusted colleague and agree to pair up to work with each other. A good tip is to focus on the way pupils are learning and reacting, rather than getting too hung up about how you look on video.
Make sure you have the relevant permissions to film students and, of course, don’t share the video unless this has been approved. Some schools may have professional video equipment which you can borrow for this purpose.
TeachMeets are informal meetings of teachers in which attendees share mini-presentations about their ideas for teaching. They are a great way to meet people, get stimulating ideas, and share your own (if you wish). You can find a list of TeachMeets online (see further information) why not arrange to visit one with a small group of colleagues?
You need to be careful about being too much of a “magpie” at these events: try to pick just one or two ideas and focus on implementing and understanding them deeply over the subsequent few months.
4, Get reading
There are some inspirational books on pedagogy, leadership and psychology which can really get you thinking. Some top reads are Visible Learning by Hattie and Yates, Effective Teaching by Muijs and Reynolds, Why Don’t Students Like School? by Willingham, Teach Like A Champion by Lemov, and Mindset by Dweck.
A great idea is to buy a few copies of a particular book and set up a reading group to discuss each chapter with colleagues over a coffee at regular intervals. A potential pitfall is that you read the book and try to make too many changes. Consider the book as a starting point to understand new approaches to pedagogy and work collaboratively with colleagues to understand and try new ideas.
5, Get studying
Some further academic study can really stimulate your mind and inspire you to be a better teacher. You might consider Master’s-level work with a higher education institution, or perhaps simply engaging with one of the free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).
Finding time can be challenging of course, though some lucky teachers may find their school not only subsidises fees but also helps to find some protected study time.
6, Read the research
Subscribe to a research newsletter for some regular evidence-based stimulation. You could try looking at the Institute for Effective Education’s Best Evidence in Brief newsletter, or perhaps buy a subscription to their Better magazine. Another option is to look at the NFER Direct newsletter or updates from the Education Endowment Foundation.
When looking at research, try and find summaries (or “meta-analyses”) of the research rather than reading single papers. This will ensure that you get a rounded view that covers the full range of opinion. You can often find these at America’s What Works Clearinghouse, the UK’s EPPI Centre, or the Campbell Collaboration’s Education Centre.
7, Go to a conference
Some conferences are specially designed to help teachers reflect on their own practice, based on evidence of what works. The leading example is perhaps ResearchED, an organisation founded by teachers which hosts conferences for teachers to share and discuss education research. Conferences tend to be run on Saturdays so that you can get to them even if you can’t get a day off school, and are very energising experiences that will leave you thinking hard.
8, Co-planning lessons
A great way to develop your teaching practice is to plan lessons alongside other colleagues. By clarifying the learning intentions and discussing the underlying theory of each teaching activity, you can reflect upon your habits and learn from others. Where possible, plan a lesson together that a colleague can come and see, being sure to focus on the outcomes for pupils rather than on “perfecting” certain teaching techniques.
9, Lesson Study
Lesson Study is a model of collaborative enquiry where a small group of teachers plan a lesson together, predicting the behaviours of pupils, then observe to see if these predictions are correct. A key element is to focus in on two or three case pupils, rather than trying to observe all the pupils at the same time. This helps you see the lesson through the pupils’ eyes rather than focusing too much on the performance of the teacher.
In an ideal world, Lesson Study requires teachers to be able to plan together, observe together, and then meet very soon after the lesson to discuss it. This may be challenging in terms of finding cover, although you may be able to find a lesson where you have a non-contact period and a colleague is teaching. For more ideas on Lesson Study have a look at the National Teacher Enquiry Network.
10, Start writing
Writing a reflective blog can help you think deeply about the way you teach, and document your journey for others to learn from. Start by reading some popular blogs such as Hunting English, Headguruteacher, Learning Spy, and John Tomsett. Also, take a look at the Echo Chamber, a site that aggregates blogs from hundreds of other sites.
Once you have decided what you want to write about, you can start a free blog at wordpress.com or Blogger.com. Try not to let posts get too long, and avoid references to students or colleagues. Some teachers prefer to blog anonymously so that they don’t accidentally compromise any personal details. It is very helpful to have a Twitter account that matches your blog title so that people can discuss your blogs with you.
Don’t wait for inspiration, make time to prioritise your own learning so that you can do what you came in to teaching to do – inspire and educate children and help them succeed.
David Weston is the chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust (TDT), a national charity for teachers’ professional development. He is a former secondary school teacher and a school governor.