Focusing on your CPD butterflies

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Inspired by Sir Tim Brighouse’s focus on the power of teachers sharing their CPD ‘butterflies’, Phil Parker discusses a skills-based approach to this idea.

If you watched Teacher Development Trust’s live streaming event with SecEd last month, you would have heard Professor Sir Tim Brighouse talk about butterflies.

Why butterflies? He uses references to chaos theory where a simple act of a butterfly flapping its wings can initiate a hurricane weeks later. 

Sir Tim’s metaphor is about encouraging teachers to find improvements to teaching which require the least effort but achieve the maximum impact. He maintains this is best achieved when teachers collaborate in their planning.

After listening to Sir Tim, the next day I was in a school in Lincolnshire where one young teacher inspired senior leaders from 17 local schools with her stories of doing the same thing. 

What she described was how she used a skills-led learning methodology to plan lessons. She described how collaboration with her colleagues led to sharing their ideas and good practice, consulting each other for solutions to problems. The common ground in their discussions is the skills through which they teach – the facilitating factor for collaboration. 

Regular readers will know that I rave about the power generated by a “language of learning” arising out of core skills. Originating from personal, learning and thinking skills, these skills empower young people to get a better grasp of learning so it builds confidence.

What I heard from this teacher’s presentation was how the same language of learning empowered collaboration between teachers. This language provided one of Sir Tim’s butterflies. It requires little effort to think in this particular way but the impact is enormous.

I’ve worked with several schools using skills as a school improvement tool and what is starting to happen is their evangelical zeal for this approach leads to the building of wider networks.

How do you build sustainable improvement in the quality of teaching? How do you do it when CPD budgets are shrinking? You get teachers to collaborate more – on a micro and a macro scale – so innovation can be shared. 

So here are some questions derived from the “language of learning” that might help you to hatch your own butterflies. Try asking your teaching staff to consider how they would build these concepts into lessons, collaboratively:

  • Curiosity. How can you improve questioning skills? How can you develop lines of enquiry whereby students do the asking of the teacher?

  • Problem-solving. How can you build greater degrees of challenge by planning the lesson as a problem to be solved – where students identify the solutions for the teacher to follow though?

  • Team-work. How can you create a set of roles and responsibilities for every team to undertake to hold each member accountable? Roles such as editor, devil’s advocate, detective, client and chairperson. How might you build these roles into lessons where they are used consistently?

  • Individuality. How can you provoke the widest range of responses which celebrate individuality as a good thing. Then marshal those responses into categories that can lead into examining any topic from different perspectives.

This approach works regardless of the subject content; the skill dictates the methodology. You can apply this approach by having a “problem-solving week” where everyone plans at least two lessons using this model. Staff can help each other achieve this goal, watch each other deliver it even! Give coaching feedback afterwards perhaps?

Simple ideas but with the potential for huge impact. I’d love to hear your feedback.


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