As many of you may know, I started teaching in 1980. Over the next 30 years I taught in six different schools.
Throughout my time in my first school, and for most of my time in my second school, there was no such thing as a Staff Training Day. The first day of term was the day the pupils returned. Any planning or training had to be done in holiday time or term time. Inset days were introduced in 1988 by the then Conservative Education Secretary, Kenneth Baker. The training days, initially called ‘Baker days’, were brought in as part of a raft of changes, including the introduction of a national curriculum. By the time I became Head of Department in my third school, planning and delivering training for my departmental team on those days became part of my responsibility – and as a deputy head and later a head, organising how some of those days could best be used for whole-school training fell within the remit of the Senior Leadership Team. (Interestingly, the head in my second school refused to let the days be used for any departmental work, as he saw this as synonymous with ‘admin’ and insisted this should be completed in our own time. The idea of collaborative departmental planning would certainly have been alien to him.)
Since leaving headship in 2010, I have been asked to lead training on Staff Days in a number of different schools. I have worked with the whole staff on subjects such as pastoral care, Growth Mindset and leadership across the school – making the point that all teachers lead learning within their classrooms, so developing our leadership skills is relevant to all of us, not only those with leadership responsibility for colleagues. And I have worked with sub-groups of staff, such as Middle Leaders, specifically focussing on leadership at that level and how to ensure it is as effective as possible.
I recently read this piece in tes magazine, from Alex Quigley, on ‘How to make sure CPD days pull their weight in schools’. Alex points out that the research into the effectiveness of such training makes for sober reading – the findings suggest it may be of limited value. As Alex says, the research “should make us think harder about each and every training day, as well as our focus on professional development.”
I have sat in some poor staff training in my career. I very much hope I haven’t delivered poor staff training, though I recognise that if you lead a session for 80+ staff there is a strong possibility that what you attempt to do may well not work for all of those present. Considering Alex’s article and his advice to ‘think harder’ about how we use training days, and reflecting on my own experience over the years, I would suggest that it might be worth giving attention to the following:
- A staff training day needs to be the start of a conversation, not the end of it. I always hoped that when we organised staff training at the start of the autumn term, what was discussed among the staff on that day would resonate throughout the rest of the year. Ideally it would be remembered, debated, reflected upon and would have an impact on practice (teaching, or leadership) in the weeks and months that followed. When I lead staff training days myself, now, in my consultancy capacity, I talk to the senior leaders who invite me in about how they might follow up so that the staff deliberations and discussions on the day itself are built on and not forgotten.
- I would always suggest that whoever leads or presents makes the day as interactive as they can. I introduce material and ideas to consider, but I want those present to engage with the material and ideas: to reflect, to discuss, to compare and justify their views. I will give the staff prompt questions to consider individually, but I will also include paired and small group work so that they have the opportunity to think more deeply, to listen to the response of others and to go beyond their initial reaction to whatever issue we are exploring. I want them to take advantage of the fact that they are in the room with their colleagues – what can they learn from others’ opinions and experiences? How can they contribute to the learning of others? How can they support and challenge each other? I feel the same about routine meetings, and have written about this here: if we are in the same physical space as our colleagues, how can we make the most of that opportunity and benefit from others’ insights? Can we be a supportive network of professionals?
- I always include in the training some suggestions for further reading, and perhaps also recommended podcasts or videos, so that those who wish to delve more deeply into the subject have some resources to draw on, should they choose to do so.
- At the end of any training, I will give the chance for some structured reflection, asking questions such as:
Can you identify one (or more – depending on how long the session has been) thing you will do differently as a result of your reflections in this session?
Why have you chosen this and what impact do you hope it will have? When will you do it? How will you check on yourself that you have done it, and not forget it once the busy term starts and you’re tempted to retreat into ‘reactive’ mode?
Is there anything you will STOP doing, or do less of, to create the time/space to do the thing(s) you have identified?
If time allows, I will encourage them to talk to someone else about what they have chosen and why, and perhaps what support and encouragement they might need. Picking up the point made by Steve Munby in ‘Imperfect Leadership’, I agree that we are perhaps more likely to follow through on a commitment we have made to ourselves if we discuss it with someone else. I hope that, building on the ‘supportive network’ idea, this might encourage the staff to continue the dialogue in the future and to have further conversations about what progress may have been made.
I fully understand that the most useful professional development may be specific, bespoke, classroom- or practice-focussed, chosen and committed to by the member of staff concerned. I approve of schools which present a ‘menu’ of CPD options to the staff who make a choice (perhaps sometimes a guided choice) from the alternatives on offer. But I also see that there can be a benefit in having an external provider to give a perspective from beyond the specific organisation. And I definitely think there is value in the whole staff (teaching and support staff if possible, and leaders at all levels – including the head) coming together as a community to learn, reflect and discuss.
What do you think? Do share your own experience of Staff Days – the good, the bad and the ugly? – in the comments box below. Thanks, in anticipation.
Photo montage: John Berry