Leading training is one of the best ways of developing your own practice.
I remember the first time I contributed to a whole school training session. It was several years ago and the subject was literacy across the curriculum. I was given 10 minutes to show a literacy booklet we were using in English. Who knows what I said because it was the most difficult thing I had ever had to do and I expect it was a bit dull. I would love to say that my booklet had a profound impact on the practice in the school. But it didn’t. In fact, we stopped using it in English shortly afterwards. However, I do remember a colleague who came up to me afterwards and thanked me as they were going to take some of the ideas into their department.
A year or two later, I was working in our team of ‘advanced skills practitioners’. I was allocated ‘written feedback’ as my topic to teach on an AFL carousel training session. I introduced to staff the concept of comments only feedback and the session was received well. Consequently, I was considered a bit of an expert on written feedback and this led me to do lots of work with colleagues around feedback. I learned as much from them as they did from me. Over the last few years, I have delivered regular training sessions on written feedback to our NQTs and to other staff when appropriate. Each time I set out to improve on the previous session and each time I find more useful ideas to share. I have also delivered many, many more on a range of topics in a range of contexts.
What I have learnt from this is that leading a training session is actually the best CPD for the person delivering the session. In order to stand in a position of expertise, you have to make sure that your practice is carefully honed and that you are ready to respond to questions (from the enthusiasts and the cynics!). I am fortunate that training teachers is part of my job but even if it is not part of yours, there are so many ways to get involved in delivering training. Lead an item in your department meeting, go to a Teachmeet, write a blog, Tweet. Or just go to the headteacher and ask to lead a training session.
Here are my thoughts on delivering training sessions and how they help my own practice:
Start with why (back to this old chestnut again!)
Often, the need to cover something whole-school comes from Ofsted or our own evidence base of learning walks, observations and teacher feedback. This may be the start, but for a session to be truly meaningful there needs to be a real reason why something is important. Therefore every session needs to have a focus on how the ‘thing’ benefits learning. It isn’t okay to say ‘Ofsted want to see good displays’ but it is okay to say ‘These are the reasons why high quality displays can improve learning in your classroom…and Ofsted will be pretty impressed with them for those reasons.’ If I am not convinced that there is any point, then surely there is a better way of spending our precious time. Sometimes preparing this part draws my own practice fully into focus. For example, classroom displays were pretty low on my agenda until I was asked to deliver training on them in my department. Now I am utterly convinced of the value of a good display.
Show, don’t tell
Wherever possible, bring real world examples into the session of teachers doing what you are talking about and students benefitting from it. Don’t make this about imaginary students. This helps to eliminate the ‘it won’t work with our kids’ nonsense that you sometimes hear. In my session last week, I used an example from a student’s book of him acting on feedback. Instead of talking about an ideal pupil, we were talking about a student we all knew. It wasn’t a perfect example either. He had acted on one target but not attempted the other. This was actually more helpful in the training session than a perfect example. (His was the fifth book I had looked at from my class and the first few had not acted on their targets at all. ) This really helped me to look at how I monitor that students are acting in their targets. Also, if I can’t find any examples which are good enough in my own work then I have to question whether the strategy I am about to share is actually worthwhile.
Give teachers time to talk
I may be an experienced teacher, but there are always people in the room who know more about any given topic than I do. There are NQTs who learnt something fantastic in their placement school. There are teaching assistants who saw a Maths teacher use something that they think the English teachers could use. I think it is really important to give time to teachers to reflect and share as I know that I learn loads from these chances to chat in training sessions. Whether this is simply ‘5 minutes to talk about it’ or an activity like a diamond 9, these are the parts of the training that can sometimes offer up the most powerful ideas. In a school where learning conversations like this are the norm, everyone learns from each other. While I may not benefit from each conversation in the room then and there, you can bet that the best ideas will become ‘viral’.
Plan follow ups
If you leave the topic there, then some teachers will use the ideas but many won’t. Teachers still have to find time to build things into their practice and to change habits. One training session won’t always do it. Have time in the session to plan the follow ups and allow time in further training sessions to build on what has already been achieved. As the leader of a session, the follow up is twofold. One is in giving support to help others develop their practice and the other is in applying all the new ideas discovered in preparing/ leading the session. It is often the case that the more I find out about a topic, the more I realise that I have miles to go before I get it right. So the follow up is as much about looking at your own practice as everybody else’s.
If you are leading training, you really need some feedback on it. Obviously, the monitoring and evaluation will allow you to see the impact over time butit is always worth seeking feedback on the sessions themselves. Sometimes, I will just ask a trusted colleague who tells it like it is. Other times, I will ask for more formal feedback. Getting this feedback can be tough when it isn’t positive but if that helps you improve, why wouldn’t you want the feedback? In response to comments made by NQTs in their written feedback training, we adapted our whole school training on the same subject later in the year. Someone told me bluntly once that one of my training sessions was pretty much just me reading a PowerPoint out loud and she could have read it in 5 minutes. Ouch! But I won’t make that mistake again.