Graham Newell asks whether traditional CPD, without technology, can ever transform practice
The emergence of cloud-based technology and the growth of online tools has revolutionised the way people access and share knowledge, ideas and resources across all professions and spheres of life. Can it also help to revolutionise the professional development of teachers?
Many of us have been both on the receiving end and the delivery side of traditional professional development for many years, so does there even need to be a revolution?
Ten years ago I was ‘team teaching’ an MA with a wise colleague. At the end of the course, as we sat in the pub to celebrate, she asked the killer question to one of the participants, “Glad you enjoyed the course, great it will help you to get a new job but, in all honesty, has it changed the way you teach?” There was a long discussion and we agreed that many new ideas had been taken on board but actual practice had remained broadly the same. This is an obvious simplification of a complex area but much of the research does suggest that traditional CPD is effective at transmitting new concepts but not embedding new practice in schools.
This has been reinforced in a number of research studies, including a snapshot survey by CURREE (Evaluation of CPD Providers in England, 2011), which suggested that traditional CPD has little or no effect on embedding or transforming teaching.
So, the question: can technology help to revolutionise CPD so that it becomes more meaningful and help embed new practice that has improved outcomes for pupils?
Maybe, it’s worth exploring what makes good CPD.
As educators we are all supposedly experts at pedagogy and this helps to shape the way we teach children but are we any good at andragogy – adult learning? Do we shape adult learning opportunities with the same care that we shape children’s learning opportunities?
For me, traditional CPD often fails because it misses some of the key features of effective adult learning:
• Experience-based learning
• Self-review and reflection
• Coaching and mentoring
• Building communities of practice
• Collaborative learning
• Research and action research.
The key interactions can be summarised, rather simplistically, in the following diagram, which suggests all of us join the profession as ‘fair’ and some develop to be ‘outstanding’:
Diagram goes here
Underpinning this model is the idea that professional learning needs to be embedded as both an ongoing process throughout a teacher’s career and within the ‘warp and weft’, the rhythm, of school life. The aim must be to create schools that are genuine learning communities and develop teaching as a knowledge-creating profession.
Without the effective use of appropriate technology, these interactions can be expensive and hard to replicate but by fusing mobile cameras with a secure web community, they can be achieved in a cost-effective and efficient manner.
With the most advanced video systems, this can include remote in-ear coaching. Staff can reflect on their own practice in privacy or share with a colleague. They can focus the observation not only on the teaching but also on the responses and see the impact on pupils. It can enable truly effective and iterative coaching styles, where the coach and the coached can work together to reflect on a lesson without disrupting the lesson. Again, with the most advanced cloud-based systems, teachers can establish communities of practice both within and across a range of schools where teachers can collaborate within their own trusted communities.
The importance of CPD as an ongoing process was one of the key themes emphasised at the recent ‘Shaping the Future of CPD’ conference. Ken Brechin described how, at Cramlington Learning Village, they started with an NQT programme, then NQT +1 and now Learning Pathways, which encompasses NQT to NPQH. He suggested that "at whatever stage you are at you have to review your practice to ensure impact on learners". Alex Quigley reinforced this by describing how he and headteacher John Tomsett regularly used video to refine and develop their own teaching skills.
At the conference many schools talked about the transformative power of technology and how they have harnessed it to maximise the potential of the school as learning environment for teachers.
There were many genuinely inspirational stories of how schools have grasped technology to enhance and develop a sustainable professional learning culture and how this, in turn, has created genuine communities of practice based on collaboration within and across schools.
Alan Yellup, CEO of the Wakefield Academy Trust, talked of video as being a "wonderfully flexible tool" that enabled unobtrusive and non-threatening observation, which was key to effective coaching. He also showed how the building of a bank of resources could help develop a common language around what "outstanding" can look like in the context of the school, rather than simply using threatening Ofsted judgements and criteria.
Interestingly, given concerns about privacy, Alan noted that if used sensitively, the use of appropriate video systems can bring ‘dignity’ back to observation. The power of technology can also be used beyond the individual school to develop collaboration between whole communities.
Mandy Lacy, principal at Oak Hill Academy, noted how self-reflection, peer coaching and in-ear coaching had helped move teaching to 100 per cent "good" or "better", with a consequent and measurable impact on pupil outcomes. She noted how, before adopting the IRIS Connect system, the school had spent many thousands of pounds on external experts and training courses with minimal impact.
The theme of impact and value for money was expanded on by Malcolm Drakes. Broadford Academy had moved from "special measures" to "outstanding" in less than two years. This incredible journey followed years of spending thousands of pounds on using traditional methods with little impact. Malcolm levered the power of video to enable meaningful collaboration, self-reflection and coaching. So, why not just get on and use technology?
Another theme that emerged during the conference was the importance of trust. The weight of the accountability framework can create both suspicion and reluctance to use technology such as video in the classroom. The fear of being judged and monitored is understandable. IRIS Connect has addressed this issue by placing the individual teacher at the heart of the process and combining this with industry-leading security around the videos themselves.
Placing the teacher at the heart of the system has meant:
• Only using mobile camera systems
• Providing each teacher with a library and when a video is made, it only goes into the library of the teacher who has been observed
• Ensuring that the teacher who has been observed is the only person who can share and withdraw a video from the library of others
• Ensuring that there are no administrative over-rides that allow the SLT to view the videos unless expressly shared with them.
But even more has been needed and we have developed a two-pronged approach covering both the adoption of new technology and developing approaches designed to help remove the ‘fear factor’.
First, we know that technology in itself can be daunting for many teachers. We have developed a Teaching is Learning programme, which is available to all schools free of charge. This programme is based on a ‘Concerns Based Adoption Model’, where one of our consultants works with the school to identify a core group of staff to use the system to explore a particular issue. This is used as the launch pad for greater involvement of all staff. Since the Teaching is Learning programme was launched, the numbers actually using the system have soared.
Second, we have a clear protocol on the use of the system, which is expressed both in the user agreement (EULA) and in a simple protocol document which we recommend that all schools use. It is essential that there is no confusion between observation as part of the accountability framework and using video to empower teachers to control of their own CPD.
As Sir Tim Brighouse said in his keynote speech:“Teachers need four things that should be at the absolute heart of our CPD. First, they need responsibility. Second, they need to work in an atmosphere of permitting circumstances … Third they need new experiences …. Fourth, they need respect.
I think we’re moving into a period where, using technology, all those four things are more possible than they’ve ever been before.”
Graham Newell is director of Iris Connect