Part of my day job involves planning and delivering training sessions for the CPD programme at my school. I’ve devised and delivered many training sessions for other teachers in my career, but I’ve been thinking about just how useful such sessions are in facilitating teacher development.
The typical scenario at the schools I’ve worked at is like this: each month or so, the management organises a training session based on some perceived need: teaching skills and systems, or classroom management, for example. It could even be teacher-led, sharing ideas and best practices.
In my experience, reception to these sessions is fairly mixed. I’ve worked at three schools with three variations on remuneration, with three very different general attitudes to CPD. One school (in the U.K., with most staff on zero hours contracts) decided that the sessions would be paid, and that everyone was expected to attend. Uptake was high, and everyone appreciated the sessions. In Spain, attendance was mandatory by and large, and it was unpaid above and beyond the normal salary: generally meetings and training sessions were not looked forward to. Finally, the third school (also UK and zero hours for most) paid for some sessions but not others, and while attendance was preferred and appreciated by the management, it wasn’t pushed. The result was general apathy to development on the part of teachers who weren’t obliged to go.
It’s clearly a hard balance to strike. On the one hand, my boss in Spain excepected teachers to want to develop for themselves, without any extra incentive, and saw it as part of the duties of the teacher. This is an admirable sentiment. However, in the U.K., in an environment where teachers’ time is undervalued and over-exploited thanks to the ever-present pernicious zero-hours contract, teachers need to receive compensation.
But are training sessions actually developing teachers? There is an adage that teachers make poor students, and in many ways I feel that training sessions are a good example of this.
First, teachers need to turn up to see the benefit. The majority of training sessions I have taken part in (on either side of the fence) have been on Friday afternoon after classes have finished for the week. Teachers with travel plans can’t attend, and for many others the pub holds more appeal. Indeed, the school where CPD was viewed positively held sessions on a Thursday morning and again in the afternoon, with teachers attending based on their timetable.
Even if teachers are present, this doesn’t mean that they will take on board the message of the session. In his 1995 piece “Consequences of INSETT”, Martin Lamb illustrates how teachers’ reactions to a CPD session varied, but that the original purpose was distorted.
Briefly, teachers often rejected the ideas transmitted in the session as incompatible with their teaching style, or left the session confused as to the application. Others took the opportunity to re-label what they had already been doing and given themselves the illusion of development, when this was not the case at all. Still others assimilated the target techniques but lost the rationale totally. In short, this huge diffusion post-training session, outside of the control of the trainer, brings into question the validity of the sessions themselves.
The other important aspect to this debate is how to motivate teachers to take an interest in their own development. The diversity in the ELT profession can be a hugely positive thing, but it can lead to conflicts in development. There are young graduates who just want to teach to travel, to spend a few years away before going off into other walks of life. Development maybe isn’t high on their agendas. Then there are those who see ELT as a career and are keen to spend time self-reflecting, peer-observing and attending conferences. They can’t get enough of development. There are “lifers” who’ve been ploughing a furrow for maybe 5, 10, even 15 or 20 years without really moving beyond rank and file teaching. Development never really crosses their mind, they know what “works” and they have no wish to be told to change their old favourites by anybody.
This means that attempts at development can fall by the wayside, with management concentrating on developing a select few who are being groomed for senior teacher, ADOS and DOS positions, or teachers having to take their own opportunities to develop when they can.
So if the sessions don’t lead to much real change, and it’s hard to influence staff, what’s the point of holding sessions?
For me, training sessions are what keeps you ticking over, stops you stangnating and might actually spur you into action to develop yourself. To have any effect, they need to be combined with a full programme of observations, self-reflection and action research.
And at the end of the day, if teachers don’t want to develop, that’s their prerogative. The profession needs ordinary teachers just like it needs DOSes and senior management, conference speakers and the like.