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Inset day – How to ensure everyone leaves feeling happy

School staff chatting to each other, representing an inset day

Everyone has an INSET regret, whether on the delivery or receiving end, says Charlotte Lander – so here’s how to make yours count every time

Charlotte Lander
by Charlotte Lander
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It’s the start of a new year. Christmas is a distant memory. You find yourself sitting in a cold hall alongside your colleagues, mentally preparing for the term ahead – or rather, January. For many, this is the image that comes to mind when thinking about an inset day.

Naturally, they will vary in structure, since leadership teams have the flexibility to plan and utilise the time in line with the whole school improvement plan. But at their core, inset days serve as an opportunity to bring staff together – to reflect, reset and regroup.

Inset days will most often fall at the beginning or end of a term. You’ll normally plan them with a clear CPD structure, bespoke training and departmental time in mind. On paper, these days should purposeful and strategically effective – but how can schools ascertain what impact they’ve actually had?

What, how and why

When planning an inset day, it’s important to be clear on the knowledge you want staff to leave with, and how you intend to deliver this in the most effective way possible.

The goal should be to transform abstract ideas into concrete steps. This is at the same time as equipping staff with the tools needed to implement those ideas in practice.

This might involve mandatory training, bespoke CPD, a whole staff meeting to reiterate the expectations of the wider school improvement plan, departmental scheme of work planning time and more besides. But how can we ensure that staff leave at the end of the day with a sense of accomplishment?

It can be all too easy to pack the day jam full of training and activities. After all, you’re driven by a desire to utilise every spare second of this precious day you have without students.

Yet this can leave staff feeling overwhelmed and overloaded with information. This is something that we, as educators, generally try to be mindful of when it’s our students sitting in front of us.

It’s important to distinguish between information that you should deliver face-to-face and details that you can distribute to staff afterwards via email. Effective inset days will have had as much thought put into their content as their delivery.

Staff buy-in

The last thing any school wants is their staff heading home after an inset feeling exhausted by the sheer volume of information you’ve required them to process. Instead, we want staff to leave feeling motivated, appreciated and – most importantly – valued.

Your inset days can be like that. After all, staff are a school’s most powerful asset, which means investing in their development is key.

Leadership could, for instance, distribute an anonymous survey to all staff ahead of the next inset day to gather insights into where staff feel those development priorities are. This might be wider school initiatives, action on behaviour or inclusion, or anything else.

“We want staff to leave feeling motivated, appreciated and – most importantly – valued”

This will not only demonstrate to staff how important their development is to you, but also draw attention to any potential blindspots in your existing staff development. It will give you the chance to tailor your inset (and broader CPD activity) so that it addresses areas which may not have previously been visible on your radar.

Finally, staff surveys can help ward off the spread of an ‘us and them’ mentality. Giving staff some input into the planning and organisation of inset days gives them the chance to share potentially valuable suggestions and solutions. These may go on to benefit the greater good.

Teacher toolbags

It’s worth remembering that successive inset days can be more valuable when they take a slightly different approach. Some schools might opt for getting an external speaker to deliver bespoke CPD. They utilise the speaker’s ability to (hopefully) provide worthwhile insight and perspective into teaching and learning in a wider sense.

This can sometimes open our eyes to the successes other schools have had with implementing certain strategies. It may prompt you to re-evaluate the effectiveness of what you’re doing.

Another approach many schools use is to organise a carousel of teaching and learning workshops. Here, several teachers plan, lead and deliver training with a specific focus. Planning your insets in sequence like this will create ideal opportunities for reviewing their subsequent impact.

Otherwise, an inset day can easily end up being tokenistic. If staff are inspired with fresh ideas, but not given any time to actually plan how those ideas could be rolled out, don’t be surprised when those ideas end up being forgotten.

To ensure the day builds further on staff’s existing confidence and skill set, everyone must get to benefit from what’s actually being offered. Insets provide rare opportunities for all staff to collaborate across different curriculum areas and multiple roles. Installing a shared goal, and giving staff autonomy over its implementation, can help to build a culture of collaborative investment.

When teachers are offered opportunities to work together and share ideas, we can soon find ourselves utilising various talents that have previously gone unnoticed.

Setting up a shared ‘teacher toolbag’ folder, for instance – where staff with varying levels of experience can share approaches they’ve successfully used in the classroom – will give other teachers a means of trialling and then possibly adopting those new strategies themselves.

Learning from learners

Inset days can often be led via a top-down approach that sees SLT delivering CPD, or simply talking through policies and key information.

Yet many schools are increasingly opting to have staff play a more central role. They might expose ECTs to recent research and ground their training in evidence-based T&L strategies, for example.

Indeed, our ECTs can be some of the most reflective practitioners of all. This is because they’ve recently been taught to continuously evaluate their skills so that they learn and grow as an educator.

You could even argue that ECTs are well-suited to the task of delivering CPD. This would give them an early and valuable experience of contributing to the success of the wider school.

If we were to follow this idea through, we could have ECTs (with support from their mentors) deliver a short CPD session in which they share one or more strategies they’re currently using, and their reflections on how it’s been working out so far.

CPD communities

Another approach favoured by many schools is to establish small groups of staff working across different departments and roles that form ‘CPD communities’. The aim here is to regularly share best practice.

When schools learn to recognise hitherto unseen staff talents in their midst, and come to understand how those talents might be best utilised, it can have a transformative impact on the value of their inset.

That said, there are no ‘one-size fits all’ solutions. Not every approach will succeed for everyone. There are appreciable differences between the activities taking place in more practical and more academic subjects. There are also big distinctions between what works at KS3 and what’s going to help at KS4.

The needs of school staff are diverse. That’s why the key aim of any good inset day should be to offer something for everyone.

Charlotte Lander is a teacher of English and psychology, and specialist in Talk for Learning.

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