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Professional education in isolation – why CPD as we know it will change

Demand for teacher CPD is higher than ever, but its content and how it’s accessed will become very different to what we’re used to, observes Adam Goodridge...

  • Professional education in isolation – why CPD as we know it will change

I can remember attending my first #BrewEd event at a venue in Birmingham in early 2019, and having no idea of what to expect.

I’d assumed this pub-based pedagogy micro-conference would be attended by more people than ended up being there, but I quickly realised that the event’s intimacy was actually one of its chief benefits, affording valuable opportunities for informal discussions with those presenting and other attendees like myself.

It really opened my eyes to just how many different forms of CPD are out there, and inspired me to set up a #BrewEd event in Solihull. Happily, I was able to bring together a top class group of people to present, and even stepped in to deliver a presentation myself after someone cancelled. I loved the whole process of hosting and presenting, and how it enabled me to exchange ideas with a wider group of education professionals. It genuinely helped me become a better teacher and leader, and I have every intention of hosting and presenting at more events in the future.

But then COVID-19 happened.

Steep learning curve

I’d actually been self-isolating for a couple of days before the decision was made to partially close the nation’s schools, due to my family circumstances. Since then, my job has involved a steep learning curve. In common with many other teachers across the country, I’ve been getting to grips with how our school’s remote learning should take place and what it ought to look like.

On the one hand, this has resulted in me learning a number of new skills across Microsoft Teams, and given me knowledge of how to conduct Zoom meetings. It’s been sobering to realise that however much experience we teachers have in the classroom, we’ve all essentially found ourselves reset back to the same level and rendered as virtual novices.

That aside, the CPD I’ve been doing has largely consisted of learning how to blend, do digraphs and trigraphs and teach basic adding to a 5-year-old, whilst at the same time looking after a 2-year-old and attempting to work from home. To be honest, it’s been really tough.

Something to share

When our family first went into self-isolation, one of my initial thoughts was that there were going to be lots of teachers staying at home, cut off from their school-led CPD, and therefore in a situation where they might actually have time to engage in more CPD, once their immediate task of setting up a remote learning system was complete. Having been in the middle of providing training to a group of trainee teachers myself shortly before lockdown, I began thinking about how I could remotely support them.

#IsolationED began life as something of a joke tweet I sent on that first day of being off, but I soon came to see how it could actually be a workable idea – a hashtag under which teachers could post links to videos and blogs they’d created, and continue sharing their knowledge with others in an open and approachable way, just like those #BrewEd events.

It’s my belief that everyone has something to share, which has been borne out by the things I’ve seen people tweet things out under #IsolationEd, such as training videos and livestreamed skills sessions. I’ve used it to highlight useful posts by high profile educators and raise greater awareness of the CPD that’s available, as well as a video I produced myself on retrieval practice.

My aim with #IsolationEd has ultimately been to ensure that teachers can continue to access CPD opportunities whilst at home, so that they can continue developing their practice – it’s certainly never been about attracting followers.

Connect and learn

Based on my recent exchanges with colleagues and professional acquaintances, it’s readily apparent that teachers are doing what they can across a range of very different circumstances. There are some, like myself, with young children who are already working flat out from home, for whom additional CPD activities will be virtually impossible. But then there are others in the position of being able to take ownership of their CPD and pursue what interests them. I know some colleagues who have successfully completed online mentoring and coaching courses via the Open University FutureLearn and Seneca, among others.

What’s been interesting to see is how far we’ve moved away from schools being the sole providers of teacher CPD. We teachers now have access to a range of professional development opportunities from commercial providers and grassroots initiatives, such as #BrewEd and #WomenEd, not to mention a plethora of affordable educational books. One thing I can easily see becoming a lasting legacy of the lockdown is much more CPD taking place at home.

Before coronavirus, it was usually the case that we’d have to physically attend weekend events in order to gain from CPD presentations. Perhaps what we can now expect to see is an increasing number of complementary or substitute online sessions, which would be ideal for teachers previously unable to attend weekend events because of travel complications or childcare.

I myself have taken part in a few organised CPD conversations via Zoom, alongside colleagues and staff at different schools. I’m not aware of any that took place among our circle before this (maybe I wasn’t invited?), and I sense we’re going to see more of them in future. Teachers still want to connect and learn, and there’s a real thirst for professional development out there – which can only be a good thing for the profession as a whole.

Supercharged flipped learning

Finally, it’s worth noting that it’s not just teachers who have had to rapidly train themselves in how to use online learning; so have our students.

Of course, this won’t sound new to those familiar with flipped learning, where students learn new content at home and bring that knowledge into future lessons, but there’s an important difference. We’re going to see teachers across the country start to realise the true potential of home learning to support lessons delivered at school and creating rich, entirely new learning experiences as a result.

Via the sharing of good practice and constructive dialogue between different teams, we could see moves towards a kind of ‘supercharged flipped learning culture’, and the use of CPD to explore how that might be utilised to the full.

Priority areas

Schools are going to have to confront a whole host of CPD issues and challenges as and when they go back. My prediction is that staff development before then, and during those first few weeks will need to focus on:

Managing classrooms
Social distancing in classrooms will be a particular concern – what should we do in order to observe best practice, and what impact will that have on how we teach?

Success stories
Having had to establish new systems of remote learning, what professional achievements can we and our colleagues look back on and learn from? What newly acquired skills should we be recognising and attempting to build on?

Emotional support
There will be an urgent need for teachers to support both students and their fellow colleagues with managing a range of emotional changes and challenges

Social awareness
Students’ return to school will see them having to readjust to being back in a social environment. How can we identify those students who might struggling, and what support should we be able to provide them with?

Teachers due to start in September won’t have been able to complete their full training, and the 2019/20 NQT cohort will have only completed roughly two thirds of arguably the most important year in their careers. How can we make up for the experience and knowledge that will have been lost?

Adam Goodridge is a maths teacher and director of numeracy and stretch and challenge at Park Hall Academy; for more information, follow @EdIsolation

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