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Teacher CPD – Would you give up your weekend for it?

No one’s denying that weekends can be precious indeed – but every now and then, they can also be used to sharpen up your practice, observes Rachel Cliffe

Rachel Cliffe
by Rachel Cliffe
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“What are your plans for this weekend?” asked a colleague in the staffroom, one sunny Friday lunchtime – a standard conversation starter.

“Attending a Saturday History Teaching conference,” I replied.

“But … why?” they asked.

My garbled response centred on my enjoyment of the day, but the exchange prompted me to reflect on, and consider my participation in weekend CPD. Is it acceptable to give up a Saturday? Why do I find it so appealing?

To be clear, my reflections are from the perspective of a head of department, with a non-teaching husband, who doesn’t have to consider childcare or other conferences in my decisions. These are just my own ponderings.

Buzzing with ideas

Firstly, I’m very fortunate to be part of the history teaching community, which organises several high quality conferences that take place at weekends. One recent conference in July of 2022 led to me to starting a KS2 history curriculum conversation with our feeder primary schools – both to support the development of our curriculum intent, and to re-evaluate the lessons within our GCSE ‘Making of America’ unit.

After eight years in teaching, I’d left the conference feeling refreshed and buzzing with new ideas, new perspectives and knowledge of new techniques I wanted to try in my classroom practice.

And yet, these conferences could easily take place on a weekday. So why hold them at weekends? Factor in how the pandemic prompted a boom in online CPD opportunities across many subjects, why even visit a CPD event in person? Well, here are some reasons…

1. There’s no cover to set
I don’t have to plan how I’m going to get a non-specialist to teach a complex key concept, or find a documentary that can cover the right topic within an hour. It removes that extra workload of writing and setting cover.

2. No emails
With weekend workshops, there’s the reassurance of knowing there aren’t any emails or urgent issues that you need to be staying on top of. Once, while on a first aid course held during the week, I checked my inbox at lunchtime and saw I had 56 new emails. 56! I dealt with the most pressing ones in the break, but then found myself thinking about those remaining emails for the rest of the afternoon. Weekend conferences make it much easier to fully concentrate on the content of workshops and your practice.

3. Conversations with fellow teachers
Even when attending conferences on your own, there will always be someone to talk to and share anecdotes, ideas or resources with. Everyone’s there to learn and develop. The honest chats you’ll have with people from other parts of the country can be reassuring and supportive.

4. Making a trip of it!
Myself and my teaching best friend (shout-out to Shona!) once attended a Saturday conference, followed by dinner and drinks afterwards, and had a great day. Many weekend conferences will include an extra social element so that everyone can feel included. There’s often also the added bonus of getting to enjoy the sights of a new city, or re-connect with friends in areas you’ve not visited for a while.

A teacher’s choice

I’m privileged in that my school and trust are very supportive of staff wanting to attend professional development events, and will fund admission to weekend conferences. However, there’s never any pressure to attend, or feel as though you should go in order to ‘be a better teacher’.

That’s usually the point at which weekend CPD stops being impactful or effective. It should always be a teacher’s choice as to whether to attend, and the decision as to which workshops or sessions to join should rest with them too.

On reflection, if I’d had Bernard’s Watch (all teachers’ dream), and could pause time to think of a better response in that staffroom exchange, I’d have probably replied “Because I’m really excited about the sessions I’ll be attending, the fellow history teachers I’ll be speaking to, and the new ideas I’ll get for my classroom practice.”

Rachel Cliffe (@MrsRCliffe) is leader of history at The Morley Academy, Leeds

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