Saturday, September 22, 2012

The ten commandments of CPD

Ah, in-services and CPD sessions. How we love them. So if you've recently agreed to offer a bit of training for your colleagues, then trust me, what you need is our very own free cut-out-and-keep guide to providing high-quality CPD and getting out alive. Sitting comfortably? OK, read on, to learn our top ten - in reverse order, of course...

10: Stick to time
Our time is precious - if we gave you a half hour slot, then that is your lot, and for good reason. If you are really incapable of speaking to a specified length of time. then you're not much of a teacher. Are you stunned when bells ring in your own school? Haven't you learned to tell the time? If you're not capable of self-editing then we really, really don't want to know.

9: If you're not an expert, then feck off
If you begin your talk with "Now I'm not here to tell you anything you don't already know", then don't be surprised to hear me get up, head to the door and say "In that case I have some marking to do." We've come here to hear what you have to say, so you bloomin' well should have something to tell us. And get on with it. We're busy people. Don't try to win us over by reassuring us that you'll be finishing 15 minutes early so we can have cake. All that will happen is we'll have the cake, but still think you're  useless.

8: Stop showing us facile diagrams
Ooh, I've got three things all to do with one other thing. Ooh, look, I can arrange them in a triangle, with arrows. Ooh look, I have the mental age of three...

Look, we can cope with the idea of there being three things, and them being interlinked - though probably what you're talking about is cobblers anyway, and the link is about as strong as my claim to be the fifth cousin once removed of Len Goodman off Strictly Come Dancing (true) - so just because you're excited by the idea of three vertices making a triangle, don't expect us to be. Stop it. Walk away from the powerpoint.

7: Don't give us sheets of A2 paper and ask us to "brainstorm"
That's not why we're here. See 9 above - you're the expert, so get on with it. And please, if you must fill time by getting us to brainstorm (or mindfart, or whatever you want to call it), please don't get us to proudly pin all our bits of paper round the room, and then tell us not to worry, and promise that you'll get all the contents written up, and email them to us later. Why the hell would you do that? What if the actual content of some of the bits of paper are, to put it mildly, pish? Let's face it, the chances are the Science department haven't written anything and have just drawn a willy instead - are you going to copy that as well? Yeesh.

6: Be prepared to cite your sources
If you're really going to tell me that kids learn better when they are in groups, or flashmobs, or dressed as pirates, then you had damn well better have the details of your research ready. I'm fed up with people saying "research shows that in Finland every child has three bums", and then drawing a blank when I ask for the source for the research. And just so we're clear: The Daily Mail is not a research journal, Feng Shui is not a science, and the plural of "anecdote" is damn well not data.

There you go, I gave you those for free.

5: Don't try to sell us a quick fix

Education is a tricky business, and we teachers have learned the hard way that snake oil is useless, unless you happen to need some snake oil. Trust me, you haven't revolutionised teaching, even if you think you have. There is nothing really new under the sun, though you might have some nice packaging and a snappy acronym. And if you really think EVERY lesson should be a four-part lesson, then please leave us so we can carry on working in the real world. You're clearly as happy as hell in yours, but we have a job to do, and we don't drive Porsches either. Odd that.

4: Stop mentioning the 21st Century
Look, I hate to break it to you, but the 21st Century is here. It's arrived. We're over one tenth of the way through it. Going on about  "21st Century learners" is like going on about 21st Century air. It's here, it's happened. Stop saying this like it's something new, or like something astonishing happened. We added one to 1999 and it became 2000. That's it. Nothing new here.

I mean, for goodness' sake, Bill Clinton was going on about "building a bridge to the 21st century" back in 1996, and it was embarassing enough then. When are you going to drop this - in 2051, once we're past the half-way mark?

3: Let your nouns be nouns
We are teachers. We have a duty to uphold the highest standards, and that includes in our use of language. So leave those nouns alone, and adjust your use of jargon accordingly. Turning a noun into a verb doesn't impress us. So don't tell us that we need to "evidence pupils' learning", or "calendar an assessment". At the very least, do your best to un-asshole. That's all we ask.

And while we're on the subject: leave your acronyms and buzzwords and jargon at home. For example, if anyone has ever learned anything, then trust me, they didn't do so inactively, or passively. Ergo, "active" learning is a tautology. So give it a rest.

2: Don't just read out your slides
Is that all you've got? Seriously? You come all the way to our school, set up your whizzy powerpoint, and then just read the whole thing out? Why not just email the slides to us and stay home? In fact, why not let us stay at home as well? Oh, and for the record: 12 point Times font can NEVER, EVER be read "at the back", so don't even bother asking. The only reason we're not complaining is that we're already asleep.

1: Give us some nuance and some intelligence
Given that there are no quick fixes, then for heaven's sake let's show a bit of intelligence. Let's be open to debate, and acknowledge the difficult job we all have. Stop pretending that things like WALT and WILF and Learning Intentions imbue teachers with superpowers and magic wands when they are simply one possible way of trying to do the job a bit better, and when even the "creators" of such ideas have expressed reservations about their universal, uncritical use. Talk reasonably and sensibly and show us that you do possess a brain of your own. Do that, and we might begin to believe that we're on the same side.

There you go. I'm more than happy to hear other suggestions, but I reckon these aren't bad rules to live by. Good luck with those evaluation sheets!

1 comment:

  1. Whilst I agree with your criticisms of some of the worst crimes against humanity inflicted during CPD, on a few points I'm concerned that you are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    CPD isn't just about the acquisition of new knowledge from experts. Just as valuable sometimes is reflection on existing knowledge in order to share it, consolidate it, reorganise it and apply it more widely.

    Point 10: Agreed

    Point 9: Telling people something they already know is always crap. However, you don't need to be an expert (other than expertise in facilitation) to help people to engage in beneficial reflection. Adding some knowledge that does not already exist in the group can, of course, be beneficial, but it is often more beneficial if it can be strongly linked to existing knowledge.

    Point 8: Providing simple frameworks to help people more easily structure and remember complex knowledge can be useful as long as one acknowledges the flaws and limitations of any model. 'It's only a model'

    Point 7: OK, too much ill-thought-out emphasis on using flipchart paper and typing up responses is a sign of a poor trainer. However, good trainers will also use these techniques, when appropriate, to enable explicit knowledge sharing and the collaborative reorganisation of existing knowledge into new frameworks.

    Points 6,5 & 4: Agreed

    Point 3: This depends whether you have a static or evolutionary view of language. Neologisms are always uncomfortable until familiarity breeds acceptance. In English, we've been verbing nouns for centuries. If you don't like it then you must reject Shakespeare and most other great writers who indulged in the creation of new verbs this way. Caution, self-awareness and a hint of irony can make this practice more acceptable.

    Points 2 & 1: Complete and utter agreement