How often have you sat through a PD or INSET session thinking, “this is all very interesting, but what does it mean for me, where do I go next?”
Teacher training can all too frequently present concepts and ideas which can then be challenging to translate into action in the classroom. Exciting new developments can find themselves gathering dust in the furthest reaches of the staffroom.
This is equally true for new pedagogical approaches, an assessment strategy, or a new IT initiative. It's one thing to know how something works, but it is far more important to know why it will work for me, in my subject, with my students.
Context is everything here. Don’t just talk about independent learning, but show how managing homework and tracking progress can help foster and stimulate this in students. If you’re going to look at challenging Gifted and Talented students, then show teachers how to create and share ideas and resources to support this. I am not suggesting that teachers should have their every action prescribed for them, but it can be useful to outline some possible next steps to get them started.
It is also important to inspire teachers. Concrete examples and success stories can go a long way to showing teachers the benefits of a new strategy, as well as filling them with the enthusiasm to forge ahead.
So how do we go about achieving this?
Crucially, we need to use language and examples that teachers will understand, rather than talking about facilitating communications, show teachers how to manage homework online and send messages to classes and parents. Teachers are more likely to adopt something if they can visualise how it will fit into their current work practices and, even more importantly work efficiently for them.
It is also important to share examples in action. One of the great opportunities in any PD or INSET is sharing best practice. Teachers learn best from each other and can feel more confident if a new strategy appears to be tried and tested.
Finally, consider your audience. Teachers are more likely to engage if there is an obvious relevance to their students, i.e. if you're in the UK don’t start talking about GCSE and A Level revision if you’re working with Key Stage 2 teachers. Nothing alienates a group of teachers more than not understanding their particular needs, and they can be very different at each stage in education. We need to talk to the teachers, not talk to the script!
If PD or INSET is to be useful in schools, then it needs to be practical for teachers. It is fine to introduce concepts such as Growth Mindset or Flipped Learning, but these must be supported by strategies for their implementation if they are to stand any chance of making a positive impact in the busy, day to day environment of a school.
Teaching is an activity not just a concept and to get the very best out of PD or INSET we need to show teachers how to implement ideas in a practical way.