Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Do teachers still need to learn?

I became a teacher when I was 20 years old. Fully qualified and with my newly printed 'Trained Teachers Certificate', gained after three years of intense, full time study, I entered my own classroom and so my learning journey really began!

I am not only a very different person to what I was all those years ago, but I am also a very different educator. The world has changed, ideas about how education should be has evolved and new concepts such as 'global citizenship' has taken root and become at the forefront of our strategic vision of what a well rounded education offers. Great! It should be changed and it should be different!

None of these changes happen by chance. The shift in my thinking has been caused by exposure to different schools of thought, different opinions and often, as a result of my personal reflection on the gaps in either my pedagogical or curriculum knowledge, which then cause me to seek out answers.

I have met teachers who believe that once they have qualified, that was it, their learning was done, no need for any professional development. Eek! Scary thought that such a narrow minded view is in front of a classroom of students, many of whom model their own thinking patterns on the adult authority they see everyday. No, Continued Professional Development (CPD) is a vital part of the life of all educators and it is a process that is never complete while you are in the profession. 

So how do we at Bradbury meet this need? Each year, a pedagogical and two or three curriculum foci are identified. This may be through a variety of means- standardised test results may indicate an aspect of the curriculum that needs attention - next year for us, this is mathematical literacy. It may be through a growing awareness of a groundswell area in education that deserves attention, such as our staff identified need to focus on student well being next year. It may be as a result of some development that has already happened but needs further attention- our focus on differentiation, for example, which we looked at this year and will be continued next academic year. 

We then look at how we can meet these needs. In ESF, we have five contractual CPD days, which are added to the calendar, so that teachers are working 190 days, while school is open for the required 185 days for our students. In this way, we have the time built into our calendar for in depth PD without compromising student learning. Some of these days are whole ESF days, some are school based. Often, I will look at getting in an expert in a particular field to work alongside our staff to develop their 
understanding and most importantly, support them as they apply the new ideas into their classroom.

Teachers are also able to elect to attend specific courses that occur during the year that are relevant either to our school foci or to previously identified areas of personal development. Our staff meetings are PD focussed, as opposed to being administration meetings and our teams work closely in collaboration with each other - after all, some of the most powerful learning opportunities may be occurring the room next door.

Personally, I think teacher PD is one of the most effective ways of ensuring high academic standards, innovative practice and inspirational teaching. I have always said that a great teacher can teach with only a brown paper bag for a resource and the students will learn, but it is never the other way around, a poor teacher will still not be effective even  in a resource rich school.

So we put a lot of time, effort and finances into continually upskilling our staff. To me,it is one of the best investments I can make. Oh yes, I try to lead my example...I have just been accepted onto a PhD programme, so I'll be learning for quite a few years yet!

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