Traditional models of CPD have not always had a good track record. Discrete, short courses can be very useful and certainly have a place but, as Michael Fullan noted a while ago, “Nothing has promised so much and has been so frustratingly wasteful as thousands of workshops and conferences that led to no significant change in practice when teachers returned to the classrooms. 1 ” Such courses are often short-term, off-site, non-collaborative and expensive. A school-centred approach can bring many benefits and one of these is the potential for a more sustainable, learner-focused, collegiate and reflective approach to professional development.
Because the focus shifts from external to internal expertise, there are other potential benefits too. For example a school-centred approach may give opportunities for coaching models to develop or for the school to develop as a genuine learning community for all staff. There are potential downsides to this too though. A one-school focus may be too insular. The rigour of external scrutiny and the opportunity to learn from the experience of others may be missing. However, when schools and academies collaborate in shared professional development these disadvantages are minimised and there is the real possibility that the benefits of school-centred CPD may even be extended. For example, shared CPD can enable all staff to access development opportunities through a wider professional learning community than is normally available within a single school. In developing responses to new curriculum, for example, the expertise of one school can be shared across the trust or partnership. Inter-school professional development may also help to increase career progression opportunities within the trust or alliance. For example, skilled middle and senior leaders have the opportunity to use their expertise to support other schools in improving their practice.
To achieve this level of collaboration requires the creation of a shared identity while at the same time retaining the distinctive nature and individuality of each school. Building the necessary level of trust, confidence, trust and capacity is not easily achieved. Face-to-face meetings are probably essential in the early stages of collaboration but, in all likelihood, unsustainable in terms of time and cost. One of the glues that can help to bind this collaboration together in a more sustainable way is technology. ICT provides the means to communicate, to share and to record in a way that is now easier and cheaper than ever.
The last few years has seen a considerable growth in the use of social media for professional development. Many teachers now have a personal Twitter account and use this actively to develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN) to share ideas, questions and resources. This model of use can easily be extended across a partnership using Twitter or can even be formalised using specific business social media tools such as Yammer. Used by around 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies and hundreds of thousands of businesses worldwide, it’s provided free as part of Microsoft’s education version of Office 365.
The schools that make up a trust or alliance may well have disparate ICT systems, this does not need be a barrier to communication and collaboration. Free, secure and educationally appropriate services such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for Education can sit alongside other systems to provide the means for staff to network and share. Services such as RM Unify, provide the means for teachers to access many resources simply and easily using a single sign-on of just one user name and one password. Such tools can help the partnership to develop shared libraries of resources. For instance, it’s now very easy to develop a shared library of good practice containing videos of highly skilled classroom practitioners through the use of free apps such as VEO 2 that enable effective teaching and learning in the classroom to be recorded and tagged.
Finally, I’d like here to return once again to Michael Fullan who, I believe, sums up the case for collaboration beautifully: “The power of collective capacity is that it enables ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things—for two reasons. One is that knowledge about effective practice becomes more widely available and accessible on a daily basis. The second reason is more powerful still—working together generates commitment. Moral purpose, when it stares you in the face through students and your peers working together to make lives and society better, is palpable, indeed virtually irresistible. The collective motivational well seems bottomless. The speed of effective change increases exponentially. Collective capacity, quite simply gets more and deeper things done in shorter periods of time.3
- Michael Fullan, The New Meaning Of Educational Change
- Video Enhanced Observation, by Newcastle University https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/veo-video-enhanced-observation/id879990335?mt=8
- Michael Fullan, All Systems Go: The Change Imperative for Whole System Reform
First published November 2015 at RM Education