I Hate Training Days

You probably have training days in some form or another, if you are a teacher, and you probably spend several days of your academic year student free and attending various workshops and presentations about one thing or another. Now, let’s be perfectly honest, in your life, how many of these have genuinely stuck with you? How many of the workshops have been so strikingly informative that you can measure their impact in your day to day practice?

I am, of course, being deliberately provocative here, and definitely link baiting with the title of this post. After all, there has almost certainly been impact from your training events, and there has almost certainly been stuff, useful stuff, which has stuck with you. But I bet there’s of corporate PowerPoint presentations and workshops involving flip chart paper and post it notes.

Mea culpa. I have run these workshops. I have made PowerPoint presentations. I have given you post it notes. I have made you brainstorm ideas on flip chart sheets (and incidentally there is nothing wrong with the term brainstorm, so can we stop calling it “ideas storming” because that’s just a rubbish word). I have even, on one occasion, been left in charge of a half day session for some 40+ people, and I made such an excruciating balls up that I still wake up at night in a cold sweat. Despite this, however, I will probably continue to run workshops and deliver training events in some capacity for some time to come.

Generally, the process for setting up these events is in response to some external or top down driver: internal quality processes identify a gap, and the training day aims to fill that gap. I think there is a need for this kind of thing, and for procedural training and standardisation activities. After all, we need to know how to manage certain processes, and in the nicest possible way, very few individuals would actively go “ooh, I need to go off and learn about equality and diversity” without at least a little prompting. And yes I know you don’t need to do all that stuff, because you never do, but someone probably does.

This is always going to be part of the problem: “it doesn’t apply to me”. Anything based on generalised cross college data is never going to quite fit some people’s needs. But I’ll tell you what: having experienced giving teachers a choice in what they want to have at a staff training day, teachers can be pretty rubbish as well. In some corners of the FE world there exist people who, when confronted with the question “what do you want on training day?” would reply “I don’t know, you tell me.” before then going on to complain that the event didn’t meet their needs.

So here is my answer. It’s quite long, so you may want to pop off and get a cup of tea.

Got one? OK.

Let’s say that you have four days as standard across the whole institution dedicated to staff development days. One of those days is to be divided into two half days, and dedicated to procedural/systems training. This is as a norm. Make it five, if you like, with two days for procedural stuff. Just leave me with three. Two days and a half day if you must.

These three are divided as follows.

Day one, near the start of the year. Every teacher has to devise and submit a proposal for something they wish to research in their own practice. They are given a whole summer of notice for this, so they can think about it well in advance. They can come to the day with an idea, or they can be inspired on the day, but by the close of play, everyone has a reasonably good research question and a number of things to do to explore this. This should, being focussed on classroom practice, involve some sort of peer observation and support group. The support group is there to provide more research based support as much as peer observation, and to make a space for discussion and negotiation of the research aim.

Day two: sometime around January. It’s cold and dark so let’s have some nice warming cakes and mulled wine/hot chocolate at the meeting. By now, various bits of activity should be in place, maybe even finished, and certainly the research should be in the process of being peer observed, shared and discussed. The day would take the format of supported working groups, where everyone shares their findings in a non-critical and supportive context. Next steps are suggested, discussed and agreed. An outline for the final report is shared, to give focus to future activity.

Alternatively day two could be split into two half days, with one of the half days coming a little earlier and being an opportunity to get someone in to talk about some of the things that people are researching. There is, of course, clear expense involved here, so this would probably be impractical. However, it’s a thought.

Day three: Easter, or just after. Either that or at the very end of term. This is so that nobody is worrying about exams and stuff, and has a clear mind. This is the opportunity to share findings, disseminate ideas and practice, and generally look at each other’s work.

This is also supported as an ongoing thing through sections at staff meetings, and informal drop in sessions where anyone can come in and ask questions.

By way of protecting myself from a hundred “yeah but what about…” questions, the version in my head is much more carefully planned and supported, and there is a lot more detail to it than this, but that, essentially, is it. There would, of course, be barriers to such an idea ever taking off, not least of which is teaching staff themselves, some of whom may feel they need to be told stuff, and who still believe in the bonkers notion of the super-duper-expert teacher who can cascade their greatness to the masses. There may also be members of the managerial teams who are reluctant to relinquish such control over what is being done, especially in the face of inspections and the like which insist on knowing what is being done about which issue. However, I’d be willing to bet that a lot of the time would be spent researching stuff which would be applicable to all sorts of inspection-based development outcomes. As for the super duper cascading mega-teacher? They never existed anyway, just a load of clever self-marketers: there is greatness in all teachers. All we need is a better opportunity to find this and share it.

Imagine what the impact of having hundreds of people working on research could be. There would be interdepartmental cross over with themes and topics as well. Teachers with similar or related subjects could be encouraged to work together to support one another, and if the group was of three or four people, the research could be codified and formally written up, published and taken off to external conferences and events, raising the profile of the institution.

The other thing that this sort of activity promotes is a shift in the mind of the teachers. By becoming teacher-researchers they also become learners, potentially more open to new ideas and experimentation, to discovering things about their practices and their learners. Institutions become learning institutions at every level, from a Principal to an hourly paid tutor. None of that can be bad, can it?

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