Friday, 20 April 2012

The best CPD I've ever had...

There are many claims made by teachers about Twitter.  Something that I've seen tweeted a few times is that Twitter is 'the best CPD I've ever had.'  As someone who now provides CPD for a living I always find that statement very concerning.

However, I think that part of the reason that Twitter is a useful source of CPD is that it is immediate, often focused on a topic of immediate relevance to the tweeter, and can lead to a sustained conversations.  The fact that so many teachers spend Mondays (#asechat), occasional Tuesdays (#sciteachjc, Wednesdays (#InthePicture) and Thursdays (#ukedchat) taking part in twitter chats shows how valuable teachers find this.  Not to mention the impromptu discussion of pedagogy, education policy etc that take place at other times of day (and night).

However, I do wonder if these learning conversations could be migrated into the 'real' world.  At work, we have a Journal club. Once a month a few of us meet together to discuss a paper from educational research, and consider its relevance to us, and the teachers we work with. We usually meet over lunch, and spend about half-an-hour chatting around the paper. I've found it really beneficial to have this space to think more deeply about teaching, and CPD provision, with colleagues.  As with teaching, during the course of a normal working day, usually it's hard to make time for professional conversations, so making time for journal club is great.

Which made me wonder if it would be possible to develop something similar in science (or other) departments.  Think about the conversations that take place in your prep room or staff room. In my experience it's rare for professional learning conversations to take place day-to-day in schools/colleges. You're so busy with the day-to-day busyness of teaching that it's hard to take a step back to discuss what you're doing, why, and how it could be better.  Even training days / department meetings are often taken over by admin and bureaucracy, not professional development.

To digress slightly...
In one of my previous schools, the science department was split over 3 blocks. Often, you wouldn't see some members of the department from one week to the next. To try and encourage us to get together more often we started 'Cake Friday'. I drew up a rota and each week we would meet together in a room, have cake and chat. (On a recent visit back there, I was pleased to see that it was still going on. A fine legacy I feel.)

Back to twitter chats...
Wouldn't it be great if the professional conversations that teachers have on Twitter (and we have in journal club) could be had in school? 

I was able to talk to a couple of HMIs from Ofsted recently. One of the things that struck me was a comment made that regardless of the grade of the school, they often saw examples of good practice in every school.  However, in some schools, this was in isolated classrooms, and was not shared between staff.  This matched with my experience that teachers don't get the opportunity to discuss their practice together.

A suggestion then, dear reader. If you enjoy the professional development you get from twitter, why not try to do something similar at school.  Take the chat topics and summaries from your favourite chat, and use them to have semi-structured professional conversations in school. Probably not every week, but maybe once a half term. Encourage colleagues to meet together to discuss what they've tried out in the classroom recently, to reflect on their teaching. 

You could even try your own version of cake Friday to ease the flow of conversation.

It could be a great way of developing your own real-life 'best ever CPD'.


  1. Totally agree. When I worked as an NQT (in one of the worst schools in one of the worst LEAs ) the staff discussed teaching and learning daily due to a few characters pushing this through their personality. I have never experienced that before or since, and certainly not in the same way. I would really like to hear teachers discussing pedagogy from the point of view of the child, not the teacher ie not there is a ppt I made or you can do the starch test in that lesson.

    As for twitter, I think that it is an amazing tool for finding things out. I know far, far more about what is going on in relation to science education than my colleagues. It also helps me reflect on my practice. But I don't get the specific advice that will help me improve on a personal level. But then I don't get that at school anyway!

  2. Geordie Science, sorry to hear that you feel that way. There is a place for teachers to share what they did in class (I love hearing about how people did things).
    I consider myself fortunate to work in a school where we DO have professional dialogue on a regular basis (at least once a week). There are only 6 classes so it is essential that we share ideas with each other in order to remain on the ball and forward thinking. We talk about what we have done and how it has impacted the learning in the classroom.
    I have found twitter to be an extra layer to this dialogue as it has extended my network considerably. Ideas shared on twitter are often taken back to my staffroom and shared, sometimes weblinks are sent out, sometimes it is just an idea that I take back and air.
    There certainly are schools where everyone is so busy that this doesn't take place; we are, like all, an extremely busy staff but realise the importance of professional discussion amongst ourselves.
    I think that this happens in schools where the leadership models and encourages this, and where there are staff who take the initiative to find things out for themselves and share it with their colleagues. We still have staff meetings which look at issues which are not teaching and learning focussed, but try to build in a balance which will include "sharing good practice" meetings.
    We do also spend time talking about random, non school related things (after all, we are but human!) but value each other as professionals.
    Dialogue between staff in a school/department has to be where it all starts. I love twitter and have found loads of great ideas through it, but, at the end of the day, would give it up at the drop of a hat rather than not talk with my colleagues!