Over the summer I read The CPD Curriculum by Mark and Zoe Enser and it has made me really think and reflect upon CPD provision and support within schools. It has also made me really think about our CPD focus this year and how I will go about approaching this focus.
Our CPD focus this year is oracy. First and foremost, I think this is a worthwhile focus for an international school – a school that has language learning at its heart. However, oracy is a broad CPD area that has to be approached with caution if it is successfully going to develop staff and improve the school’s provision for our pupils. Yes, broad focuses are great because they empower departments to focus on areas that are most relevant and beneficial to them, but understanding the different facets behind a strategy and the facets that will be more useful in terms of professional growth is absolutely key and deserving of our time and consideration.
When I interviewed Dr Arlene Holmes Henderson for Teachers Talk Radio, she spoke about her work in developing a policy with regard to oracy and identified the use of oracy for four main purposes – a reminder to me of the multi-faceted nature of good oracy development. To do ‘oracy’ well it would, therefore be foolish of me to try to consider every aspect of oracy across the span of one year. Therefore choosing what aspect of an initiative to focus in on is so incredibly important and I was reminded of the implementation guide to effective practice and the need for us, as individuals, to consider ‘what problem we are looking to solve’ – an essential question if our CPD is to have any real impact.
Much of our initial focus as a school has been on developing pupils’ dialogic skills, with an introduction to the harkness method being offered first. Over the summer I have started to reflect on this and the use of discussion in my classroom. I use talk partners every lesson (and change these up each term as per Shirley Clarke’s advice). I use think pair share. I have trialled the use of the harkness method and have also organised socratic discussions. I actually already do a lot of discussion focused work in my classroom – so much so that in my pupil feedback, many pupils commented on how much they liked using discussion to develop and enhance their thinking.
My point being that when it comes to our oracy initiative, is discussion something I want to focus on? Will my focusing on this area challenge me professionally and will it develop my practice? And the answer, is probably not.
And yet, whilst some staff may suggest dialogic teaching is a strength of theirs, it still has the potential to become a professional focus because it is known, it is comfortably embedded and it is safe in terms of time, commitment and outcome, potentially.
I then came to consider oracy and presentations – another fundamental life skill our pupils need to develop. Now I do presentations. In that, my KS5 pupils present their interrogation of texts all the time. I’ve done a few presentations this past year with KS3 and probably the fewest presentations with KS4 but I would say this is contextual to taking over a class and being time deficient. However, if I were to reflect honestly, I would suggest that whilst I ‘do’ presentations, supporting pupils to produce effective presentations is something that I could improve. Could this be my professional focus for the year then? Well no, because in order to support pupils improve their presentational skills, I would develop the scheme to incorporate lessons that target how to write effective presentations, how to utilize notes successfully, how to vary our voice to engage our listeners and how to use paralinguistic skills for effect. This action is quite operational and quite simplistic – it isn’t professionally challenging and not something that will really enhance my practice over time. Therefore, for me, this would be an unsuitable professional focus.
Whilst the operational stuff is necessary, such as writing lessons or creating a shared language for discussion, in terms of rigorous professional development for an individual, it is somewhat lacking. And this is where, for me, the role of a Middle Leader / or a coach is absolutely essential. Our Middle Leaders should know their teams well enough to recognise where an individual’s strengths and weaknesses lie so that they can support them in identifying a professional development focus, with the whole school initiative in mind that is robust and will provide the necessary challenge and development.
Scepticism of CPD, lack of time and other key priorities can mean that taking an easier route with regard to professional development is preferred, which I can completely understand. But if we are to genuinely invest in CPD to move teachers and schools forward, establishing areas of focus that are challenging and robust is an absolute necessity. Teachers need to think hard about what they do and why. If Middle Leaders challenge their teams to do this and then allocate time to reading and research, employ instructional coaching and create reflective spaces for teachers to refine their practice throughout the year, I think staff would see that a whole school initiative is more than a tick box exercise and something that is really worth investing in.
For me, this year, when it comes to our CPD focus on oracy, I have already done my thinking. I want to focus in on using oracy to develop pupils’ metacognitive skill set, with a focus on procedural knowledge in writing. No mean feat. But we know that metacognition is second only to feedback in terms of its impact on pupil progress, so it has value. I also know that our IGCSE pupils produce safe transactional writing responses but these lack flair and could be improved, so this focus has value. Finally, as a teacher, I feel my teaching of writing is my weakest area, so this focus has value in terms of developing me.
At this stage, as we head into the new year, I don’t have any answers to the above focus and I’ve thought about this focus for a while. But that is the exciting thing because it is a focus that is intellectually challenging and it is a focus that will really stretch my professional thinking and practice. When we have staff who embrace this and are supported to embrace this, then we will know that we have professional development done right. Strategic planning for this, at the highest level, is absolutely key