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Elizabeth Holmes

Teachers: does your professional learning have purpose?

To guarantee the 'C' in CPD, teachers should always be asking questions of the research they carry out or the training they receive. 

Karl Bentley is a senior lecturer and programme director for PGCE 7-14 at Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent.

After a career in power and control engineering, Karl took the Graduate Teacher Programme into teaching, and became an AST in ICT. He now combines his work as programme director for PGCE 7-14 with teaching roles in computing, pedagogic principles and practice.

I caught up with him to discuss ongoing debates around teaching, research and professional development.

There are some interesting debates around training and professional development at the moment. What’s your take on the nature of these debates? 

KB: 'I was an engineer before becoming a teacher, so my thinking has progressed from full empiricism to accepting that there might be a different, or better way of doing things.

Policy and practice should reflect a slightly more nuanced way of thinking than we have currently

While I went through the grammar school system myself, it’s clear that it doesn’t work for every child. Policy and practice should reflect a slightly more nuanced way of thinking than we have currently.'

Do teachers need to take a step back and ensure they understand what they actually gain from reading a research article?

'Undoubtedly. The most important question we should ask when researching is: is it useful to the person reading it? The best research will ask further questions and lead us onwards. It doesn’t attempt to give concrete answers to the big questions.

The most important question we should ask when researching is: is it useful to the person reading it?

Furthermore, we always need to be conscious of the voices being heard, or missed in a text. In other words, does it convey the views of those at the chalk face?'

When it comes to professional learning, what would we be wise to pursue so that teachers thrive in their work?

'It’s easy to get carried away with school and class targets, but we must remember that teachers are individuals in this. Having days to utilise for themselves, and the freedom to choose the CPD that they need to cover specific development needs, will work really well.

It’s likely the CPD you choose from which you’ll get the greatest benefit

It can be useful to focus on a personal target, a target for the class and a target for the whole school. That way the teacher is always working towards continuous professional learning.

There has to be an element of choice, and it’s likely the CPD you choose from which you’ll get the greatest benefit.' 

And I suspect we shouldn’t underestimate the value of teachers talking to each other informally. 

'Absolutely. Talking together, visiting neighbouring schools, holding staff meetings in different classrooms so that teachers can find out more about how colleagues operate – all can be immensely helpful. We need to appreciate that different subjects have different pedagogies.

In the real world, we need a range of ways of thinking about things and that in education this is also the case. There are pedagogical differences between primary, secondary, FE and HE settings and we can start to appreciate these by talking to, and learning from, each other.'

But there's a continuum of teaching from the earliest learning to higher education and beyond.

'Exactly. We need to appreciate that there are pedagogical differences because of what we are teaching and who we are teaching. Education is about change. It is transformative. We used to be comfortable with that but that seems to have shifted.

CPD and research are both necessary for change. But we need to know for whom and for what purpose we’re carrying them out. It doesn’t always need to be about fixing things: sometimes we simply want to find things out. We need to keep asking questions, rather than making statements.

After all, learning is far more than just acquiring knowledge; it’s about making sense of the world, isn’t it?' 

A research summary

What makes professional development 'high-quality'? We've summarised some of the substantial research that has been carried out to better understand the characteristics of meaningful professional learning. 

 

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