For as long as I’ve been a school leader, staffing has always been both my most significant expense and my most valuable asset. Consequently, I’ve always felt that we need to get the best possible value and biggest impact we can from everyone who works for us. And the most obvious way of doing that is via training – or as we tend to say these days, continuous professional development.
A school may decide to pay an external provider to deliver said training for a number of reasons. For me, a principle one is that the model of sending someone ‘on a course’ and expecting them to ‘cascade’ what they’ve learnt down what to others is unrealistic and, at least in my experience, rarely effective (unless we’re talking a custom course specifically tailored to their needs).
CPD can do a great deal to support teachers at any stage in their career, but is particularly effective for those still in their first few years. A major benefit of adopting a group or whole school approach by bringing the trainer to you is that this allows you to move everyone forward together and encourage a sense of everyone being on the same page. The unfortunate reality can also sometimes be – as I’ve seen firsthand – that colleagues simply need to receive guidance and instruction ‘from someone else’!
Clarity of purpose
The first step in getting a good deal on your CPD investment is to ensure that you’re clear about precisely what it is you’re seeking to achieve. Change? Increased knowledge? Productive discussion? Once you’ve settled on this, you can then go about trying to find the right provider. Of course, we don’t know what we don’t know, which is why it’s crucial to formulate a realistic sense of the current context via self-evaluation.
There’s also much to be said for getting the timing right, in terms of where the CPD session falls in the school year and the time of day it’s scheduled for, along with the location. There’s no point in trying to win hearts and minds and embracing a different way of doing things if your colleagues are going to be constantly worrying about the drawers they need to label or displays they need to finish.
I actually feel the beginning and end of term aren’t always the best points for delivery, since there’s either so much going on or a momentum-slowing holiday to contend with. Having the space to discuss, follow up and implement the training provided is as important as the event itself.
What sets the best providers apart for me is their expertise, integrity and ability to understand the needs of the school. As an associate consultant who also happens to be a serving headteacher, I’m especially keen to understand the context of the school I’ll be working with. I’m keen that training always be presented to colleagues as ‘for their consideration’, rather than a suggestion of how something ‘should’ be done.
Real change in schools ultimately comes from staff themselves, which is why this visitor to their school shouldn’t presume to fully understand their context and setting. Thus, when ‘buying in’ CPD I’ll always look for experts who seek to understand our needs, offer exactly what I want and suggest next steps.
Matt O’Grady is headteacher of West Horndon Primary School, near Brentwood in Essex; he also works as an associate consultant for Chris Quigley Education and is a director at MJO Eduation.