There’s nothing quite like being in a room full of like-minded people – particularly if those people consist of school staff with specialised roles, such as SBMs and SENCos.
There’s much to be said for being able to talk through the challenges and opportunities you face with someone else who speaks your language and understands where you’re coming from because they’ve dealt with similar situations themselves.
Yet when money’s tight, one of the first spending areas some schools will cut is CPD. The long-term impact and benefits, however, should always be carefully considered before cutting opportunities for staff to attend external conferences, networking events and meet-ups. These types of CPD events form an integral part of staff’s career development.
It’s vital that staff are able to take a break on occasion to sharpen their skills and knowledge. Gaining an understanding of how other organisations are approaching similar challenges and spotting new opportunities enables us to fill gaps in our knowledge and build on our existing strengths.
High-quality CPD can boost confidence, and should therefore be part of an individual’s personal growth plan. You want your school’s support staff to be forming new relationships and building a quality professional learning network (PLN) that will provide them with different perspectives, fresh ideas and new ways of thinking.
I’ve previously met professionals at national conferences who went on to become part of my PLN, and with whom I still schedule regular catch ups as part of my commitment to continual development and improvement. We’re able to support each other with staying relevant and up to date, learning about new trends and catching up on what the latest research is telling us.
Local events of this type are certainly good (and tend to be more convenient), but they’re often attended by the same people. National events are more diverse, and can attract some powerful speakers whose words and ideas will stay with you for years afterwards. If you’ve ever heard Sir John Jones speaking about creating possibilities; Nigel Risner give a talk on ‘being in the room’ or Steph McGovern detailing her career journey, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
National events offer valuable opportunities to meet people from a wider area and connect with influencers, such as industry journalists, associations and thought leaders. They can result in face-to-face encounters with experts and leaders where it’s possible to ask questions, after which we’ll return to school with new ideas and approaches that make us more efficient and effective.
The cost of attending conferences can be offset by ensuring that the value gained is shared as widely as possible, and through fostering a culture in which staff share highlights and feedback from everything they’ve learned.
At every event I go to, I’ll reflect on what I’m taking away with me – be that a new connection, an idea I want to explore further or a new piece of knowledge that will help me in future. I’ll do that even before I leave for the journey home, because if I’m going to ask my employer to allow me development time, I’ll need to return with things that I’ll use, and which I know will have a positive impact.
Hayley Dunn is a MAT finance director; her book, The School Business Manager’s Handbook, is available now, published by John Catt. For more information, visit shropshiresbm.org or follow @ShropshireSBM.