To get through Covid, we need more CPD, not less

12 Oct 2020, 5:00

More agile CPD is key to ensuring Covid’s legacy doesn’t become an injustice for the profession, writes Nicola Podd

Easing children back into school life. Assessing and tackling the impact of lockdown on learning and on students’ emotional and mental health. All while adapting practices and policies to ensure schools are safe and Covid-secure. Re-adjusting to formal education is a challenge for everyone, and it is imperative that learners aren’t the only ones who are supported through it.

Teachers and school leaders carry high levels of responsibility in ensuring learners leave education with the best possible outcomes, and they are doing it in a time of change and uncertainty, even with regard to how these outcomes will be determined. How to meet this volatility is a key concern, as it is likely to affect staff’s own wellbeing and effectiveness.

That’s why the best schools and organisations have maintained their focus on continued professional development (CPD). Because not only does it drive up standards and performance, but it is a cornerstone for managing organisational change. A commitment to lifelong learning for all sends a strong signal to staff that their school’s investment in them is equally prized as their learners’ good GCSE results.

The opportunity to step away from the classroom can reenergise teachers and leaders

In spite of some of the media coverage, teachers have worked throughout this pandemic. They have had to adapt quickly and with little support to whole new teaching practices, for remote teaching and learning, for mixed and ever-changing groups of vulnerable and key worker children, for Covid-secure schools and, increasingly, for blended learning models as children and whole bubbles self-isolate. It is nothing short of heroic, but to say they have done so tirelessly is as dangerous as downplaying their role.

Right now, many teachers could benefit greatly from a change in perspective, which training can provide. The opportunity to invest in their own learning and to step away from the classroom – be it for an hour’s webinar or a day’s training – has the potential to reenergise teachers and leaders.

The idea of taking time out of the hectic new school day, with its onerous new routines and increased demand to cover absent colleagues, may be unthinkable for some. Furthermore, in many regions travel and technology remain the obstacles they always were to accessing such support. It’s therefore essential that professional development adapts too.

The first thing to note is that CPD can be as formal or informal as you like. The importance is the opportunity to reflect collectively in a low-stakes environment. Try shorter, in-school sessions scheduled at the end of the day with those in your bubble – supported by a subject expert your own sourced materials.

Next, online learning isn’t just for pupils. Webinars are extremely inclusive and accessible and allow professionals from different schools and organisations to come together to share knowledge and experiences.

There is also a range of platforms on which online teaching communities have formed, offering remote mentoring, peer support and shared resources.

Finally, free resources have come a long way since the age of the quick-fix lesson plan or handout. There are endless free resources for teachers and TAs to guide their reflection on their teaching practice and to support them to make long-lasting adjustments.

Traditional face-to-face events still have many benefits that are difficult to emulate. They tend to facilitate more teamwork, practical exercises and discussions and better lend themselves to breakout sessions. But while some schools will have the space to enable some face-to-face training to continue, it just won’t be possible for many. The advent of more agile CPD is key to ensuring Covid’s legacy doesn’t become a wholesale injustice for the profession.

In fact, the pandemic has only served to enrich CPD provision, giving immediate and unlimited access to expertise and knowledge to support teachers. A rich new variety of opportunities could keep the profession nimble through this uncharted territory.

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