Why inset days should be like a driving awareness course

16 Sep 2018, 5:00

Teachers should get excited about inset days – after all, they’re a luxury most professionals don’t get, says Karen Wespieser, who shares some tips to inject the enthusiasm back into school-based CPD

I need to make a confession. Following a period of intense learning and testing, I have for the past 18 years been doing a skilled task with an increasing amount of automation and a decreasing amount of concentration.

“Just learn to pass the test,” they said, “you can adapt your technique a bit to do it your own way after that.” But then I got caught doing it wrong. And last month, rather than face other penalties, I elected to undertake re-training. I went on a ‘speed awareness course.’

Social media addict that I am, I tweeted out that I was undertaking this penance. I was surprised at the number of responses from people I know – educated, professional, and mostly from the education community – who had also been on the course and learnt from it. And they were right, it was a good course. CPD for my driving, if you like.

Since the course, I have been approaching driving slightly differently. Remembering not only how to do things, but the evidence that was shared on the course about why we are asked to drive in different ways in different areas.

It got me to thinking, what was it about this training that had been so useful and is there a metaphor here for teacher CPD? In some ways I think there are clear parallels in the intensity and the precision of the initial training. But what about after that? What happens when teachers get a bit complacent and either start speeding, or forgetting why?

I rarely see teachers’ eyes light up at talk of inset days

The penalty for increasingly automated teaching or a decreasing amount of concentration is often severe. Negative Ofsted outcomes that – to stretch a metaphor – both expect you to get to your destination faster and, at the same time, put a series of speed bumps in your path. Equally, performance management might put the driving instructor back in the passenger seat but may not always acknowledge the skill and experience the ‘driver’ has developed over the years.

So, what would the teaching equivalent of a speed awareness course be? Obviously, there is a host of regular CPD that teachers undertake. Not working in school myself, I am often jealous of my husband’s inset days. The idea of whole organisation professional learning days is not common outside of the profession. But I rarely see teachers’ eyes light up at talk of inset, inset days often seem to be perceived more as a burden than an opportunity.

Where I do see more joy, more intense engagement, is when the why is being explored. The focus on the growing body of evidence around teaching and learning. Whether that be through events like the ever-popular ResearchED conferences, resources from expert professors like the Learning Scientists, or simply participation in social media groups like #UKEdResChat.

Learning (or remembering) why we do things is a powerful behaviour-change technique. I hope that as teachers return to schools this September, that the inset that is taking place includes at least a bit of this; think of it as a teaching awareness course.

Learning why we do things is a powerful behaviour-change technique

So, what could some of the content for a teaching awareness course look like? I think it might include the latest evidence on how students learn, for example this guide from the Education Endowment Foundation on metacognition and self-regulated learning. And obviously, some evidence around pedagogy; this article by Megan Sumeracki and Yana Weinstein on optimising learning using retrieval practice would be a good start and is available free from the Chartered College of Teaching. For something practical – I always recommend this short blog by Stephen Tierney on reducing absences based on research by Todd Rogers and Avi Feller. And in terms of the bigger picture, you might look at the new evidence on longer-term outcomes. This from the DfE on school and labour market outcomes by pupil characteristics makes sobering reading.

The speed awareness course wasn’t delivered by the scientists who undertook stopping distance research or road safety tests, but by people who were passionate about their subject area. Similarly, a teaching awareness course needn’t be delivered by expensive external experts. Just enthusiastic educators who know how to convey information in a systematic way – and hopefully you’ve got a building full of those! So why not give it a try with your inset this term, and help raise your colleagues’ awareness of the growing evidence base in education.

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