In-Person Energy, Negative mindsets, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam discuss the power of good training and the importance of approaching CPD with the right mindset. What is the Zone of Proximal Development? Is it okay to say you're bad at Maths? Plus, Andy shares the importance of getting training attendees to empathise with pupils during training, by putting them in their shoes.
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Hi. I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi. I'm Robin Potter.
Hi. I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast.
Welcome to the School of School podcast.
Are you a maths teacher looking for CPD to strengthen your skills? Maths — No Problem! has a variety of courses to suit your needs, from textbook implementation to the essentials of teaching maths mastery, visit mathsnoproblem.com today to learn more.
So welcome back to another episode of the School of School podcast. I'm here with Andy and Adam. Hello, both.
Hi. We've just been talking before we started about the importance of professional development and talking about training, and I've got these two wonderful hosts of the show with me that both have done a lot of training and we thought we should talk about it more.
Yeah. Well, so listen, I'd love to start us off, but actually I think Adam, you've been doing, throughout all of COVID, you were doing online training a lot, which is one thing, and that's one kind of dynamic, but now you've been ramping up a lot of this face-to-face training recently again. What does it feel like to be back in that scenario?
It's amazing. It's amazing because I think that the big difference that I found, say, from the online one is that a lot of the online, it tends to be a little bit more one directional so you tend to be delivering a bit more of what you want to cover, what can be seen. It's not quite as interactive. That's not to say that can't happen, but when you're in a room with a group of people, a diverse group of people, and I was really fortunate, the first lot of training that I did was for three days. So being with a group of people for three days, you really get to know those people.
And I think that one of the things that I find is everyone's needs are different, and so it's just like the classroom. And having the opportunity to be able to talk about those, discuss those in a group where the dynamic, again, it's not just about me at the front, it's about all of the other people there. The experience in that room would probably be over a hundred years of teaching. So using that and creating a really nice dynamic where it's one of learning and curiosity is pretty special. It's been a while, but gee, it's awesome. I absolutely love it because it's just learning, and that to me is exciting.
Yeah. And when you're in the room together, you feel this electricity, this buzz that's happening. All of a sudden, everybody starts when it's working well. When it's not going well, you feel that as well. But then you can course correct. I don't know. It's some kind of pheromones going through the room or something. I don't want to get too spiritual about it, but you feel it. You know body language, all those things. Right?
Yeah. And I was just talking to Adam about that because I've been lucky enough to sit in on some of our training before and just that energy in the room, it makes such a difference. And maybe that's the difference between online and face to face, is that when you're in the room, you're feeling that energy from other people and you're feeding off of each other and coming up with more ideas to share and just different ways of looking at things rather than when you're online, you just don't get that same feeling.
I was just going to say I think the other thing that's different when you're face-to-face is usually face-to-face is a little bit longer, usually because a six-hour session on online would be pretty tough, I would've thought. But it goes back to, I think it was John Dewey that talked about it, that we don't learn from doing. We learn from reflecting on what we've done. So being able to be in that space and to decide, actually this is a really good time just to take a moment, just to have a break and to stop and reflect. I think teachers, they work so hard. They've not got time. I think it's difficult to create that time to reflect, but when you're at training, you've got that space to do that.
And so being able to go, "Right. We've just been through this. We've looked at each other's reactions. I think it's time we just pause and let that just soak in for a minute and just see whether or not we've got anything that's going to come out of it. There are going to be questions that come out of that. How does it sit with you? Do you agree, disagree, those sorts of things?" And that time to reflect on ideas is really precious. It's really precious. And so having that dedicated time just to think about, in this case, maths, primary school maths and how we teach and learn primary school maths, being able to do that and just pause, take this time now, that's a treat. That to me is a real treat.
Yeah. I think that's a really good point because that's often where the learning gets understood or actually where the learning happens because you do an activity, you get caught up in the activity. You're dealing with a certain part of your brain. There's a performance anxiety going on. There's all kinds of things that are toying with that. And you're like, "Oh, can I get it? Oh, the person next to me got it, but I don't get it." And all this starts interfering with the learning process.
But it's then when you pull away from that and you start thinking, and this is why CPD is so important, because if you do it right, the teachers get to empathise and experience what their children are going through at the table because everybody goes through the same process. It's like, "He gave me this task and I'm not really ... He's asking me tough questions and I don't the answer, and I'm feeling nervous now because I don't know. Maybe that person next to me, I suspect they know." And now it becomes a bit competitive. All this stuff is interfering with your learning.
It's only when you move away from that and then you go back and reflect on it and say, "How did you feel at that point?" If you're honest and you're vulnerable, you're truly honest about how you felt, you start to realise, okay, this is what the children are dealing with. This is maybe why it's difficult for them to learn. And it's so important to ... Now try to replicate that online. How do you do that?
And to add to that point. Again, thinking of it when I was in the classroom getting this training and there would be people struggling or they're trying to work away at it. And so you can see someone else at another table has figured something out and they are so excited and they're so excited to share and they're walking across the room to this other table and sharing what they've learned or something that they figured out and they want to help this group.
Well, you can't do that online.
No, that's right.
Literally people moving around and going to a different space and sharing with others, and you can see the excitement about it. And yeah, it's fun to watch.
Yeah. I'm sure you've experienced this a lot of times, Adam, as well. I call it an idea virus where all of a sudden, someone has an insight and they figure out how to do something and it came out from maybe just trial and error or whatever it is, but all of a sudden, someone realises, hey, this is a way to solve this problem. And even without somebody getting up and moving to the next table, you see it spread because people are half paying attention to what those other people are doing and they see. Maybe they just catch it enough. That's just going to be a catalyst for them to go send them in the right direction or send them in that direction. And you'll actually see that idea spread across the classroom.
It should be no surprise because that's actually, I think that in a lot of instances, people learn more from their peers than they do from the teachers. And that's also true for CPD. But if you can ... So when I do my CPD sessions, I suspect, Adam, you probably do something similar as well, is we'll do an activity and that activity might take 15 minutes, 20 minutes, something like that. And I try not to interfere too much when that's going on. And then I'll probably spend as much time, maybe more time discussing what we just did and discussing what people felt and how they experienced it and what they observed. What about you, Adam? Do you do something similar?
Same thing. Same thing. I think that's really important, and I think it's important to recognise all of those stages of learning. If you start to look at them and analyse them once you've been in that situation, how did it feel to be given that time just to talk? It was actually quite nice. Yeah. I didn't feel the heat of having to get the answer or something. I didn't even realise we were doing that. Oh, go on. Okay, tell me what happens next. Oh, so and so came up with this and that, like you're saying, Andy, that opened the door. Oh, okay. So what was I doing at the time? Well, you weren't doing much, were you? No, not really. No.
What happens is that there's this analysis of what happens, but they're also drawing on how they felt. This is why this may have worked. Or the flip side of that is I didn't like, this didn't feel right to me and perhaps we could have done this. But again, having that time to reflect on what just happened and then pulling it apart and going, well, was it all by chance? Because that would be amazing, wouldn't it be, if we just got it, oh, this just happened by chance? And it feels like that every time. Well, of course it's not by chance, is it? And it's about going back and saying, well, what part of it was facilitated by the teacher? How did you elicit that response or how did you do this but still made me feel like this? Was that intentional? And it's those sorts of things that I think having that experience and then being able to pull it apart, analyse it, why might it work? Would it work with your kids? Can you think of some children where it might not work where actually that would be the wrong approach for them?
Again, I think it's that time to reflect on it, which is what training allows us.
Yeah. And it's one of the easy things to overlook in education as an educator, is the emotional side of the learning process. We get fixated on techniques, on process, on our own skills, our own ability to project an idea, all those things. As an educator, you can get fixated on those. And for sure, all those things are important. But what you often don't think enough about or some people might not think enough about is the emotional state of the person in the learning seat because the reality is that often the case, if you're giving him stuff that's just on that, what did Vygotsky call it, the proximal zone of something?
Yeah. That's the one.
That's the one. Yeah. So you're right on that horizon of you're just really now, just you have to push to get it. You just have to push a little bit to get it. You're not there, but you're almost there. You might be thinking stuff like, damn. Adam is going to think I'm dumb because I'm not getting it. You get fixated with that, like I don't get this, and then you start thinking, well, how can I hide? How can I look like I'm doing the task, but can I avoid this because it's going to take too much work for me to ... And that's going on often in the kids' heads too. And that's why when you do the CPD, you got to be really mindful that your role as a provider is to make that happen for those people to find those things. They're going to just go and say, okay, now how did you feel? And talk about that because that's the barrier often to learning, is those emotional responses.
Well, I was thinking about that and I was thinking, I'm no psychologist, but I'll tell you what I do love when it happens in training. I'll just rewind a second. Primary school mathematics or primary school teaching, most of us don't come in as specialists. And from all the CVs I've looked at, and I've employed quite a few teachers so I've seen literally hundreds of CVs, very few have what I'd call a numbers degree like maths, economics, engineering, those sorts of things. So the kind of attitudes that are established around maths are usually the ones that have started in primary school, and the next time they confront them, well, secondary school, high school, but then a lot of life happens, then the next time is when they're in the classroom teaching it.
And I think that when you're doing the training and someone gets it, they get the maths, they've learned the maths or whatever it is, there's an attitude shift. And I think that that's really important too. We don't all have to love our subjects to be able to teach them well. I don't think that you have to be super duper passionate and loving of every single subject you teach to teach them well, but I think there's a massive difference between teachers who are literally scared of maths and those that are like, "Oh my God. I just learned this and this feels amazing, and I want to know about this bit, and I can't wait to teach tomorrow. I can't wait to do a maths lesson."
To me, that's awesome when it happens. And I think it's pretty important because we don't usually talk about our attitudes towards subjects necessarily in schools. And just the last thing is maths still, I think, is one of those subjects that you're allowed to say, "Oh, I'm no good at it. I don't like teaching it." And it's accepted.
Yeah, it is.
You wouldn't say that about reading, would you? "I'll tell you what, Andy. I'll let you into a wee secret. I can't read beyond year two."
I still puzzle as to why that's okay culturally. I'm still puzzled by that.
I don't know. There's nothing more heartbreaking than a child who can't read, right? Maths' no problem. That's all right. Can't do maths, can't add. That's fine. It's ridiculous. But anyway, I don't know. I don't know. It's pretty ingrained though.
Yeah, it is. It is.
So do you think the teachers themselves though, and you both would've had people in your classroom when you're doing this professional development, do you see that resistance from actual maths teachers? Are they maths teachers because they've just been assigned to being a maths teacher? What's the hesitancy on the part of a teacher who teaches maths?
Most people who go into elementary or primary school education go in because either they really like kids or they really like things like literature and the arts. And very few people, like Adam was pointing out, come from a mathematical background like an engineer or an economist or something. People from those trades don't tend to go into ... They may go into secondary school or high school education. They may certainly go into university and tertiary education, for sure, but not many of them end up in primary. And so this is the reason that you run into this.
And I suppose in training too, I do wonder, how many of those people who suffer from tremendous amounts of maths anxiety will even go to a mathematics CPD session. Because if you feel that way, that strongly negatively, if it conjures up all these negative emotions, the idea of teaching mathematics, you're not going to go to a maths CPD class. You're going to avoid it like the plague. Right?
I think that's the thing. I think that when it happens and someone does say, particularly if you're doing multi-day training, I think you can get that where they say, "I didn't want to say this, but actually ... I didn't like this, and I didn't understand this, and I always felt anxious about this, and now I don't so much." I think, well, that's awesome for you and your kids in your class because you'll be curious to learn instead of it's kind of like, oh, I don't want to look at that, I don't want to look at that, I don't want to look at that. I'll look at it now and I'm now going to teach it. Which doesn't mean you're as prepared as you could be.
And Andy, you would've seen this and I think all of us probably see it not just in training but just in all walks of life, is that when you don't know how to do something right, I suppose there's two things you can do. You can either embrace it and go, right, someone help me. I don't know how to do this. Or you run away from it. You fear it or you dismiss it through fear. That's rubbish anyway. Yeah. What do you know, Adam? You're talking nonsense. You don't have a clue what you're talking about. That's not how you do it. I've been doing it this way for 20 years and your way is rubbish. You go, okay, that's okay. I'll take that.
But if that's coming from a place of I don't understand it and I don't want to tell you that I don't understand it because I understand my way, that's really different. And that is the one that I seem to, if that's the reaction, quite a full-on reaction to, I don't know, something that's said or done. If you get enough time, most of the time, you can get to the crux of it and it usually comes about, oh, I didn't know how to do that even though I've been doing this for, I don't know, 15 years, 20 years.
So what's the ideal, do you think, in terms of professional training? How often should teachers be getting professional training? Do you think that would help avoid that kind of feeling where they're hesitant to do it if they're doing it more regularly?
It needs to be continuous. It needs to be never ending. I think as a school, if you're a leader in a school, you should be aiming to ensure that it's a consistent forever thing in your school, that you're forever talking about your practise and improving it.
And is that the reality, do you think?
I think it is in some schools.
In some schools, it is.
Yeah, but not across the board. And I think the one thing that I was going to say, I think the most important thing, Robin, is the frequency that it happens is one thing, but it's having a clear path so you know. I think if you asked most teachers and you said, "Right. You tell me over the next three years what your professional development is going to look like," I think a lot of teachers will struggle. I think that they'd struggle to map that out. They might talk about promotional things. Well, I'd like to become a subject lead and then I'd like to become this. And I think that that's one thing. But actually knowing these are the steps toward it, and this is where I think education still has got a wee way to go.
If you wanted to be a surgeon, for example, I would like to think that there's a very clear set of skills that you need to learn on that path to be a surgeon. You can't just say, "Oh, I think I'll do a little bit of this, this time, and then I'll miss a year and then I'll just ... I quite like the look of that course, and now I'm a surgeon. Hey, look at this. Let me operate. Come on, give me a go."
So I think that's where education, I think we've still got a ways to go to map out what does that professional development look like? And so we can then put markers across that timeline to say, "Well, we'll do that, and then we need six months to really practise that and try to embed that and ask questions, evaluate, all those sorts of things. Then this would be the next step that we'd be looking at. Then we'd be looking at this." I think that's something that we've still got, I think, we've still got a wee way to go with that.
Yeah. That's a long journey. I think, actually, Adam, not just a wee way, as you say.
I'm being diplomatic. Yeah, no, of course. I think it's another subject on its own.
We'll hit that next time. What do you think?
Okay. Thanks for joining.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.