Unattractive courses, Transformational moments, and more. In this episode we discuss the impacts good CPD can have on individuals and organisations. Can CPD really be a catalyst for change? What is the most impactful move school leadership can make in terms of investing? Plus, Adam takes us through the usual three stages of thought, when the penny drops at a fractions training course.
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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.
Welcome back everyone, to another super exciting episode of the School of School Podcast. We've got my two favourite people in the whole world on the podcast. As per normal, we've got Robin Potter.
Hello. Hello. Wow. I'm super excited to be here. Thanks, Andy.
And we've got, of course, Adam Gifford back from his wild adventures. Come on Adam. What were you up to? Say hi. Tell us what were you up to.
Well, yeah. It sounds like I'm feeling the love on this episode, which is lovely. We've all got big smiles. Yeah. I was a bit spoiled. I did some travelling, and went away to some lovely spots, including home. It's still my spiritual and heartland home of New Zealand, which was lovely. And I think we're just talking about off-air, just to give you a time, and a bit of space to reflect, and think about things that are important, and all that stuff. And education was actually a really big part of that, not driven by me, but it's pretty important, and I think just having a chance to reflect on that. So anyway, yeah. That's what I've been up to. It's been good.
Hey. So look. I thought today I'd love to talk about CPD. I'd love to talk about professional development, because I think it's one of those things that we've talked about it a lot in the past. But it's important to think about how much of an impact CPD can actually have on your practise, and on your school. It doesn't always. Often, it doesn't amount to much. But we also sometimes hear that it was the catalyst for change in a school. It was the reason that they decided to change what they were doing, because they went to a session, to an event. Often it's training. We hear about the training that we offer, and the impact that it's had. So I'm interested CPD as a mechanism for change. But it's challenging though, because people want to take what's sexy.
They want to take the course that's in line with what everybody's talking about, the new fad if you want. Right? That's always what people want to do CPD about. But sometimes, they should consider taking CPD. They don't feel as compelled to take. Robin, I know you had a recent conversation with some people about this. And what did you hear?
I was talking to one of our colleagues. And we were just going through the CPD upcoming courses. And we have a new journaling course that's extremely popular. Fantastic. Great. We have lots of signups. And she was asking some of the participants of that course why they had signed up for journaling, versus maybe a less popular course like fractions. And just what you had said, Andy, I think, although they did not say sexy, the journaling course is of interest all year round. And they're keen to learn more about it. The comment about the fractions course was that fractions is not sexy.
It's not sexy. And they don't want to think about it until they have to teach it. So it's not top of mind until they're about to teach it, which means they're not thinking, "Oh. Look. There's a fractions course available. And I'm going to be teaching fractions next term, or in two months from now. And I better take a fractions course to just bring my skills up-to-date." They're thinking about it maybe a few days before, "Oh. Yeah. I have to teach fractions. What's the best approach here?" So yeah. That's the comment.
Yeah. Well, I think this is interesting. I had a little heads-up on this. It was said to me. And I was just thinking about a couple of things, the reasons, and maybe the psychology behind it. I think there's a few things at play here, potentially at play. I don't know. But I think the first thing is that when we look at something that has a specific topic. So say you're doing something on fractions, or you're doing something on, I don't know, whole numbers, or multiplication, or whatever, the process in school would be, I go, and see my head teacher, and I say, "I want to do this." That has the potential to put you in a vulnerable position, because effectively, if you go along, and you say, "Andy, you're my head teacher. I want to do fractions, because I don't really know how to do them," that's a problem.
That might be a worry. There'll be some schools where you don't want to say that. You don't want to say it out loud, "I don't understand fractions, never have, never will," those things because depending on the culture in your school, that might be a really vulnerable position you're putting yourself in. So I wonder if you reframed it ever so slightly, same content, and you said, "Okay. Would you like a course where we look at common misconceptions that come up in fractions, and how we deal with them, how we can better support children to overcome those things," which might be exactly the same content, all of a sudden, that becomes, "Oh. Yeah. That's an easier conversation to have with my head teacher, potentially." Right? And I think that that's part of it, that I just think we still struggle a bit with accepting that there's things to learn. And every time we go, and we do something like, I don't know, just look at fractions for example, is we add another layer on top of it, because it would be so naive to think that if you look at something once, "That's it."
"That's all I need to know. And for the rest of my life, there is nothing more to learn." That's pretty dangerous. So I think it can be a bit tricky. I think it'd be a bit tricky, and also, I guess also knowing things like where the crossovers are. So I would argue that say fractions, you need to know about equal parts. That's also very useful. Multiplication, that's also very useful. So all of a sudden, it's like, "Oh. But I might not see it that way. I might not see how it fits into the bigger picture of mathematics," which again is understandable. Right? Unless you have the training, and it opens you up to see these things, you might not realise that, I don't know, presenting this like this in a nursery classroom, or a reception classroom is actually effectively showing the multiplication of fractions that the notation needs to be different in year six, but actually the model that they're doing, and what they're playing with, that's the same stuff. It's just that you don't see it. Yeah.
Maybe how you describe these things, and how there needs to be more into that. But I think that that will have a certain effect. I also think the teachers just don't want to take a course on fractions, or they want to take a course on whole numbers. So they don't want to take a course, because sounds very technical, and sounds very content focused, and all this stuff. And it's not all that. It doesn't seem all that interesting. Right? But there's an element also of responsibility in somebody's professional training, professional development journey that's, "Well, if you want to be considered an expert on teaching mathematics in primary schools, you better know an awful lot about fractions, or how to teach fractions. And you better know an awful lot about how to teach whole numbers, as well as know all the pedagogy, and as well as know all the theory, and all the other sexier things like journaling."
So there has to be a push and a pull factor here. Right? It is something that I know we've been working on really. And look. It's like if you look at certification as a whole, it could be in any context. So it could be in, if you're getting your diving licence, and you want to be a diving instructor, you know what? There's probably some courses I don't know on that are really physics based, or chemistry, or biology based that you need to take in order to be a dive instructor, that you make sure that people you train, you don't kill. No one wants to take those courses, right? If you want to be a dive instructor, it's all about the diving. You don't want to think about compressed air. Right? It's not interesting. Well, it's the same thing to be a teacher. Just imagine as a doctor. Doctors, if you study in university to become a doctor, you have to take organic chemistry. Right?
No one will ever elect to take organic chemistry. It's just a horrible course. It's really hard. It's very difficult. And you have to remember about a hundred million different random facts. Right? Why would anybody want to take a course that's really difficult, where you have to remember lots of stuff? But the reality is if you want to be a doctor, you want your doctor to have taken organic chemistry. It's really important if you want to be a doctor. No one will ever elect to take it. So you have to take it. So I think for sure there has to be an attraction to it. But there has to be a carrot. But there also has to be a stick. We need to encourage people to take courses that they don't necessarily want to take, for the benefit of the children, not because it's fun, or because it's going to be. So, I don't know. It's a puzzle, but something that people need to think about along their professional journey. Sometimes you need to take courses you don't want to take. Right?
Yeah. I agree. I think the other thing too, and this is not just me saying this. This is listening to people who have gone to courses, who have not known what to expect, but you don't know what you don't know, until you've got the space to find out. And sometimes that classroom's not the one to do it, because I know that one thing that we can do as teachers is we can go back to our default position of teaching, which is the one we're most comfy with. And it might be the methodology that we use. And we feel good. We feel good. And it might be successful for who knows, maybe the whole cohort, some of the cohort, that thing. But it might not be right for everyone. And you don't know. Unless you've got alternatives, then it's very difficult to be better at meeting the needs of your class.
And unless you've got the space to think about these things, to be put in situations where you go, "Actually, I don't understand this," that should resonate straight away with us as educators to go, "So if I don't know it, that's something else I can learn about it that I don't currently know." And the reality is, is that I think that teacher training does not go into the depth that it needs to. And I'm sure that there'll be schools out there if it's a school direct training that will say, "No. We do this incredibly well." I'm sure you do. But across the board, training in the UK and many other countries has slimmed down. There's less content hours. And it's very difficult to come out. Your teacher training, you come out as a qualified teacher. But that doesn't mean that you've got that depth of understanding across all of the subjects. You're teaching them all. It's an impossibility.
So to think for one second that that's just going to happen, because you're practising what you're doing, I think is again, dangerous territory. And I say dangerous, because it's really high stakes. These are our kids. And if we can't get it right, and something a guest said just on a previous podcast, "If we don't get the foundations right for it, if we don't understand these things, then it sets children up for a really tough journey for evermore." So the importance of getting this right is huge. It's huge.
So here's an interesting fact. So you might think you don't want to take the fractions course, because it sounds really boring. Because I think that people will say, "Well." They'll give you an excuse. But I think deep down inside, they're like, "I'm not interested in fractions. It doesn't sound that interesting." Two people, very prominent that I can think of front of mind right away, and I'm not going to name-drop, but if I told you the names, you would recognise them for sure. I know you guys know who they are, two people after taking the fractions course at Maths -- No Problem! decided to write a dissertation on how to teach fractions for PhDs that I know of, based on catalyst being taking a fractions course. And the content of their dissertations is how to teach fractions. And they use Maths -- No Problem! as a reference of how to teach fractions in elementary, or primary schools. Right? So people take that course. And it's life changing for a lot of people.
All right. So if I'm a teacher, and I am given the opportunity to upgrade my skills, I'm going to take this course. And I'm taking it, because it's going to be beneficial, but also, let's say it's part of a requirement or a certification that I'm going to need. But there's this other course I'd really love to take. And it's just-
... of great interest to me. But I can't take them both Andy. They're actually offered at the same time through two different organisations. But the one I need, maybe I'm going to get a pay raise for it, or maybe it's just a tick in the box that I have to fulfil. So do you think sometimes that this thing is happening where people are choosing their course not based on-
Can I jump in?
Yeah. Of course.
This drives me mad. Okay? This is a real sore point for me, because I think again, that in education in general, in the UK, I've got experience in New Zealand, and a couple of other countries, we are generally not very strategic at all with a professional development flight path, or trajectory. Right? So my advice to that teacher would be, "Stop and plan it out. Ask some of your senior leadership to go, 'Right. Over the next three years, this is the skill set that I need in order to give our children the best chance.'" So you are going to give people a heads-up. And you're going to say, because primarily the stopper that comes back is, "Oh. We can't afford it." Okay. Fine. If someone came to me, if my daughter came to me, and said, I'm in the shop standing here right now, and said, "I want to buy this watch dad."
I'm like, "Well, I've got two pounds 80 in my pocket. So it's just not happening." If my daughter comes to me, and says, "Right. I want to buy this watch, and in two years time, and da da da da da da da," then there's a better chance for it happening, because I can prepare for that. It's exactly the same professional development. But we need to be far more strategic to recognise the importance of it. And there should never been a reason to say, "Oh. It can't happen," because if that's going to be a very clear path that's going to help our children, and our schools learn, what's the justification for not doing it? Go. Anyone? Go. Start. I'm ready. It really annoys me, because it's too ad hoc. And companies like ours, we can help you with that. Flip an egg. Those flight paths, we can give the justification. We can roll those out.
And I just think that it's not done very well. And it's not fair. It's not fair on the teachers. It's not fair on the children if we don't do that really, really well. And I don't just mean setting one budget for CPD, and that's the forecasting. I mean being very clinical about that approach. But it is down to every school. Right? Every school is able to choose what that approach is. So it leaves it wide open to decide whether we do nothing. And, "Robin, you're just going to get experience for the next three years. And you're going to be a better teacher just by turning up for the next three years," or another school that says, "Right. Robin, for the next three years, this is what we're proposing to do."
"This is the support you're going to get. These are the interim tasks that we might need to look at. We can evaluate these things together. We'll keep having this conversation. We will use the people in our school." They're two very different conversations. But I know which will be the greater likelihood of you being a better teacher at the end of it. I'll let you decide.
Yeah. This goes, I am so sick and tired of hearing that, "I can't afford that," story. You know what? Everybody can say that at any stage in their life, regardless of their circumstances. And that goes for organisations as well. I can always. That's just a cop out, right? Schools have money. They have money. And their responsibility is to spend that money in the best way possible, to maximum effect on the children that they serve. That's the responsibility of a school with money. Right? Now, just imagine if you're running a school. Let's really make this a simplistic thing. Right? What is the single? Do you think that there's anything that will have more impact in your school then having highly knowledgeable and trained professionals working in your organisation?
That's very helpful.
Strongly doubt it.
I can't think of anything. Whatever it is that you can spend your money on, to me, it seems like having highly trained and knowledgeable professionals in your organisation is going to have the most impact on those. I can't think of anything else that you can do that will have more of an impact. Right? So don't tell me the training's not worth it. Now, the other thing you got to think of, how do you get highly trained, knowledgeable people in your organisation? There's only two ways. Either you hire them, or you make them. Which one's more expensive? If you want to go out and hire someone who's highly knowledgeable, and trained, it's going to cost you real money, because they know in the marketplace that they're worth something, right? The more knowledge and training you have, the more you can ask for in a salary.
If you can take someone, and bring them to that level from inside your organisation, that costs you a lot less than going out and hiring somebody. So as an investment in your organisation, in your people, in your pupils, I cannot imagine any better use of money than training your staff. I just can't. I can't imagine how you could better spend your money. Yeah.
We're all in agreement.
So why do we keep hearing this? "We can't afford it. We can't afford it. We can't afford it." What are you spending your money on? And how much leverage does that have? You've got to think of it in every penny that you spend in a school, how much leverage does it have on the outcomes of the lives of those that you serve? Right? And you need to think of it in those terms. If you ask me what should you spend your money on, number one on my list is professional development for my staff. Number two on my list is, well, the tools, and the tools that those people need to do an effective job, right? Train them. Give them the tools.
But I think the difficulty, Andy, is not knowing what that looks like. So I think that that's part of the problem is that even though it seems, I don't know, potentially straightforward, this is the path that if we want to do the training, if we want to build on, and develop into these professionals, I think that some people may feel, some school leaders might feel they just don't know what it looks like. I'm not sure what to do.
That's where we have to step in. I think that our responsibility in this is to create that certification, that path, and say, "If you want to be an expert teacher, this is what you need to do. You want to be a master teacher, this is what you need to do, because if you can't do these things, if you don't do these things, you really shouldn't be considered as a master in your trade." Right? I'm not talking about teaching like your profession. I'm just talking about teaching maths right here. We know, "You need to know this content. You need to know this pedagogy. You need to know these theories. You need to." We should be doing. We need to do what the universities should be doing, but can't do, because the problem is they spit them out. And then they don't come back. It's the continuous bit.
That's the important bit, right? It's not the initial training. The initial training is critical to get the journey going, but it's what you do after. You only spend a few years in university. You spend your whole career hopefully in teaching, right? And in that whole career bit, we have to continuously be improving peoples' skill sets, right?
Right. So what's our conclusion here?
Take the fractions course.
It's not just fractions. It's all the stuff that you think isn't sexy. One, you might find out, actually it is sexy.
It is sexy, yeah.
Stop body shaming the courses, right?
Thank God. They're really good. They're important. And you'll learn lots.
You'll learn lots. And you know what? It might become your favourite topic. Actually, funny, fractions always comes up. People who have had the exposure to fractions always talk about it. Most people shy away from fractions. It's like, "Oh, complicated, difficult."
I may have mentioned this on the previous episode. And it is going back a number of years, but long story short, they did a study in New Zealand about teachers' misconceptions, or being able to spot a misconception, and address it correctly. The one that was absolutely done the worst by teachers, it was anonymized questionnaire in New Zealand. All teachers did it. It was fractions. It was a disgrace in terms of what we knew about being able to recognise a misconception, and being able to do the right thing to address it, and support the learning of said concept or idea. Yet, I imagine that hasn't changed hugely. And I know that, because the people that come on the fractions course, you can see when the penny drops. And all of a sudden, there's the reactions that I get all the time. Andy, you have them. We would've seen this in so many trainings.
One is the, "I finally get it," moment. Two, there comes anger. I see a lot of angry people, because it's like, "Why was I not taught this way when I was at school?" So they have to recognise that. And then there's this excitement of, "Can we just finish the course, because I want to get back into the classroom and start teaching." And these things you see, that is visceral, man. That's real. And I think that unless you have an opportunity to put yourself in that position to learn, and to understand these things, you just don't know it. And you go into our classrooms. And we just do what we do. But once we start to get that feeling, you realise, "Geez, that's really powerful." And the way that we look at courses like those hopefully changes. And share that with your colleagues.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School Podcast.