Leaving at 3.30pm, Small skulls, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam are joined by Jo Sawyer, Primary Consultant, Trainer and Teacher to discuss what constitutes as effective CPD. How can you judge CPD quality? What has happened to the term Mastery? Plus, Adam recalls how sometimes CPD wouldn’t be analysed retrospectively.
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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.
The Maths — No Problem! annual conference is back. Join us in London this November. World renowned speakers and experts will gather to discuss Maths Mastery in the post pandemic world. Be part of the conversation. Visit mathsnoproblem.com for details.
Welcome back to another School of School podcast. The regular gang, Robin, Andy and myself. How are you doing team?
We are so fortunate today because we've got a really special guest, Jo Sawyer. Jo, wonderful to have you here. What a treat. Can you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself?
Yeah, of course. Hi Adam. So I'm Jo Sawyer and I am a lady who is very passionate about primary mathematics. I work in a primary school for two days a week and have a gorgeous class at the moment. And as well as that, on my other three days, I'm a primary consultant working with a range of people. I do some initial teacher training all up to experienced teachers and leaders. And it's just an absolute privilege to work with such a range of people developing mathematics.
Man, you have fallen on your feet, work wise. Because when you were saying all that, that was just passion plus and I love that. That's really cool. Your kids are lucky. I can already tell that. Jo, I want to pick up on one thing that, just one of the things that you do is professional development. Question that I get asked quite a bit, what makes it effective? What's good professional development? What's not? What should we be looking for in professional development?
It's a really interesting question that, because I think up until quite recently, most of the work and research that had been done was around how children learn and how we can make their development of their thinking really effective. But there hadn't been a huge amount about what effective CPD is like for practitioners or for teachers in the classroom. I did some training recently, I was looking up to be on some training recently, where we spent some time looking at the EEF guide that was produced in the UK about Effective Professional Development. And as part of that they would say that there are some mechanisms that have to be included. And one of the activities that we did on this training was to think about what we had had as CPD over our careers and whether or not it had been effective. And I suppose it even depends on what you class as effective training, is it something fun? Or is it something that's had longevity and made you better over time?
And it got me laughing really, because I remember I was thinking, how far back can I remember my CPD? And I went back to 20 years ago where one of my colleagues, a very good friend of mine, we'd been on a course and we ended up in tears laughing because we were doing a practical experiment on proportion. And we proved that proportionately her head was slightly smaller than the average. Now that was a task and it was hysterically funny at the time, but has it made me a better teacher? Possibly not. So then it was that, well, what does make for good CPD? And using this research from the EEF, they've put it down to four key aspects of, does CPD incorporate aspects of building knowledge? Does it incorporate some way of motivating teachers? Does it develop teaching techniques and does it help embed practise?
And what they've said is, and I would totally agree with this actually on reflection, is that to get high quality CPD for educators, you need to include not one or two, but all four elements of all four of those aspects for the CPD to have real benefit back in the classroom and to have maximum impact with the children. So fun and all of that is great on a course, but actually you've got to really plan CPD carefully for it to work. And we all know how difficult it is to get out of the classroom because of the finances of the school. And some teachers, it's difficult for them to get away from the classroom for a day, because they're needed in that classroom. So we have such a small amount of CPD that when we have, it has to have really maximum impact for the teachers to want to come again and for it to actually make them better.
So I don't know. That was where I was at really, it just made me take some time to reflect on what is it in my career that's been good for CPD and does it fit into these mechanisms? And I think it does. So there we go. That's my first thought.
I'm curious, Jo, from a teacher's perspective, do you think Continuing Professional Development or CPD has changed over the years? I'm also thinking in particular Maths CPD and if it has become less generalised.
Do you mean in the way it's been delivered, Robin? Virtual versus face-to-face?
No, I mean the actual learning itself, rather the type of training offered with a focus more on Maths Mastery. Though, feel free to speak to virtual versus online too.
Certainly in Maths in the UK there's a massive push with teaching for Mastery, predominantly through the Maths Hubs that are based around the country. And I think focusing on that and keeping it very specific has had a massive impact on teachers, Not least because when we unpick these mechanisms, I actually think they've been embedded into much of the Maths Hub work. Particularly looking at, for example, developing techniques by modelling techniques, by watching teacher research groups and unpicking lessons and actually taking the time to look into very specific aspects of maths. So I do think that's helped by drilling into key areas, rather than making it a generic training and trying to fit too much in. I think doing training over periods of times, as well with intercessional tasks, making it purposeful back in the classroom has really helped. So I do think there's been a big shift in the way that teachers have had CPD, but also I think the virtual element, I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing.
I love face-to-face, there's nothing like a relationship face-to-face. But on the other hand, having the virtual world has allowed people to come from further a field and present to an audience that they would never have had the opportunity to do. They could have done it prior to COVID, but it wasn't really a form that was used. So it's definitely opened up a variety of audiences. But certainly with my experience of the Maths Hub is that the CPD that teachers get is very, very specific and its definitely moving mathematical thinking forward for teachers and has impacted at their pupils.
So the Mastery journey is an interesting one. I can trace it back. I remember the initial conversations where this all started actually, and I was actually lucky to be maybe in one of the most important meetings that took place in the UK about education. So we're going back now to 2011, and this is when the early days of the textbook research that was being done, the new national curriculum research that was being done by Tim Oates from Cambridge Assessment and the date was in June. So ARCH schools, the ARCH Academy, were using a programme called Math and Focus, which I was supplying to them, which was being imported from the United States. It was an American-Singapore Math Programme and ARCH Schools was an academy, they were one of the first big academies and this is before they started the Maths Mastery programme.
Anyway, we did a training session. We brought Dr. Yeap Ban Har over from Singapore. It was actually the first time I met him. Back in 2011 we did this CPD session for them and there was other big academies involved, the Harris Academy was there. It was really the early days of academies as well. Afterwards we had a meeting and that meeting included, I was there, Ban Har was there, Tim Oates was there, and Amanda Spielman was there, who's now head of Ofsted, and a couple of other really important educational figures, mathematicians and so on and so forth. And we sat down and we had a real heart to heart discussion about, what does the successful education system look like and how do you get there? Obviously there's a lot of other conversations, but I think that was the catalyst, that actual meeting for this shift in the education system and it was as far back as 2011.
And it drove Tim Oates to not only steer the national curriculum in the direction that it went, and particularly the big change was in mathematics and this concept of Maths Mastery. But Maths Mastery wasn't a term that was being thrown around at the time. Helen Jury was at that meeting as well, who's obviously also a very important figure in education in the UK. And I had lunch with Helen several weeks after, maybe several months, and she told me, okay, I'm going to start this programme and I think the right word is Mastery and it's going to be called Mathematics Mastery, and it's going to be run by ARCH and we're going to train schools. And this is where the term started first being used. What was really interesting about that whole time was that there was a spark there.
You could see it. There was this excitement. It's like we had discovered something about mathematics and mathematics teaching, and it was all stemmed around CPD. CPD was at the heart of everything that we were talking about. It was about changing the mindsets of teachers about what mathematics was about. Now the shame of all that is that now the term Maths Mastery is so widely used and it's so ill defined and defined differently by many people that now, I don't know, it is jargon for movement, which is not very clearly defined, because there's what I would call the purists and I would put Maths, No Problem in that camp. I would say, I still believe to this day that Maths, No Problem is the perfect representation of Maths Mastery. It's as good as it's ever been, at the heart that's Maths Mastery. And then there's this idea, this has now spread, has become an idea of virus and it's spreading.
And there's a Maths Mastery pandemic out there. But some of it's not so good. Some of the ideas that are stemming from this. People are putting their own lens on it and it's running away. But if we go back to the CPD question, what is the important thing? So obviously, there's an element of, what do you need to do to make sure that the CPD has an impact? Which is what we were just talking about, which is making sure that the structure is sensible so that it amounts to something. It's not just a bunch of people having a chat. But then beyond that, what are some of the other elements? How important is what you talk about in your CPD and what are the things you need to talk about in your CPD? Is it content? Is it about daily practise? Is it about subject knowledge? What are those things in CPD that make it different that make it good?
I think it depends on what the CPD is for me, Andy. I think sometimes content or daily practise is really relevant. It depends on your audience. But for me, I think CPD has to challenge. It has to push the boundaries a little bit, because if it's pushing the boundaries, it's making people question and it's making people think. But I think going back to your point about being defined differently, I think that's really, really crucial that you've got a very clear definition of what it is that your CPD is going to do and what the impact of that is. So for example, coaching and mentoring, there's been quite buzz words about coaching and mentoring. But a bit like you were saying about Mastery being defined differently, I'm not sure whether there is a definition of what coaching is and a definition of what mentoring is. And it can be amazingly good, but equally it can be done very poorly.
So what I'm trying to say is, I think you've got to have very, very clear boundaries of how you want something to be delivered. What impact you want it to have. And there has to be a real clarity of that aim and vision between everybody in the group, the person delivering it and the people participating in the CPD.
Adam, what do you think?
I'm so deep in thought. Really deep. Deep, deep, deep. So here's what I think. So both of you have touched on stuff that's made me spark my brain in all different directions. So I reckon, I don't know if I was at that training, Andy, but I certainly saw Ban Har and yourself and I'm sure it would've been around 2011, something like that. As a participant, sitting there, brand new. Now, I've been really fortunate because I've listened and have learned from what I consider some of the best in the world. This is going back to New Zealand, I don't know, close to 20 years ago. Now, what I was going to say was, is that I think one of the things that struck me the most about the training with Ban Har at that point was that everyone on my table learned.
And I don't mean learned as in, here's something that if you do this, you get this. Just a simple, remember to do this and then do this, put the clutch in before you change the gear in the car. But a fundamental learning shift that almost took us back to our childhood. That the things made sense. It was enlightening. And I don't use that word lightly. So once you've got that, because I think I'm going to jump back to point number four of your effective CPD, which was embedded, is it embedded. One of my biggest criticisms of CPD that comes into schools is that so often we never evaluated the long-term impact or even the short-term impact. It was like, you went on the course, you did it, but did anyone really know the impact of it?
No, not really. No. No. But we went on it. So, that's good. We've ticked the box there. And I think that if you've had that fundamental shift and you're enlightened, you're excited and you want to know the outcome. So almost inherently as a classroom teacher, I wanted to know the impact on my children all the time, because I'd had that fundamental shift. Not only that, that fundamental shift gave me a lens that let me know, oh my God, I could help more children here. Like that child that's struggling with that and I've been unable to help them. Not through lack of effort, just through lack of skill and lack of understanding. I now have another vehicle to help them. And that's powerful. That's huge. So I think that when I take all of the parts of the participant, what made the effect of CPD, one of the biggest things was the fundamental learning that took place.
Can I learn something that is going to allow me to do my job, not just better, but the potential for significantly better? Is it likely to be embedded? And I would include in that, evaluated over time really analytically. And I think you've got a better chance of doing that if there's either a clear focus on doing that or the person involved has been moved sounds a bit strong actually, but you know what I mean. Where it's that important that you can't help but continually evaluate that practise and want to feel it more. It becomes addictive. That learning becomes utterly, utterly addictive. And you want that fuel in learners. So I think that it's difficult, because we're wrapping up all sorts of different things about different shifts and different movements. But I think at the heart of it is when you've got something, if you come into teaching for the right reasons, it's fundamentally because you want to help children learn.
If you go to something that gives you the tools to do that, and you are absolutely convinced, not because this is this month's flavour of the month, but because you've been shifted in your learning and you are seeing it on a daily basis, then you've got effective CPD. I think that's a really big one for me.
Sorry Adam, I thought people went into teaching because it was easy.
I went into it because the holidays, summer holidays, that was the only reason, right?
It's what we all want to have at 3:30 with the children, with everything. Yeah.
Yeah, exactly. That's right. All right so Jo, can you remember an event, a CPD that you attended some kind of teacher training, at any point in your career, that was really a catalyst for you?
Yeah, for me, I've also been incredibly lucky with the people, like Adam was saying for himself, with the people that I've seen. But for me, when I started going down the Teaching for Mastery route and I went on a residential and I thought I was okay, I thought I had a fairly good maths knowledge and I thought I had a good understanding of how children learned maths. And I went on that course open minded, really looking forward to it and was just blown away with some of the ideas, to the point that I was sitting there going, why have I never thought of this? How have I never done that with my children? And in that approach or just that level of thinking or the small steps of cohesion or just little things that were unpicked over the two day residential.
And I think for me that was it, because it did fulfil all of those things. It built my knowledge without a doubt. It hugely motivated me. I came away buzzing and haven't really ever stopped in the last five years. I'm continually on a high about it. But then I think it did develop my technique. So again, it covered all of these ideas that are meant to be part of effective CPD. And without a doubt, it's embedded in my practise now. The way I teach maths as a result of that first residential is phenomenally different. So that for me was just mind blowing. Very, very fortunate.
What was the thing, if there was one thing, about that event that made it so significant for you? Was it that you were ready for it? Or was it that there was some insight that just fell on your lap that you went, oh my gosh, what have I been doing? Or what made that outstanding CPD? I guess is what I'm trying to get at.
I think I was ready for it. I think I was at the time of my life where I'd studied about maths and I'd done some research about it and I'd done a Master's in maths. But all of that had been based around research, not necessarily about the teaching in the classroom. And I think probably what it was, was the understanding of the simplicity and the purity of maths and to make it so simple and so easy for the children and so cohesive in its small steps that no child could fail. And making it pure. Taking away all of the top bits of maths and just making it purely about the mathematics and watching every child succeed in a way that, that sounds awful to think it was new to me. I'd always wanted every child in my class to succeed, but the way in which Teaching for Mastery was presented was an opportunity for me to actually see it happen in a way I'd not seen in the past. And that for me was just really eye opening and beautiful, to be honest. Really beautiful.
What about you, Adam? Was there ever an event, one CPD that you could go back and say, wow, this changed my life?
Two. And what was it about those?
The two people that I'm thinking of, one's a lady called Lynn Tozer and Ban Har. They were both able to present complex ideas in an understandable way and in such a way that allowed you time to learn and experience it and do it. And I was just thinking about what makes good CPD, you can apply exactly the same what makes good teaching. Those two people assessed the needs of the people in front of them. They gave them the best, they were the best teachers. They taught the people in front of them. And when you learn something, and I'd had plenty of training, but those two people, it fundamentally changed the way I taught and the kids that I taught got a better deal because of it.
Actually, so did the teachers that I work with. Actually probably just so does everyone. I'm probably a better human being for it. There you go. I zoomed back out. But yeah, there was something about that distillation of an idea and the ability to take me through that. So I had an understanding that will never be lost. Can never be gone. I won't forget it.
Jo, thank you for being with us today on the podcast.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.