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With so much professional learning coming out of the back of lockdown teaching, there is much that teachers have to reflect upon to ensure that the aspects of our professional development that appeared because we suddenly found ourselves teaching from home are not simply dropped or forgotten about.

There will be several aspects of lockdown teaching that many will be happy to leave behind – not everyone was a fan of teaching to a computer screen that was filled with blank screens because students had turned off their cameras. I know in my role, teaching ICT is much easier in person – thinking specifically of when I teach any form of coding – it’s easier and quicker to help spot errors in the code when you’re looking at it, rather than having the student send the file, download it, open it, understand how the student has written it, try to spot the error, then return it to them explaining what they’ve done wrong and how they should fix it.

Don’t get me wrong, my coding skills improved dramatically, but the cognitive toll this had when working with more complicated files and code, drained me quicker and also slowed down my ability to help every student quickly and efficiently. While I was looking at one student issue, there were 5 others waiting. This does not help the learning process.

But today’s post is not about lockdown teaching! We’re looking at some of the positives that we can take away from this period of our professional careers.

The aspect that I want to focus on today is teacher professional development.

In Northern Ireland, there has been a huge decline in the financial capability of schools over the last decade. BBC recently reported on “how each pupil in Northern Ireland has about 3% less spent on them now than was the case a decade ago.” In 2021-22 NI schools spend £6400 per pupil.

EA figures show that on 31 March 2021, 478 (48%) of schools were in a budget deficit. The Minister for Finance, Conor Murphy has commented that some Stormont departments may face “more pain” as his budget prepared to spend more money on health.

Why is this relevant? It sets the background to show and explain how professional development for teachers has disappeared. In the years prior to the onset of COVID, principals in Northern Ireland have seen parents donating toilet roll to lessen the impact of budget cuts.

Against this level of financial strain, it will come as little surprise to learn that professional development has become a casualty of austerity.

The difficult pill to swallow here (beyond the ridiculous level of financial restriction) is how government expect a workforce that does not receive the required level of continued development, to continue to be equipped with the skills necessary to prepare school pupils for the world they will face when they leave school and enter the workforce.

Students can learn a great deal by explaining their ideas to their peers and by participating in activities in which they can learn from other learners. Peer learning is becoming an increasingly important element in many courses, and it is being used in a variety of contexts and disciplines.

TDNI

tdni homescreen for professional development

TDNI.org is a site I’ve been working on for a while. An online platform for teachers intended to complete professional development courses that have been developed by other teachers in Northern Ireland. It has been used recently by the Language and Communication Service to trial a pilot project in language development as a means for teachers across Northern Ireland to access the learning material at a time and in a way that suits them. I am developing my own courses for this platform. In September I hope to use it with my own colleagues to teach a Diploma course in using Digital Technologies in the classroom as a blended learning course. If you’re interested in using the platform with your school then drop me an email or comment on one of the social medias and we can get it set up!

The idea for this site is to create our own CPD in the areas that individual teachers are expert in, as well as work with specialist organisations who want to provide their courses to teachers. The site would embody the principles discussed above – by using self-paced learning, teachers would complete CPD courses in a way that suited them and enhanced their classroom practice and CPD.

Concluding Thoughts

Our professional development can be positively impacted by educational technology. Online learning can allow us to deliver and receive training with no consideration for physical distance. Self-paced learning and video delivery will allow teachers to work at their pace – which may be quicker or slower, depending on their schedules and commitments. There are aspects of professional development where being physically in the room can be of benefit to the learners-community and relationship are two big aspects of learning that online learning cannot easily replicate.

There are many providers of professional development online that are worth looking into. Platforms like FutureLearn, Udemy and EdX all offer good courses that will be of benefit to teachers. TDNI is another site that is actively looking for teachers to develop online courses for teachers to access and use.

Tell me about your online experiences of CPD or if you would like to develop a CPD course for teachers to use!

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However the picture is not all bleak! They say necessity is the mother of invention and that is very much the case – as teaching professionals, we need to keep insisting on a programme of CPD to continue training staff to provide a high quality teaching to our pupils. Later in this post, I will discuss a platform I am developing that I would love to see teachers use to train others.

But first, let’s take a look at how EdTech can help professional development.

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Self-Paced Learning

The main benefits of self-paced learning work in the following main contexts:

  1. For those in full-time employment
  2. For those who want to work at a certain pace (be it quickly or slowly paced)

In both these contexts, the emphasis is on the learner: what do they feel comfortable with? Are they motivated to want to work at a quicker pace (particularly if the course is contingent on securing employment, or as a condition of employment), or do they require a slower pace because of an additional learning need; time/work /family commitments?

The nature of self-paced learning means that it could be all of these or none. The pace is set by the learner and the work completed when they get to the end. Some will commit to a set amount of time per week and manage their studying time to fit in with their work, family or social commitments and so having this skill of self-paced learning will allow teachers to learn new material, work out how it applies to their classes and then implement it in a meaningful and successful way.

Distance Learning

adult professional development

No longer do we need to be in the classroom with the teacher to learn! (Did we ever?) A fact strongly emphasised through Covid/lockdown. We have collectively realised that we can teach over distance and still be successful. I will appreciate that for compulsory education (primary, SEN & post-primary) that this is a mixed bag – certainly for younger classes, there is a huge benefit from being in the classroom, but for older students, there is the potential that this can be used.

I would also suggest that this needs to be used intelligently. Not everyone likes learning from home. We are social creatures and need the interaction. Sometimes distance puts us at a disadvantage. When we are thinking about using this type of learning, it needs to be carried out with the student in mind – what will help them to learn best?

More Choice and Chosen by the Teacher

Every teacher should have control over their professional development and the direction they wish their career development to move in.  This means the courses they wish to participate in should be available.

I have found what happens is that my training needs arise from professional occurrences – in a previous job, I was the director of a foundation degree course and much of my out-of-class interaction with students was in relation to requesting an extension to an assignment, which was mostly due to serious personal incidents (bereavement, mental health issues etc.). My training request sbegan to change from computing-focused courses, to courses that focused on mental health. I wasn’t looking to become a counsellor, but my students required help in an area that I was recognisably deficient in, and I owed it to them to improve my ability to help them, so my CPD changed. And this may well be the same for any number of teachers across the profession. In my current job, I am seeing an increase in the incidence of mental health issues. I’m still not qualified to do anything about it, but I am in a better position to offer support for my students.

 

This should therefore be available to teaching staff that they have the capacity and ability to develop their professional skills in areas not previously studied. This can be influenced by the needs of the school, but should be directed by the interests of the teacher and how they would like to develop their professional skills.

Specific Learning Communities

As part of the professional development movement, should be the opportunity to join learning communities in which best practice can be shared and developed. This exists informally, on Twitter and Facebook, but a more formalised grouping would enable teachers to communicate with other teachers in their professional areas and work within a mentoring capacity to aid the development of beginning teachers by pairing them with more experienced teachers in their subject area who understand the requirements of the subject. This of course would require time and space within the day to carry out this role and so in one sense, the ability of schools to participate in this would need to be managed specifically by the teachers involved, but the potential gains for the teacher would be of immense benefit in the development of junior teachers with the passing on of experiential knowledge by more senior teachers.

Incremental Implementation

We all do this. We learn about a new tool and want to use it in our teaching – but we’re unsure, so we do little by little. Part of this is so that if we mess it up, there isn’t much lost, but also because we will lack the confidence to go for it. We will want to try it out in certain classes (probably the ‘better behaved’ ones if we’re honest because they won’t mess around as much) to see it work, then role it out to other classes. This incremental implementation is a positive part of the process, because there will inevitably be moments when we do mess up, or something goes slightly wrong, so this step-by-step learning process allows us to learn from our mistakes and becomes more competent in the skill we are developing.

Peer-Based Learning and Sharing

The video is intentional. It’s a take on a quote from Einstein (did he really say it? I don’t know), that if we can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it well enough yourself. But it makes sense. And can have a powerful impact on our teaching – because if we can’t explain it simply, then we don’t understand it well enough.

This can then be applied to when we share our expertise and help our colleagues, it also serves to affirm our own understanding of the topic. It will also shape our understanding of the topic – the Observer Effect comes into play here: when our behaviour is observed it changes.

I will occasionally get pupils to help other pupils in class, for the purpose of developing both pupils understanding: for the one who is learning and the one who is teaching. When we explain it to others, it shows gaps in our learning but also shows how well we know the topic.

Likewise for our colleagues. When we show them how to use a tool, we share that knowledge and have a role in their development. We show ourselves to have a level of knowledge that can benefit our colleagues and raise the ability of the school to deliver a high quality level of teaching to all pupils at all levels – which is the point of all this: become a better teacher to help our students better.

Peer-based learning works because it is informal, non-threatening and allows the learner to ask the questions they might feel awkward asking of a teacher. But when it’s two people working together, there is no vertical gap between the two learners, that might exist between a pupil and their teacher.

Students can learn a great deal by explaining their ideas to their peers and by participating in activities in which they can learn from other learners. Peer learning is becoming an increasingly important element in many courses, and it is being used in a variety of contexts and disciplines.

TDNI

tdni homescreen for professional development

TDNI.org is a site I’ve been working on for a while. An online platform for teachers intended to complete professional development courses that have been developed by other teachers in Northern Ireland. It has been used recently by the Language and Communication Service to trial a pilot project in language development as a means for teachers across Northern Ireland to access the learning material at a time and in a way that suits them. I am developing my own courses for this platform. In September I hope to use it with my own colleagues to teach a Diploma course in using Digital Technologies in the classroom as a blended learning course. If you’re interested in using the platform with your school then drop me an email or comment on one of the social medias and we can get it set up!

The idea for this site is to create our own CPD in the areas that individual teachers are expert in, as well as work with specialist organisations who want to provide their courses to teachers. The site would embody the principles discussed above – by using self-paced learning, teachers would complete CPD courses in a way that suited them and enhanced their classroom practice and CPD.

Concluding Thoughts

Our professional development can be positively impacted by educational technology. Online learning can allow us to deliver and receive training with no consideration for physical distance. Self-paced learning and video delivery will allow teachers to work at their pace – which may be quicker or slower, depending on their schedules and commitments. There are aspects of professional development where being physically in the room can be of benefit to the learners-community and relationship are two big aspects of learning that online learning cannot easily replicate.

There are many providers of professional development online that are worth looking into. Platforms like FutureLearn, Udemy and EdX all offer good courses that will be of benefit to teachers. TDNI is another site that is actively looking for teachers to develop online courses for teachers to access and use.

Tell me about your online experiences of CPD or if you would like to develop a CPD course for teachers to use!

It's Your Turn.

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Sign me up!

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