Good CPD requires an ‘intentional’ approach to your best bets

Matt Hood, SSAT National Conference 2017 main stage speaker and Director of the Institute for Teaching, discusses ‘best-bets’ in teacher education. How defined are yours, and are these shared across your school, by all your staff?

What does he mean by ‘best bets’? ‘Over the last 18 months a colleague and I have been looking at the choices teacher educators make in designing various teacher development programmes. We’ve interviewed people in training organisations and schools in China, Columbia, Denmark, India, Australia, the US and here in the UK to try and uncover the choices different providers are making, eg how generic or subject-specific are the programmes, are they prioritising achievement, or the progress the teachers are making?’

‘We started out with three hypotheses:

  1. All the time, teacher educators are making choices about what works in training. ‘We use the word bet because it suggests an informed punt. You look at the best available data and make the best choice you can. Each time we make a bet there’s an opportunity cost – something we didn’t choose.
  2. These bets are often unintentional. We haven’t thought hard enough about the choices available and the opportunity costs that come with them. We’re vague. The choice is made somewhere down the line about what goes into that CPD session; but how thought through was that?’
  3. As a result, leadership teams and teachers are often not aligned in those design choices. Too often, even in the same school they do not agree with each other about what they should be doing, and how. For the teachers on a given programme that’s confusing.’

In his presentation to the SSAT national conference (Manchester, 30 November – 1 December), Matt Hood will be discussing these best bets and sharing some of the contrasting views and experiences of the people who have made very different design choices in this area. He thinks such disagreement is healthy: ‘if people disagree with us (or any of the voices I’m going to try and bring into the discussion), that’s brilliant. By disagreeing, they will be more intentional and alive.’

Aligning thinking and practice

But he does believe that if educators are more ‘intentional’ and clearer about their bets, they are more likely to be successful. These people have good conversations with colleagues about why they are making their bets, and become aligned in their thinking and practice. Then, things get better, wherever on the spectrum their bets lie, Matt Hood believes.

In reality many education establishments operate on the basis of momentum and inertia: they keep doing the things they’re always done. For example, ‘schools are still behaving as if one-off twilight sessions are the right way to run CPD, when we know they’re not. And they are not intentional about the time, progress vs mastery and other criteria of good quality challenge for training and development.’

A more productive approach, he maintains, is for educators to discuss and debate different aspects of what they are doing against the design choices available to them. They already do this in relation to the classroom: ‘any great school cares deeply about what the kids are learning, the instructional methods being used, and the quality of the teachers.’

Aligning teacher training with student teaching

‘My argument is that teacher educators need to care as deeply about these questions, in relation to teachers, as schools do in relation to students. We do not accept a level of unintentional behaviour for pupils – but we do for teachers, it seems. That is partly what causes poor CPD.

‘I’ve worked in very challenging schools and seen how they get better through following these three choices: making best bets about their CPD; establishing intentional direction; and aligning their practice.’

Schools often have the right ideas, he maintains, but they’re struggling to implement them consistently, partly through a lack of confidence and clarity about whether they are doing ‘the right thing’. So they should accept that there is no certainty about what is ‘best’: they should agree their own best bets, and implement them consistently.

Matt Hood is speaking on the main stage at the SSAT National Conference on Friday afternoon.

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