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Remote professional development: Reflections on the research in the context of secondary school CPD programmes during the 2020–21 pandemic

Written by: Claire Badger and Amanda Triccas
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CLAIRE BADGER AND AMANDA TRICCAS, THE GODOLPHIN AND LATYMER SCHOOL, UK

Lockdown closures in March 2020 forced schools to find alternative professional development approaches to support teachers who were switching instantly to a new way of working. This article discusses how one school adapted their internal CPD to support teachers through both periods of school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With teachers having to adapt instantly to a new way of working, it was apparent that, in line with the DfE standards for professional development (DfE, 2016), senior leadership needed to prioritise focusing CPD on colleagues’ immediate needs. Fundamental to this was ensuring confidence with our technical platforms – Google Classroom, supported by Google Meet. However, focusing purely on technical aspects is insufficient as it can lead to teachers being more concerned about delivery mechanisms than lesson content, whereas research suggests that the latter is far more important (EEF, 2020a). Our school priorities for the 2019–20 academic year included a focus on feedback and assessment, so initially our training looked at ways in which we could adapt for remote assessment the digital tools with which many teachers were already familiar. We also drew on external expertise through resources such as ResearchEd’s home webinar series (ResearchEd, 2020) and Doug Lemov’s work on teaching online (Lemov, 2020), thus ensuring that any training was underpinned by robust evidence and expertise (DfE, 2016).

Evidence suggests that remote professional development can be supported effectively and that a blend of synchronous and asynchronous elements might provide a pragmatic solution (EEF, 2020b). Our one-to-one iPad programme had been in place for five years, meaning that levels of technical competence in our teaching body were generally very high, although confidence in the use of specific tools in a remote context varied greatly. Because of this wide range of starting points, we felt that synchronous online training for all staff on the use of digital tools was likely to be ineffective. Instead, we wanted CPD to be agile and responsive to staff needs at the point of use. The EEF’s rapid evidence assessment also discusses the value of interactive content and collaboration in remote professional development, along with the importance of supportive school conditions, including platforms to ensure ease of access to training (EEF, 2020b). Accordingly, we set up an internal Google microsite hosting various resources that staff could access in their own time, from quick ‘how to’ guides on technical aspects of specific digital tools to more detailed guidance on the safeguarding aspects of video conferencing. Alongside this, we set up a training Google Classroom that provided interactive content, allowing teachers to engage with material from a student perspective; over half of our teaching staff signed up to this classroom and their comments showed that this also facilitated asynchronous discussions around particular teaching strategies.

Synchronous training also had its place. Initially, we ran a series of voluntary, structured synchronous training sessions that took staff through practical techniques for delivering remote lessons, which they could experience from a student perspective. Although these proved useful, it was difficult to predict what training would be most valued by staff, so these were replaced with unstructured drop-in sessions taking place four or five times a week. These sessions provided a forum for facilitating one-to-one discussions around the best approaches for a specific lesson, discussions that started by considering the aims of the lesson rather than focusing on technology.

A supportive culture and shared sense of community is a vital component of an effective school (Papay and Kraft, 2019); maintaining and building this became even more important when we were no longer working in close proximity to each other and were missing the opportunities for informal pedagogical discussions. As a first port of call, the microsite provided this sense of shared goals, as it offered a space for sharing learning tips. Several times a week, short videos were posted in which teachers discussed successful strategies that they had used with classes. Approximately a third of teaching staff contributed, ranging from senior leaders to trainee teachers, with many submitting several tips. We also recognised the importance of subject-specific collaboration to allow staff to integrate the general pedagogical techniques shared via the microsite into their own subjects, so departments continued to run meetings remotely via Google Meet.

No formal evaluation of our remote professional development programme was undertaken, but anecdotal comments through the appraisal process show that staff appreciated the support:

‘My ICT skills improved dramatically; much of this is quite simply down to the remote training we were given.’

‘Aspects of remote teaching were inevitably challenging, but we were extremely well supported at every level and in all respects.’

Further comments showed how new-found levels of confidence with technology were translated into changing practice once we returned to the classroom:

‘Remote teaching and learning made me appreciate how fulfilling normal classroom teaching is; [however] it has enabled me to learn new iPad skills, which will be beneficial in the future.’

‘My challenge is to try to embed new technologies purposefully, especially those tools that worked really well during remote learning.’

‘I thoroughly enjoyed using technology in the classroom rather than mainly using it as a tool for remote learning; I particularly like its capacity to enable quick progress checks from all students very easily.’

‘During remote teaching, I made greater use of iPad apps; I want to make sure I continue to use these effectively and appropriately in face-to-face teaching.’

We recognise that appreciation of CPD does not necessarily lead to changing practices or improved pupil outcomes, but it is telling that, despite initial concerns around our remote provision, our parent body was generally very supportive of our approach, particularly during the second lockdown in January 2021.

Although we were proud of what we achieved during remote learning, returning to the building was a relief for staff and students alike, providing much-missed opportunities for informal discussions. Nevertheless, there are aspects of our CPD provision that we will maintain. The microsite remains and has been expanded to cover teaching and learning in general, with specific pages on remote provision. This has a wealth of resources for teachers to refer to in their own time, with the selection of ‘how to’ guides proving particularly popular. We have also retained this format for other whole-staff training programmes – for example, on training for 11+ interviews and the 2021 grading processes – and the flexibility of where and when staff engage with this material, as well as the ability to refer back to refresh understanding, has been appreciated. It is unlikely that we would have developed this approach without the nudge provided by lockdown closures.

References

Department for Education (DfE) (2016) Standard for teachers’ effective professional development. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/537030/160712_-_PD_standard.pdf (accessed 17 June 2021).

Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) (2020a) Remote learning: Rapid evidence assessment. Available at: https://edtechhub.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Remote_Learning_Rapid_Evidence_Assessment.pdf (accessed 17 June 2021).

Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) (2020b) Remote professional development: Rapid evidence assessment. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Publications/Remote_PD_Evidence_Assessment.pdf (accessed 17 June 2021).

Lemov D (2020) Teaching in the Online Classroom: Surviving and Thriving in the New Normal. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Papay JP and Kraft MA (2019) Developing workplaces where teachers stay, improve and succeed. In: Scutt C and Harrison S (eds) Teacher CPD: International Trends, Opportunities and Challenges. London: Chartered College of Teaching, pp. 32–24.

ResearchEd (2020) ResearchEd Home 2020. Available at: https://researched.org.uk/category/researched-home (accessed 30 April 2021).

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