Staff development encompasses a variety of activities, but often right now it’s training event planning time. Only maybe it’s not, because it’s time to cope with all the current sector challenges. With all the issues, it’s easy to see how training to improve teaching, learning and assessment might be put to one side for now.  

You’re not convinced it’s ok though are you? You know it’s never time to let learning slip. In this fast changing technological age, it’s quite possible that there has never been a time when we have needed to future proof our teaching and learning more. So, just coping right now won’t cut it. We need our sector to focus not just on surviving but on thriving in tough times.

So if we want to thrive we need to develop our teachers. You don’t need me to tell you that. If we’re smart we want to be ahead of the teaching and learning game but with little money available to spend on training and development what do we do? Simple: We spend it wisely.

Enter opportunity. When times get tough (again) we have opportunity to reflect carefully and ask ourselves the question: Were we spending our money wisely anyway? Let’s consider what would constitute a wise spend. Perhaps carefully chosen and planned activity that leads to sustainable improvement so that all teachers and learners benefit?  However, knowing whether staff development has actually developed staff is a question that can be difficult to answer. So let’s ask. Do you know:

  • Which teachers make changes to the way they plan and deliver their sessions as a result of staff development?

  • The impact of these changes on learner motivation, engagement, progress, and development of skills?

  • What the differences are in delivery quality between the teachers that do and do not partake in the training?

  • How long the changes and associated impact last for?

  • Which staff development sessions have the most positive impact?

  • Whether any staff development sessions go on to result in negative impact?

Too often, we measure success by the seeming success of the event itself. With well thought out training, positive teacher attitude, and a great trainer, training can be evaluated as wonderful. We can all give ourselves a pat on the back safe in the knowledge we’ve had a positive impact. Well, for the weekend maybe or perhaps for a lesson or two. The bad news is, that positive ‘feeling’ often doesn’t last or actually result in any meaningful change.

So, following the event what do we need to do to monitor and ensure sustainable improvement? Consider:

  • Hang on. First, let’s rewind: Before training, teachers should reflect upon where they are to begin with identifying their strengths and areas for development related to the training.
  • At key points during the training, teachers should consider what they have learnt and what they will do differently in the future as a result of this.

  • Trainers should be observing carefully, identifying barriers to future progress, and reporting back to key managers with recommendations to ensure meaningful and sustainable improvements to practice.

  • Key managers should attend the training. I can’t stress how important this can be for all sorts of reasons. Time and time again I hear teachers express fear about changing their practice because of perception it won’t be ‘allowed’ or ‘accepted’ by management. Teachers and managers need a shared understanding.

  • Note. Just in case you’re thinking that managers’ presence in training can have a negative impact by ‘subduing’ teachers during the session - well yes of course it can and sometimes does, but then you’ve got another problem to deal with. It doesn’t have to be that way.

  • Promptly provide a forum for teachers to plan together based on what they have learnt.

  • Ensure that teachers consider how they will know if their plans are working. Basically, all you are doing here is assessing the impact and sustainability of their learning.

  • Managers, coaches, and peer teachers can be involved in this evaluation. There isn’t a correct method for this. It’s the way you go about it and the intention behind it that’s important.

  • Provide an opportunity for group teacher evaluation where they share their set backs and successes and decide what to do next.

  • And please, please, please ask learners too.

So, don’t just train your staff and then breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the day. See that day as the beginning and get excited about the ongoing adventure, exploring the difference it’s (possibly) making. Once you know whether your staff development really does result in staff development, then, and only then, can you spend with wisdom.

Deborah McVey is managing director of Deborah McVey Ltd, providing training, coaching and consultancy support to the learning and skills sector, specialising in improving teaching, learning and assessment. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn

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