Supply teaching: Making a success of CPD

This article was written for SecEd magazine and first published in January 2018.  You can read the original version on the SecEd website here.  

You can access the full archive of my columns for SecEd here

Supply teachers have a duty to keep their professional knowledge up-to-date and, as such, should access regular CPD. It may be possible to join in with school-based CPD such as INSET days and twilight training while you’re on a placement but you should not limit yourself to these ad hoc opportunities.

Your CPD is your responsibility. And there are plenty of opportunities for you to engage in more informal, personalised professional development.

Judith Little, an American educational researcher at the University of California, believes there are four pillars of effective CPD. These are:

Teachers talk about learning

Teachers take every opportunity to talk to each other about their lessons, about their pupils, and about teaching and learning in general.

Teachers observe each other

Wherever possible, teachers engage in peer observations which are followed by constructive, focused discussions about how they can improve and about how they can share good practice and celebrate each other’s skills and talents.

Peer observations, far from being high-stakes assessments of performance, allow colleagues to take genuine snapshots of what happens every day – snapshots which can provide helpful suggestions for improvement as well as recognise and then reward genuine success.

Teachers plan together

Teachers should write lesson plans together, teaching the same lessons, then discussing them. Many schools do not require detailed lesson plans – and Ofsted no longer requires them – so perhaps “teachers plan together” could be interpreted as teachers talking to each other about their medium and long-term planning, and about their marking and pupils’ work. This process might involve teachers routinely scrutinising each other’s work and moderating each other’s assessments, perhaps engaging in a process of peer review of each other’s mark-books and pupils’ work.

Teachers teach each other

Finally, teachers lead and participate in professional learning communities which provide opportunities for them to share best practice and comment on what they’ve tried and what worked and what didn’t. These communities work best when they are staff-led, collaborative enterprises not opportunities for senior leaders to stand and deliver.

The four pillars

One logical conclusion of Little’s four pillars is that CPD should perform two functions: innovation and mastery. In other words, CPD should not just be about learning new ways of working – or CPD for innovation – although this is undoubtedly important. Rather, CPD should also be about helping teachers to get better at something they already do – or CPD for mastery. CPD for mastery is about recognising what works well now and what should therefore be embedded, added to, and shared.

Nice to TeachMeet you

The best way for supply teachers to access CPD which is supported by these four pillars and performs the two functions of innovation and mastery is to attend TeachMeets, which are informal meetings of teachers – often in the evenings or at weekends – in which attendees share mini-presentations about their ideas for teaching.

TeachMeets are a great way to meet people, too, as well as to learn stimulating new teaching ideas and share your own ideas and strategies.

TeachMeets take place across the country and throughout the year. They are advertised widely including on Twitter and other social media. There is no obligation to participate so supply teachers – no matter their experience and context – should not be afraid to go along to soak up some inspiring ideas from others.

Having attended a TeachMeet or training course, it is important that – rather than attempting to put into practice every new strategy you encounter at once – you introduce one or two tweaks and make directed efforts to sustain and develop these.

You could, perhaps, make a note for yourself to follow-up on certain strategies you’ve learnt at CPD events at regular intervals – say, after one week, one month, three months and six months. At these regular intervals, you could return to your notes and review what impact the new ideas are having on your teaching.

CPD libraries give us power

As well as TeachMeets and other CPD events, there’s no shortage of books and research papers on teaching and learning which can inform and inspire you. The school you’re working in might have a staff CPD library but, failing this, your local library is likely to have a heathy stack of reading materials for you to dip in to.

As well as books, you may wish to subscribe to a research newsletter in order to access regular evidence-based academic information. Many are free of charge or offer evaluation articles for free.

When looking at research, try to find summaries (or “meta-analyses”) rather than reading full, single papers. This will ensure that you get a more rounded view that covers a full range of opinion.

Social media is another great source of CPD. Twitter, in particular, can be a useful tool for teachers. Following the Twitter accounts of some of the top bloggers and thinkers can really stimulate you to reflect on your own practice. There are also dedicated chat groups (find the hashtags) for supply teachers, a safe and supportive environment in which to share stories and ask for advice.

Finally, you might want to subscribe to some teacher blogs and sign up to regular emails from, say, the Guardian Teacher Network, TES, and other education publications – at the top of which list should sit SecEd magazine of course, which has the added bonus of being completely free (online, ebulletin or in-school).

Coach trip

As a supply teacher, you may wish to find a coach or mentor, someone with whom to talk about your latest placement and from whom to seek advice.

Remember that a coach or mentor is not there to judge you; instead, yours should be a safe relationship within which you are able to discuss your practice openly and frankly. You should use conversations with your coach or mentor to be honest about the things you think you are doing well as well as the things you feel you need to develop further. Do not be afraid to ask for their support and advice.

CUREE’s (the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education) national framework for coaching identifies 10 principles which are worth bearing in mind when entering into coaching. They say that coaching should:

  • Be a learning conversation: structured professional dialogue, rooted in evidence from the professional learner’s practice, which articulates existing beliefs and practices to enable reflection on them.
  • Set challenging and personal goals: identifying goals that build on what learners know and can do already, but could not yet achieve alone, while attending to both school and individual priorities.
  • Be a thoughtful relationship: developing trust, attending respectfully and with sensitivity to the powerful emotions involved in deep professional learning.
  • Seek to understand why different approaches work: developing understanding of the theory that underpins new practice so it can be interpreted and adapted for different contexts.
  • Be a learning agreement: establishing confidence about the boundaries of the relationship by agreeing and upholding ground rules that address imbalances in power and accountability.
  • Acknowledge the benefits to the mentors and coaches: recognising and making use of the professional learning that mentors and coaches gain from the opportunity to mentor or coach.
  • Combine support from fellow professional learners and specialists: collaborating with colleagues to sustain commitment to learning and relate new approaches to everyday practice; seeking out specialist expertise to extend skills and knowledge and to model good practice.
  • Experiment and observe: creating a learning environment that supports risk-taking and innovation and encourages professional learners to seek out direct evidence from practice.
  • Develop self-direction: an evolving process in which the learner takes increasing responsibility for their professional development as skills, knowledge and self-awareness increase.
  • Use resources effectively: making and using time and other resources creatively to protect and sustain learning, action and reflection on a day-to-day basis.

A coach must: establish high levels of trust; be consistent over time; offer genuine respect; be honest, frank and open; and challenge without threat.

A coach must not: give answers or advice; make judgments; offer counselling; create dependency; impose agendas or initiatives; and confirm long-held prejudices.

The benefits of coaching and mentoring are perhaps obvious: as a supply teacher, you will become more motivated and your confidence will grow; your knowledge and skills will be enhanced and your experience will be enlarged – because you will learn more about yourself and more about your job as a result of the process.

What’s more, you will develop a strong professional relationship with a colleague and have a sounding board against which to bounce ideas, concerns and theories.


Follow me on Twitter: @mj_bromley


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