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Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Our CPD journey, by Eve Sheppard and Stacey Salt at The Oldham College

Stop: Lockdown Lessons March-June 2020

In March 2020 FE life as we knew it came to an abrupt stop. We had an idea it was coming of course, and on the Friday before lockdown the college collapsed teaching timetables to allow staff to attend an emergency briefing on the looming prospect of remote teaching. The use of Google Classroom had been trialled in college over the previous year and had been gradually trickling down to the sort of teacher who likes a bit of tech, but now it was suddenly imperative that all staff get up to speed overnight. This was the beginning of what some call ‘sheep dip training’ – blanket training given to all staff ‘delivered’ by a sage on a stage. As might be expected, it doesn’t always stick. Having said that, there is a time for this approach and impending college closure was arguably that time! By the time lockdown was confirmed, all teaching staff were at least aware of Google Classroom, how to access it and what it was for. However, what emerged over the coming months was a huge variety of approaches to remote online learning, reflecting the wide range of digital skills of both staff and students.

Bumper to bumper, the avenue’s packed
At this time we were in crisis mode, with no certainty about how long the lockdown would last and what else lay ahead. Pressures and questions were everywhere. How would we manage exams, attendance and achievement? How should we support our vulnerable learners, and reach those in digital poverty? How would staff be able to juggle work and caring responsibilities? All these competing pressures left little time for planning a coherent programme of CPD. Much of what was offered was reactive and varied from team to team.

Turn off the lights, and I’ll glow
On the bright side, for many teachers, the restrictions actually sparked a huge amount of creativity. With no roadmap for the situation we were in, teachers were free to explore and experiment. Freed from the daily commute, there was time to attend webinars and other online CPD events which would have been impossible to do alongside a full teaching timetable onsite. CPD became a personal journey with teachers learning through experimentation and engagement with the wider community of FE.

I’m on a roll. It’s time to go solo
Most of us sat alone at our laptops and individually worked out ways to engage our learners and keep on doing what we do. We adjusted to our new situation and focussed on the fundamentals; supporting our students to learn, achieve and progress. We tried things, had good days and bad, learned from our mistakes and found a new way to teach. Sharing this learning with colleagues was hit and miss, often opportunistic and dependent on being in the right online space at the right time.

Teacher on video call
Teacher on video call

Collaborate: The beauty of bespoke, July-August

If there was a problem, Yo, I’ll solve it
As the end of term rolled around, we finally had breathing space to take stock and consider how to share all the learning of the previous months. So much of that learning had been focussed on getting to grips with digital tools, but now our discussions turned back to pedagogy and how these tools could best be employed in the service of core teaching skills such as modelling, assessment and feedback. The Advanced Practitioner team collaborated on a skills audit, centred around digital tools but prioritising the skills that would be most useful for teaching and learning. We asked teachers to self-assess against this so that we could plan CPD that would meet individual needs. We created a series of workshop sessions for staff, giving them time to try apps and features that they weren’t familiar with. For some sessions a flipped learning approach was used; ‘how to’ videos and materials were sent out before the workshops so that we could concentrate on hands-on practice and troubleshooting in the live sessions.

Kept on, pursuing to the next stop
We also began planning for September, collating the best Google Classrooms and resources from the previous term as exemplars for teachers setting up our new blended learning offer. We worked with an external consultant who broadened our horizons, demonstrating tools to create rich asynchronous content underpinned by Gagne’s nine events of instruction. There were also many opportunities over the summer to attend external CPD events and webinars, sharing learning from across the FE and wider education sector.

Listen: New horizons – September-December

In September, work began on the Greater Manchester Digital and Blended learning project. By this stage the college had decided on a blended learning approach. Every course had a Google classroom and its own blend of face-to-face and online learning. Now our approach to staff development started to shift again, moving away from the ‘how’ and towards the ‘what and why’ of digital learning. There was a renewed focus on sharing good practice, with more collaborative staff development via TeachMeets and using Jamboards for idea sharing.

The skills audit which we had developed in summer gave us a detailed picture of how teachers perceived their own skills levels. This allowed for a bespoke and exciting training package to be formed and implemented within the college, promoted staff buy-in because they had ownership of their development and was an opportunity to share some of the good practice seen throughout lockdown 1.

Following this a change in CPD culture occurred, perceptions of the focus of CPD developed and this encouraged us to think around the term Teach Meets. Initially, the presence of staff and motivation to join these was encouraging – different themes each week allowed staff ownership to remain. Teach Meets have been the perfect opportunity to create a positive environment for staff to participate, practise and share their ideas and have been taken as a positive experience. As with anything though, once staff felt comfortable and more confident the participation in Teach Meets seemed to become quiet. Moving forward now, the key areas are to focus on a pedagogical approach within digital learning and looking at techniques from our core Teaching for Distinction CPD programme to become further embedded in the ‘new normal’.

It was important for us to listen to a range of viewpoints on CPD so we set up a staff focus group comprising both teaching and learning support staff. The number one request was opportunities to learn from peers. Suggestions included watching colleagues teaching live sessions online, opportunities to share good practice within teams and making connections with subject specialist colleagues at other colleges to compare approaches. Staff also requested more sessions focussed on pedagogy, particularly assessment and feedback, and help with how to teach practical subjects online. Another theme that emerged was ‘sandpit time’; time to experiment with different apps and develop new resources.

Conducted and formed, This is a hell of a concept
In our subsequent discussions about the focus group and our project, we fizzed with ideas about moving our CPD approach forward. These included creating a video library to showcase good practice, a series of podcasts, cross-college curriculum groups to share ideas, creating space for play and experimentation and more Teach Meets. The challenge now was to get focussed, make a plan and get things moving.

Back with a brand new invention- January and beyond
As we move into 2021 and a new lockdown our CPD plans seem more relevant than ever. The new restrictions have brought the need for digital teaching skills back into sharp focus and we are now grateful for the bank of ‘how to’ videos that we have been assembling. For now, we are sending them out to people as and when needed, but the plan is to put them together on a central FAQ page for teachers to access whenever they need technical support. We also want to put together another video library with clips of digital teaching in action, showcasing the best of what can be achieved in live online sessions.

Through our focus groups and AP roles we have found no shortage of creative, innovative teachers willing to share their practice. We have recorded a number of podcasts and are delighted with the positive feedback we’ve had from colleagues both within and outside our college. Our podcast guests have inspired us and we’re excited to amplify their voices and ideas.

The challenge now is to create time and space for teachers to experiment again with digital resources and try out some of the ideas they have seen in CPD or heard about in a podcast. Under the pressure of a lockdown, a lot of us are in survival mode which leaves little space for play. Our job is to persuade others of the importance of playtime and to work with managers to carve out time for this.

The journey continues…