Professional development for teachers MATTERS

In the summer I attended the Teach Through Music final conference and was part of a panel debate about professional development for teachers. There was plenty of discussion around the barriers to teachers coming out of school to attend events for example:

  • Schools don’t have the budget to pay for cover to allow teachers out
  • Schools won’t pay for teachers to attend training
  • Many schools are bringing teacher development ‘in-house’, whole school INSET, one-size-fits-all.
  • It takes so long to set cover, organise everything then catch up after that it increases workload and adds to stress so it’s easier to not go
  • Teachers aren’t aware of what is on offer to them and those that offer things don’t know how to reach teachers to let them know

Halfway through the session I noticed that with a couple of exceptions, discussion was being led mainly by representatives from music organisations. For some reason, the teachers in the room weren’t engaging with this discussion, it was happening around them. There were many questions directly to teachers in the room, yet very few responses from teachers were forthcoming.

I spent a long time afterwards trying to work out why.

-Is it because of a disconnect between organisations trying to provide support and development opportunities for teachers? Are we all aware of each other, what our aims are, what we do? There are so many organisations in our fragmented sector now, are we drowning each other out losing the teachers along the way? How can we work better together?

-Are teachers getting too much thrown at them, are they clear what each hub or organisation does, who they can talk to and why they might want or need to engage?

-Are we asking the wrong questions? Rather than asking why teachers can’t come out of school for professional development, should we be asking what do you want and need to develop as a music educator, a musician, a teacher, a professional? And possibly more worryingly, is training for assessing without levels, getting better grades at GCSE and A Level, How to teach Edexcel Unit 2 composition etc. actually what is needed to become more effective practitioners and ultimately ensure that all students get a better musical experience in the music classroom?

It feels like the actual practice of teaching and developing as a teacher, standing in front of a class and making music with them, has been so swamped by everything else teachers have to do that professional development has shifted a long way down the list of priorities for a busy music teacher in the UK.

Last year I even started to find teaching my lessons an inconvenience, because I had so many other things I needed to get done. At the end of every lesson I’d have at least 10-15 new emails all wanting me to do things immediately and after a full teaching day the thought of catching up with this caused a lot of additional stress. I had to work hard to make sure this didn’t distract me from what I was there to do-teach.

I find this situation really sad and I’m angry about it too. Teachers are entitled to training and support, to develop themselves professionally and to have some choice over what this might involve. To build on the initial training they received, to stay up to date with latest developments in the profession, to network and share ideas with other teachers (and by this I don’t mean downloading an Elements of Music scheme of work from a Face Book group).

I would like to see teachers feel able to demand that they get this entitlement. As with everything, in an ethos nationally where professional development for teachers doesn’t seem to be massively valued, heck you don’t even need any training these days to become a teacher, maybe teachers might need to work just a little harder to stand up and keep pestering until their needs are acknowledged.

Why not:

  • Use the appraisal system-identify training needs, articulate how this will fit into a longer term plan for the department
  • Identify how many students will benefit and how you will show the impact the training has had on them, you and the department.
  • Line training needs up with school aims-inclusion, attainment, engagement in music, use the right language in bids to attend training events.
  • Research what’s out there, as demand falls away there are fewer professional development opportunities around so chose the one that will have the most impact on the most students and make sure it’s sustainable.
  • Have some outcomes in mind, know what you want from a course and make sure you get it.
  • Share with others! If you find something and it’s great, shout about it. Let’s drown out those requests for help with what to teach at an interview lesson with some of the fantastic things that can happen when you have just a little time to focus on you, your teaching and your classes, meet like-minded people and remind yourself why you do what you do every day.

I’m leading quite a few workshops over the next year. It would be great to have these full and buzzy with teachers who are getting out there and claiming the professional development and support they deserve. I’ll see you there.

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