10 top tips for effective remote teacher CPD

Teachers have had to learn a lot at speed during lockdown, from the use of new tools and platforms to teaching via video and rethinking pedagogy for remote learning.

According to a Nesta/Teacher Tapp survey last month, 42% of the 7,000 teachers surveyed said that CPD is the most useful form of support they could be given.

We’ve been on the frontline, delivering whole-school virtual CPD sessions and running weekly community of practice sessions online. Here’s what we’ve learned so far during this unusual situation, plus top tips for effective remote teacher CPD.

The principles of good CPD still hold

Although everything may feel topsy turvy at the moment, the fundamental principles of effective CPD, based on research into how teachers learn, are still valuable and some are more relevant than ever. 

In a nutshell, research about effective professional development for teachers says that it is important for teachers to see the impact of their CPD on the students they teach and they need to believe that the professional learning they undertake will lead to better outcomes for their students. 

We’ve broken this down into 10 key principles, illustrated with examples of what we’ve noticed from the remote CPD and virtual meetings that we’ve run for teachers over the last two months.

  1. Access to professional-learning communities is essential

Teachers need to participate in a professional learning community connected by a shared commitment to improve student outcomes. As we’ve shown, technology has the potential to connect teachers to experts who can support them in making the most of digital approaches, as well as to communities of teacher peers. 

  • We’ve seen how much teachers have valued coming together in a community of practice to talk about how to make their remote teaching even more effective. For example, at our EYFS forum teachers said that they wanted more opportunities to meet together virtually and to share practice, especially as they face the challenge of reception classes going back to school while they also continuing to support remote learning at home.
  1. As is exposure to models of effective practice 

Teachers need to see what best practices look like. While direct observation of another teacher or expert classroom practice might not be possible at the moment, access to resources such as lesson plans and samples of high-quality student work is still an option. 

  • With the weekly community of practice groups, a regular meeting means that teachers hear about how different schools are approaching remote learning, can go back and discuss it with their SLT, try things out, ask us for expert advice and come back to have further discussion and sharing with fellow teachers.
  1. Classroom-focused expert coaching relationships 

Teachers benefit from access to external expertise in order to be able to challenge existing assumptions and develop the new knowledge and skills required for improved outcomes for their students – but it must be classroom focused.

  • Teachers engage with us as the experts external to their school and benefit from our broad overview and access to a wide community of practice. But teachers are sharing lots of ideas on Twitter and various Twitter chats have explored remote learning, such as #CASChat. The NCCE podcast and Craig Barton’s Mr Barton podcasts have also held discussions with teachers about remote learning approaches.
  1. Teachers’ professional learning takes time…

but the urgency and gravity of the Covid-19 emergency has meant that teachers have had to put in place online learning solutions at speed. The success and sustainability of this rapid change in teachers’ practice and digital competence is still to be seen but is likely to show that a number of barriers have been removed.

  • We’re in contact with a school whose headteacher said on the Thursday that teachers needed to start using the Loom video tool to communicate with pupils by the following Monday. Some teachers were anxious and unsure but they practised, supported each other, started teaching via Loom on the Monday and are now perfecting their approach with this tool. While that situation worked out, in general, we advise that adoption of new platforms and tools –  especially more complex ones such as Google Suite for Education – needs to be supported with a clear plan and some training even if that’s done at speed.
  1. Approaches need to be based on sound principles of adult learning

Teachers usually need to try out new ideas and skills many times in an environment of support and trust. They also need to believe that the professional learning they undertake will lead to better outcomes for the students they teach.

  1. Encouragement to adapt guidance principles to suit context

Teachers work in such varied contexts that there can be no guarantee that any specific approach to teaching will have the desired outcomes for students. Evidence-based practices should be promoted but professional development should also enable teachers to contextualise the approach to their particular teaching situations. This has never been more true than in the current teaching situation!

  • Our essential guide to remote learning emphasises that context is all and there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to using digital tools for remote learning.
  1. Subject-specific training opportunities

Professional development which focuses on generic pedagogic strategies is not enough. Programmes that focus on, for example, questioning skills or assessment for learning but are not also rooted in developing subject-specific knowledge are not likely to achieve their potential. 

  • We’ve run sessions for EYFS and humanities in the last few weeks and a feature of the discussions is how, as a group, we move from discussions about the needs of pupils and families, to communication approaches, to how to use tools, to reflections on subject-specific learning.
  1. Recognition of the differences between individual teachers and their different starting points

Again, this is particularly relevant when teachers come to digital tools with very different levels of expertise, which might be entirely unrelated to their level of experience as a teacher.

  • A feature of the community of practice sessions is how older and younger teachers have swapped ideas and practice in relation to tools and approaches (such as family learning). Levels of digital competence varies greatly between teachers and we find that the different barriers to attaining greater digital proficiency are also varied and may not be immediately clear.
  1. Important role of school leaders

How successfully professional development impacts classroom practice can be affected by the encouragement, and commitment of headteachers and school leaders to professional change.

  • We’ve seen greatest take-up and impact where heads have held specific CPD sessions during this time or instigated whole staff remote CPD sessions or put in place a system for teachers to support each other.
  1. Teacher buy-in is key

Ideally teachers will see themselves as active participants able to choose resources and support relevant to their needs. 

  • The need to provide online remote learning quickly during the Covid-19 pandemic meant that teachers were willing to adopt new digital platforms, tools and resources, to experiment and learn from each other. Some of the whole school CPD virtual sessions we’ve delivered (such as introductions to using Google Classroom, online safety, computer science) have been extremely focused and buzzy. Teachers have loved seeing their colleagues.

Five top tips for effective remote teacher CPD

  1. Keep it short and sweet. Make sure you have a timetable and stick to it  –  Zoom fatigue is real.
  2. Have a narrative. Think of it as telling a story: our most successful remote CPD has a clear through narrative – a beginning, middle and end. 
  3. Model the training. You can use sessions in more than one way so kill two birds with one stone where you can. Is your session on programming and pedagogy? Yes, but it is also a session on whatever video conferencing platform you are using. Think about the benefit of modelling some of the tools and remote delivery software features within your training.
  4.  Introductions matter. People don’t have the chance to have the usual cup of tea and informal chat with others on their training before it kicks off. Facilitating these introductions so everyone knows who is in the room is really important. 
  5. Mix it up. Intersperse whole group sessions and break-out groups, which are still possible online. We find that, in online sessions with teachers who initially didn’t know each other, being able to talk in small breakout groups helped them get to know each other, talk and share more than they may have done in a face to face session.
  • London CLC has been supporting remote teacher professional development in numerous ways over the past two months. As well as the school virtual CPD sessions and community of practice meetings, we’ve run a virtual humanities conference, an EYFS forum, responded to daily queries from schools, created a getting started with remote guide and written other guides (to SeeSaw, Padlet, online safety, using video), spoken on a panel at Edtech X summit and written remote guidance for parents and teachers for a South-East Asian Ministry of Education based on a survey of needs. Can we help you, too? Get in touch.

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