Professional Development in Schools

I recently came across a blog by a Head of English in a school. It’s interesting to hear the views of a non-ICT specialist about what works or might work in getting teachers engaged. There are some very useful points made in the post entitled Professional Development in Schools:

Listening to staff after PD, their number one complaint is about not getting time to play and make stuff with what they just learned

This is absolutely correct in my experience. In fact, one of the most successful training sessions I ever ran was one where I allowed the teachers to spend three hours playing and experimenting, with myself and a technician on hand to give advice and guidance when asked. Teachers often think that they have to be doing and speaking all the time. You don’t.

Make sure the project is based on something that can actually be used in the classroom (not just an excuse to try new tools) following a sound curriculum planning process.

Something which ought not need to be said, but it’s all too often the case that people fall into the trap of pursuing gadgets and widgets for their own sake. The key question to ask about anything in education is “So what?”. If you can’t answer that question truthfully and convincingly in terms of students learning outcomes, then why are you undertaking that activity?

Are lunch and learns the answer?Another idea is that of “Lunch and Learns”, taken from Bianca Hewes’ blog. The idea is that you run short lunchtime sessions which teachers may attend in order to refresh their knowledge of, or be introduced to, an application. I have to say that although I can see the attractiveness of this, I have an ambivalence towards it, for the following reasons.

Firstly, I have come to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that the best thing to do at lunchtime is have lunch, followed by doing the crossword, chatting with friends, going for a walk or staring into space. I can’t see how working at lunchtime can be effective or even healthy – which is why for the past eight years I have eschewed breakfast meetings whenever possible.

On the other hand, I can see that lunch and learns are an attractive alternative to twilights and learns. Perhaps the important thing is to experiment and find out what appeals most to your colleagues.

The author of the blog, M Giddins, surprised me by saying that she avidly followed my 31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader series — “surprised” because I’d written the series for ed tech leaders rather than other subject leaders, and it hadn’t occurred to me that others might find it useful. I put this to her, and she responded by saying:

I think now that any leader in education also falls into the role of educational technology leader in some ways. I have a faculty that need to be guided in their quest for technology integration and I need to be both the one who models, leads and inspires as well as the solver of the practical problems sometimes inherent in the integration of technology. Your series was very clear about the WHY behind the practical solutions that you offered, which made it possible to apply different solutions to suit my situation.

Finally, there is a link to a list of tools which is definitely worth exploring. The ones I know about already have a rightful place on the list, and I’m looking forward to exploring the others.

This précis of the article hardly does it justice, so do take the time to read the original, which is as inspiring as it is engagingly written.

Other articles you may find useful

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Film and teacher driven CPD. How MirandaMods and TeachMeets promote professional reflection and good practice.

How TeachMeets and MirandaMods are one of the best and most cost-effective resources for teacher training, reflection and good practice.

In the last five years I have been documenting the TeachMeet and MirandaMod phenomenons on film.

I have now built up over 500 hours of film of teachers demonstrating, to other teachers, effective teaching and learning techniques.


Each TeachMeet session consists of a number of teachers who have agreed to meet up (usually in the evening) and share best practice in either a seven or two minute presentation.

My role at each of these meets has been to live stream the video out for a wider audience much like a TV broadcast and to capture the sessions to film for free distribution later.

TeachMeets are extremely popular and growing in number. They are usually held in the evening towards the end of the school week or at weekends.


TeachMeets cost nothing for teachers or schools to put on, as all food, drink, accommodation and other publicity costs are increasingly paid for by commercial educational sponsors. The sponsors do not get to present but they do give out publicity matter and prizes for raffles. (e.g. a year’s free subscription to their services).

In many cases, as in the Blackpool Teachmeets last year, more teachers turned out for TeachMeet CPD than “official” scheduled LA CPD. This is increasingly becoming the norm – the main reasons for their popularity is that it that the CPD is coming from the teachers themselves and not the the LA advisers; the CPD is also a social event with food and drink and a chance to catch up with others on best practice. Teachers are often best placed to know more about current practice and innovative ways in which to reflect on and manage classroom teaching and learning so it is not surprising that this method of CPD has now caught on like wildfire.


I also film and archive MirandaMods which follow a similar pattern to TeachMeets except the films document longer and more reflective discussions.

People will discuss face to face and remotely the issues outlined in the MirandaMod sessions but also be able to amend documents in real time online as each session progresses.


One of the main distinctions of MirandaMods over TeachMeets is that they are often broadcast from exhibitions or difficult to get to places for broadcast. I pride myself on being able to broadcast from almost anywhere in the country and with the most meagre of equipment. Last year I even managed to broadcast an educational discussion from a treehouse in the middle of Regents Park

Have a look at this broadcast from a table on a stand at the recent BETT show – the commercial partners, academics, teachers and others introduce themselves and the debate begins. Not only is the discussion going on face to face but also globally and all the notes and other exemplars are being gathered and sourced onto a collaboratively written document in real time saving hours of collating and dissemination.




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Models and theories in relation to working with people and ICT: Evaluation of Courses.

Working with adults in varying contexts and at different stages of their career means that they learn differently and respond to training differently.  This is complicated further by the topics that are involved – for example in a relatively short period I may consult or train on; curriculum, accreditation, infrastructure, TUPE, Self Review Framework (SRF), visioning, teaching and learning (T&L), management structure, e-safety, assessment,  change management, Learning Platforms, continuing professional development (CPD), development planning, emerging technologies, legislation, data, data analysis, servers, Shibboleth and so on.  These consultancies may be with Headteachers, Senior Management Teams, teachers, Teaching Assistants (Learning Support Assistants), advisers, technicians, suppliers, government/local government, other industry and these may be individuals, groups or conferences.

It is a concern to ensure that such sessions are useful and well-received; by this I don’t mean ticking “happy sheets” but undertaking more meaningful evaluation with later follow-up.

Our company is to be the subject of a report by TDA (Teacher Development agency) who are seeking evidence of good practice.  Kirkpatrick’s training evaluation model – the four levels of learning evaluation is a useful method of reviewing training and consultancy.

Donald Kirkpatrick first published his ideas in 1959, in a series of articles in the Journal of American Society of Training Directors – he was president of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) in 1975. The articles were subsequently included in Kirkpatrick’s book Evaluating Training Programs.   Kirkpatrick’s four-level model is now considered an industry standard across the HR and training communities.

Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation model

The four levels of Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model essentially measure:

  • Level 1: Reaction:  To what degree participants react favourably to the training
  • Level 2: Learning:  To what degree participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, attitudes, confidence, and commitment based on their participation in a training event
  • Level 3: Behaviour:  To what degree participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job
  • Level 4: Results:  To what degree targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training event and subsequent reinforcement

All these measures are recommended for full and meaningful evaluation of learning in organizations, although their application broadly increases in complexity, and usually cost, through the levels from level 1-4.

Planning and managing training in schools can be as difficult as such activities in business; often managers do not see the need to be involved in the learning outcomes, follow-up activities and return on investment.  A problem can also occur when CPD is structure to match the school’s vision, but that is not always communicated to the teacher, nor is his/her role in achieving the vision apparent.

Kirkpatrick describes an example of this:

“Let’s put some real faces on what we have talked about. I saw a man (Jim) in front of a hotel in Asia. While I was waiting for a taxi, I went up to him and asked him,

“What is your job here at the hotel?”

Without looking at me, he answered,

“I wash windows.”

Since we had little else to talk about, I went back to my taxi-watching post.

The next day, I was in the country of Brunei, conducting another workshop. During a break, I wandered over to this young man and asked him,

“What is your job here at the resort?”

Chai (who later introduced himself to me by name), stopped what he was doing, walked over to me, looked me in the eye and said;

“I am part of the team that creates exceptional experiences for our guests.”

…..we carried on quite a conversation, which included Chai asking me about my stay, if I had everything I needed, what I thought of his grounds, and what I thought of his country.

On my way back to the U.S., I thought about the Window Washer and Chai. They were both about the same age, so why were their answers to the same question so different? Of course, my thoughts went to training and reinforcement. I never found out what kind of training Window Washer #1 received (he probably took a job down the street when he was offered a modest raise). Chai, on the other hand, told me about his orientation, training, and the coaching and encouragement he received from his supervisor. He was taught that he was in training in order to learn, perform, enhance his career possibilities, and ultimately serve as an ambassador for his resort and his country.

In short, Chai received training and reinforcement that modelled (what we have presented here). While his windows were no cleaner than the Window Washer’s, he knew that the purpose of training and development and his purpose were tied to the bigger picture. So he did more than just clean windows. He made me feel like a welcome guest so I would want to return.”

The more staff understand their role in achieving the school vision and perhaps have contributed to it, the better their understanding of expectations and learning outcomes.  If school SMT are involved, then follow-up and further activities can be planned into the term, leading to greater success.

According to IoE/MirandaNet CPD landscape research (Pachler, Norbert and Preston, Christina and Cuthell, John and Allen, Allison and Pinheiro-Torres, Catrin: Institute of Education, University of London | BECTA, corp creators. 2010), there may well be a need to consider some drastic revision of ICT CPD models because each  of the surveys cited earlier – by NFER, that on behalf of the TDA and that for the GTC – have identified a significant number of teachers who feel no direct involvement in their own professional development. 72% feel that their school requires their participation in CPD – and, for the majority, 67%, they listened to a lecture or presentation. In this context it is hardly surprising that a significant group of teachers in the NFER survey (between a third and a half of those surveyed) stated that they did not feel empowered to take charge of ICT and use it in their teaching for the benefit of their pupils’ learning. The design and structure of the ICT experience should be to empower teachers in their use of it, and to apply it in the classroom. Unless teachers can use ICT, see its benefits and understand its implementation in the teaching and learning process then their attitudes are unlikely to change.

It is against this background that many teachers have a passive approach to the use of ICT, whilst a small minority is essentially resistant to its use. The reasons both groups of teachers give are essentially external: lack of leadership; lack of, or unreliable, resources; lack of support (NFER, 2007).

The majority of ICT CPD opportunities identified in the TDA database and the e-skills survey include ICT as only one among other learning outcomes for the course, rather than the main focus itself – and the nature of the courses – one-day, at an external venue – mean that those most in need of hands-on involvement with ICT that can be embedded in their own practice are unlikely to receive the stimulus to transform their practice, the cycle of experiential learning (Kolb, 1975) or, more pertinently, “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” (Freire, 1970).

Two possible reasons can be advanced to explain some of the conflicts identified in the studies.

The first is, as noted earlier, that the teachers themselves lack an internal locus of control (Rotter, 1966) or, to use a more modern term, agency (Pachler, Bachmair and Cook, 2010): responsibility for actions and control is located outside the individual. With an external locus of control the individual believes that his or her professional practice is guided by such external forces and agencies as school management, the local authority, Ofsted, the National Curriculum, the catchment area, poor ICT infrastructure and so on. Teachers’ predisposition towards an external locus of control is likely to determine their approach to learning, and the type of pedagogy they are likely to adopt.

A second possible reason is grounded in Maslow’s concept of Self Actualisation – the quest to reach one’s full potential as a person. If a teacher sees CPD as something that is externally imposed then it is unlikely that they will embrace the concept of self-actualisation. Fullan (1995) makes a similar point when he says:

Teachers who want to improve their practice were characterised by four attitudes: they accepted it was possible to improve, were ready to be self-critical, and to recognise better practice than their own within the school or elsewhere, and they were willing to learn what had to be learnt in order to be able to do what needed or had to be done. (P.73)

A few ICT CPD providers are beginning to notice that teachers often use social networking sites as a means of communicating about ICT and ICT CPD. For example, teachers often share CPD experiences on such sites – the outcomes, the learning experience, the benefits and drawbacks of the course even to the detail of food quality.   Some teachers also recommend providers.  The sites where teachers talk freely about their experiences are detailed in the leaders and practitioners sections under the headings of communities of practice.

There is, as a result, no one group through which providers can influence schools. Only one provider mentioned CPD coordinators as a route to market.  Several mentioned the importance of professional networks. In general LAs recognised the importance of user group influence and focussed on leadership groups. Some of these leadership groups are by LAs but peer-selected ICT groups were also in evidence. One example of this is Cambridge. In interview one provider “All of these are created to provide a vehicle to disseminate good practice and to keep decision makers informed.” Larger commercial providers also had powerful groups with recognised value and one government funded provider had an extraordinary range of influence groups; some of these providers would merit a case study.

Evaluation of courses

Delegates were generally asked to complete evaluation forms following courses although some providers do not undertake course evaluation (8%) and the type of evaluations ranged from “happy sheets” to how the course would affect teaching practises. Few companies used online versions of evaluation although where they were used, providers noted improved reflection on the part of the learners.

Most providers who evaluated their own courses reported that they evaluated these using the delegates’ evaluation forms. A few providers mentioned that they had the facilitators complete evaluation forms of the day and then compared these to the delegates. Some providers evaluate those in the light of changing local or national policies. In other cases a correlation exercise is undertaken to map delegate responses with that of every provider. One independent Provider included observation of impact some time after the course and one LA commented: “Measuring impact is a challenge because of other influences. It is difficult to separate out the impact of our courses from other interventions going on in the school at the same time.” These influences might be: other training/policies/strategies, investment (or not) in technology, leadership priorities in school and so that are documented in detail in this study in the leader and practitioner sections.

Most providers have a Mission statement or Vision that links to evaluation. One HE provider gave useful elaboration of what this means in practice: “The mission statement includes the phrase ‘to pursue excellence in education … and professional practice’. ICT CPD relates to this professional practice. It also fits into our mission to engage in ‘consultancy and other services to support and develop the quality of educational systems and related fields of policy and practice.”

ICT CPD drivers were defined as the technical advances and issues that impact on the use of ICT, as well as national, local and school policies and attitudes towards funding technology.

The school development plan or senior management agenda was the most frequently mentioned driver of ICT CPD programmes followed by government policy and Local Authorities(LA). A key source of tension is now that providers said that schools decide what they need not the LA as was the case in the past. What the school demand may be different to what the provider felt they needed or may not follow government direction.  Nevertheless, the providers now have to adapt to what a school wants whether they consider this demand to be appropriate or not. Most providers referred to the necessity of accommodating school needs even if the provider has identified other strategies.

On the other hand a different source of concern is the fact that 23% of provider training focuses on software without apparent reference to learning outcomes or teacher confidence. This study did not have the capacity to investigate these tensions more thoroughly but they are of major concern to a government who would wish to see CPD making a difference throughout the whole school system.

A majority of providers (52%) felt that better funding was a key solution improving the effects of CPD and this included personal CPD budgets, funding for release time and funding for change management. These providers felt that embedding ICT/higher thinking was not addressed by many current courses but should be. 36% felt that tailored programmes or tailored delivery was their suggestion of a way to do this.  They also commented on the need to acknowledge that teachers are more ICT literate now than in the past. 28% of respondents reflected on the need for changed leadership priorities at school and government level also mentioning the loss of Local Authority ICT advisers as a critical factor.

A leader who is sympathetic to real needs of the staff and the challenges they face in learning about digital technologies is likely to be at the heart of successful of in-house ICT CPD as well as an effective programme of external provision. It is not surprising where leaders are dismissive about the particular challenges for professionals in learning about digital technologies CPD programmes, if they exist, are not successful because they are not tailored to teachers’ real needs.

ICT programmes are often part of the general provision for continuing professional development (CPD) in schools. A very wide range of different methods for needs analysis are being used in schools where there is an organised CPD programme aimed at meeting the individual needs of staff. However, a few schools do not have an agreed plan for developing ICT CPD programmes for staff because of a wide range of challenges including the lack of provision for the time teachers need to learn. Insufficient funds and resources can often be the problem that is often the result of a lack of SMT prioritisation by the senior management team. The location of external courses is also a factor in deterring staff from attending. In detail the leaders said that the basis on which the school choose from the ICT CPD provision available were:

  • value for money;
  • recommendations;
  • previous relationship to the provider
  • the time required to do the training;
  • the relevance to identified needs;
  • the location;
  • the perceived quality of the training;
  • staff timetable demands;
  • adaptability of the programme

Allison Allen | May 2011

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MirandaMods – Learning in Liminal Spaces

MirandaNet Fellows have become increasingly engaged in defining the process of learning collaboratively online and in storing the outcomes for other professionals to share. The crucible for our learning about these collaborative processes is the MirandaMod: an informal unconference that takes place face to face and online simultaneously.  Not only are we engaged in analysing the practice of collaborative learning, but in developing an emerging knowledge building theory that we call ‘Braided Learning’.

What we know so far is that informal dynamic knowledge creation in collaborative contexts occurs as participants move from textual debate in a conventional mailing list to video conferencing, micro blogging contributions and collaborative concept maps.

The informal dynamic knowledge creation in collaborative contexts occurs as participants move from textual debate in a conventional mailing list to video conferencing, micro blogging contributions and collaborative concept maps. This collaborative technology can be seen as creating a liminal space – a passage, in which a person moves from one state of being to another. Participants in this liminal space are transformed by acquiring new knowledge, a new status and a new identity in the community. This change is of critical importance if learning is to be successful. Whilst remote and informal learning is largely is what has been understood about mobile learning, the concept can now be extended to include these informal spaces in which learning takes place – the liminal spaces that those who push the boundaries of digital possibilities now inhabit intellectually (Cuthell, Preston, Kuechel and Cych, 2009).

The paper aims to extend understanding of liminal spaces and their contribution to the learning process. Evidence from participants from the United Kingdom, Europe, West Africa, the United States and Australasia is used to estimate the value of such informal learning for professionals. The qualitative and quantitative research tools that record both the numbers involved in the different activities, levels of participation and the extent of the professional knowledge created are identified. The processes can be described as Bricolage (Levi Strauss, 1962), in which people build new knowledge from what is at hand. Some consideration is given to the long-term impact of building professional knowledge in a range of media that are not subject to conventional peer review. Finally the advantages and disadvantages of informal learning against formal learning are summarised.

Read more.


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The founding of MirandaNet

The history of the founding of a professional organisation is often the key to the vision and practice of the members. For example, the consultants who work on MirandaNet projects in digital learning have first joined the MirandaNet community of practice, which is free, in a spirit of professional learning and sharing. Members are often first involved in voluntary work, and continue to contribute voluntarily to community activities between contracts. This attitude of professional commitment, that distinguishes this community, makes me proud to have been the founder and to be surrounded by so many colleagues who keep the vision alive.

But curious about the professional generosity of Fellows, colleagues often ask me why, as early as 1992, I founded the MirandaNet Fellowship that has given rise to so many projects about learning with digital technologies around the world.

It was with the support of sympathetic colleagues, that I founded this international professional organisation in memory of our daughter, Corinna, to create a living memorial for a talented and bubbly sixteen year old with a tremendous sense of humour. She died suddenly of a virus.

I chose the name Miranda for our professional organisation because in the Shakespeare play, The Tempest, Miranda, the heroine, nearly says, “Oh brave new world that hath such people in IT”. My excuse for this slight rephrasing is that Shakespeare was a great multimodal communicator who simply did not have a computer to hand. The context is appropriate because Miranda is the daughter of Prospero who was a magician. When my daughter first was acquainted with computers she expressed the same sense of wonder – but quickly got down to practising coding so she was in control. She contributed graphics to Scoop, the first adventure game with pictures for 8 bit machines, that I authored with a group of teachers in 1987 not long before her death

Despite the graphics in those early days the pupils still hand wrote their newspapers because desk top publishing was not widely available in schools.

The MirandaNet Fellowship aims to unpick some of the workings of that digital magic so that educators can make greater use of opportunities that digital technologies offer. We have been involved in many projects since the early 1990s that have helped teachers to enriching learning for every student whatever their age or their aptitude. In particular we believe that digital technology can sometimes reach students who are not reaching their full potential in the traditional classroom.

MirandaNet, often known as the Facebook of ICT professionals in education, is a ‘community of practice’ (Wenger 1998). The members are drawn from international ICT policy makers, teachers, teacher educators, staff trainers, regional educators, commercial developers who are passionate about digital technology in teaching and learning and about using technologies to promote cultural understanding and democratic participation. This professional organisation is free to join and supported by the voluntary efforts of more than one thousand members from over fifty countries.

The composition of this community of practice reflects the mixed status of many professional groups that now assemble through the Internet. A growing number of members are taking post-graduate qualifications and are keen to share their knowledge with other members (Stuckey 2005). Commercial companies also support us by funding our practice-based research projects in order to learn from the knowledge building practices online and the research capacity of the members.

MirandaNetters publish peer-reviewed articles on the web in our ejournals. The generosity of the MirandaNetters in building a free knowledge base is typical of a new approach to copyright on the Web called the ‘Creative Commons’. This is a non-profit organisation that provides free tools so that authors, scientists, artists, and educators can easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they choose. The range stretches from “All Rights Reserved” to “Some Rights Reserved.” As a result, teachers have the freedom to publish their materials for each other without the mediation of a commercial editor and distributor. MirandaNet Members engage in many other kinds of knowledge creation activities that are underpinned by new modes of social interaction like wikis, blogs, ichat, listservs and unconferences. Miranda has also given her name to a particular kind of unconference, a MirandaMod, that allows members to engage with each other all over the world in real time. The last MirandaMod in real time had 25 contributors meeting in London and contributors coming in on the debate online from 20 countries. This kind of communication is unlike previous modes of knowledge construction because the members are not confined by meeting costs, location, work commitments or family responsibilities so long as they can access the Internet (Preston and Cuthell 2009 in press).

So first the contribution to my thinking of members of MirandaNet must be acknowledged: firstly MirandaNet collaborator, John Cuthell, who has worked in intellectual partnership with me over fifteen years on many joint papers and projects; Francis Howlett, MirandaNet web editor, who diligently keeps our website current; and, Anne Dobson who prepares the newsletter. I am also beholden to the Fellows who contribute to the life of the MirandaNet Fellowship especially: Allison Allen, Richard Allen, Miles Berry, Mara Chrystie, Alison Banks, Mark Bennison, Leon Cych, Margaret Danby, Anne Dobson, Jane Finch, Mary Harris, Theo Kuechel, Nigel Riley, Michael Smith, Katya Toneva, Dai Thomas, Keith Turvey, Alistair Wells … and Basia Korczak, called away at her most innovative and creative.

I must also thank the academic community who have supported me in this endeavour. In particular, Marilyn Leask who has partnered me in several projects over the last fifteen years as well as Ron Barnett, Sonia Blandford, Steve Coombs, Caroline Daly, Niki Davis, Bryn Holmes, Christina Howell Richardson, Gunther Kress, Carey Jewitt, Avril Loveless, Bozena Mannova, Di Mavers, Norbert Pachler, John Potter, Bridget Somekh, Leena Vainio and Sarah Younie. Thank you for stimulating my thinking in all kinds of different ways.

In the study I have uploaded on Etopia, I relate my own learning journey to that of the community of practice Building Etopia here: I am hoping that many of my colleagues will use this as a template to develop their own digital learning histories for publication.

MirandaNetter’s occasional blog

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