INSET days are often dreadful. An over-paid consultant, who knows nothing about you, your school or teaching for that matter, comes in and tells you how brilliant he or she thinks you all are, before going on to tell you lots and lots and lots about what they do and a little bit about what you should be doing. Then, later on, you are split into groups where you are forced to work with staff you don’t normally work with (Note-there’s normally a good reason for that) as you do some useless mind-mapping exercise in which you come up with ideas about ‘engaging students’ or, even worse, ‘behaviour strategies.’
I know all this because teachers are keen to vocalise their disdain for the INSET they are provided with, in the form of tortured scribblings (scrawled across the back of print-out of a presentation on last year’s progress data), or in the form of venomous rants offered up on the way to the free ham sandwiches.
And yet, in spite of the vitriol invoked by school-centred INSET days, teachers up and down the country are taking the time out of their weekends to attend educational conferences such as #researchED, #TLT, #SASFE, and #NorthernRocks on a Saturday. And they’re not even being paid for it. Nor offered days off in lieu. So, what is it that has teachers attending these conferences in droves when they could be with their kids, or at the football, or in the pub? And what can schools learn from these conferences to improve their INSET provision? Funny you should ask. Because I’ve been thinking about it…
1. Provide Refreshments
It needn’t be anything fancy, but tea, coffee, and slightly more croissants than you think you’ll need will go a long way to making staff feel positive about the day ahead. Teachers like free stuff. Setting them up with a nice breakfast (it’s croissants, so call it ‘continental’) and they’ll feel valued and satisfied. Their brains will be well fuelled and ready to go too.
2. Get a Decent Keynote
If you can help it, don’t spend money on an external speaker. After all, you’ve got a lot of croissants to buy. You might be able to find a big shot edu-tweeter who’ll do it for free (they can be clever and generous, that lot), but failing that, look to your own staff. I’m absolutely dumbfounded by the amount of INSET days in which school leaders look to external ‘expert’ speakers, whilst completely neglecting the expertise of their own staff. In fact, it’s this neglect that goes some way to explaining why INSET provision is so dire: if school leaders don’t engage with the expertise of those at the chalk face, how can they even expect to develop this expertise adequately?
The keynote speech should be informative, research informed and controversial. Wry comments about educational policy always go down well. And, when it comes to looking to someone to be the keynote speaker…
3. Take a chance on someone.
A school that uses teachers on the ground to run their INSET days, rather than the usual members of SLT, makes a powerful statement: ‘This INSET is for you. What you say, think, and do, in our school matters more than anything else.’ There may be someone in Maths who’s an expert in memory; someone in Science who knows loads about setting; someone in DT who can bang on for days about dual-coding. Use these people. School leaders should put time into developing these people, who may be nervous, shy, or even reluctant, as speakers. Show them that you value what they have to say, by helping them to say it.
4. Offer a range of optional sessions.
Giving teachers options will give them the satisfaction that autonomy brings. Giving teachers the volition to choose their own sessions means that they can take control over their own development. It also means they’re less likely to feel that they’ve been subjected to endure training which has little relevance to them. I think it’s reasonable to assume that many schools can afford to run a model that offers 3 sets of 2 sessions in a day. Sessions should cover a range of topics. Try not to make sessions too school or class specific. A lot of the value in Saturday edu-conferences comes from the fact that teachers are required to think about how what they’ve heard might have to be adapted to their own context. After all, ‘memory is the residue of thought’ (see next point) and teachers who are made to think about the sessions they’ve been to, will remember what they’ve heard, for longer.
5. Include the ‘memory is the residue of thought’ quotation from Daniel Willingham in at least one of the presentations.
6. Provide loads of breaks
Human capacity for attention is limited, and whilst teacher’s often take this into account when catering for students, rarely is it applied to themselves. I’ve sat through INSET sessions lasting two hours, without a break. At education conferences loads of time is put aside to give people the time they need to pee, poo, and ponder. Schools should afford staff this time, too.
7. Reject formality.
One of the reasons education conferences are so brilliant, is that they reject the stuffy formality that is often the feature of school INSET days. Conferences like #researchEd, #TLT and #SASFE encourage staff to respond to talks on Twitter as they happen using ‘the hashtag.’ Talk hashtags encourage delegates to engage with the material and also provide speaker’s with useful feedback, and new arguments to consider. They also enable the conversation to continue beyond the session, which is important as often, questions arise, long after the valuable Q and A session.
At #southernrocks18 I was impressed by the organisers’ insistence that delegates move between sessions as and when they see fit. Often, when two sessions run alongside each other, delegates relish the opportunity of switching between the two, half-way through, without worrying about causing offence. Of course, speakers have to buy into this, but actually, particularly when speakers are nervous, this informal approach can be welcome.
8.Go to the pub afterwards
The best conference round ups don’t happen in the main hall. They happen in places where alcohol is served. A visit to the pub allows speakers to decompress, and delegates to ask questions they previously felt too shy to ask. And a pint is always nice after an excellent day’s work.