The effects of the pandemic are felt by all, but the impact it has on the early careers market places significant pressure on the class of 2020, be that school leavers or graduates. Studies are already suggesting that young people will be worst impacted by the inevitable financial crisis; following the 2008 recession, unemployment among GCSE-level students peaked at 32.3%. With over 1 million young people expected to be unemployed in the wake of COVID-19 coupled with other coronavirus-related stresses, the anxiety all this brings upon students is also taking a toll on their mental health.
When I ask my Sixth Form students what they want to study at university or what they want to be later in life, I am often in for a surprise. Their answers often include degrees or professions that I had not heard of and could not have imagined even ten years ago. At this point I would like to make it clear that I am not old (obviously!), but that the world has been and is changing at a breakneck pace and it is hard to keep up with it.
Your own continuing professional development (CPD) is absolutely vital to you as a teacher. Working in education is not a job that you just turn up and ‘do’: with ever-changing examination specifications, curriculum re-mapping and emerging research that causes us to revisit the way in which we teach, you cannot afford to disregard the importance of self-investment.
But training costs, right? Wrong! Granted, the squeeze on budgets grows tighter by the year, and schools often look to larger organisations to host or run their INSET, but this often has a whole-school focus, which may not always completely match up to or accommodate for your own professional development goals. However, there are a range of time-effective approaches that you can use to direct your own professional development this year.
Read for impact
I aim to read a small number of books with an educational focus each year, and this number has lessened with each year that I teach. I also look back and feel that perhaps a great deal of what I have read was simply wasted time. Why? I was not as focused, and I didn’t embed certain ideals or concepts within my own teaching as a result. In addition, some of the books that I picked up were perhaps not relevant to my role at the time. For instance, reading a book about leadership may be interesting at best, but if leadership is not an area that I want to pursue in the near future, is that the best way to spend my time?
Meek's take on reading is fascinating. Would be brilliant to collate a list of books based upon narrative experimentation for this alone: pic.twitter.com/aVr5LEpcvD— Kat Howard (@SaysMiss) February 15, 2017
Now, I try to use two strategies when selecting reading for professional development: What is the focus? How will I use it? Read with a specific aspect of your teaching that you want to improve upon in mind or become more informed towards. Consequently, consider the practical ways that you will implement what you have read. This doesn’t need to be a monumental change; it may simply be a resource created that uses a particular model. Evidenced-based teaching need not be a laborious piece of action research, but can just take the shape of trying something out then reflecting upon it afterwards. You will find that you have made the purpose of your reading meaningful, additionally weighing up how effective it is on a day-to-day basis within your practice.
When seeking out ways to improve as an English teacher, particularly when it comes to subject knowledge, I have found a secret treasure-trove of outlets locally to assist me. From visiting National Trust properties for contextual knowledge, to public lectures at local universities to broaden my authorial understanding, there are a range of ways to grow your learning bank without straying far from home or attending a large, costly conference.
Over and above that, setting up visits to local schools is a fantastic approach to specific CPD that will reap reward in both budget and time; in my experience, the professional discussions and relationships that evolve from such visits are so valuable. You may go with a particular focus related to the professional goals outlined by yourself at the start of the year, and walk away with so much more than that, with someone at the end of an email for guidance and support to boot.
Build a network
Working as a teacher lends itself easily to working in isolation: losing your days to planning, teaching and marking, with the interactions with colleagues being brief greetings in the corridor or directed meetings that have a specific agenda. However, collaboration is key to successful to personal progression, and if you have a particular goal in mind for the year ahead, share it with those around you. This will act as a starting point to exploring if others would like to team up in working on a project or research over the year ahead.
Collaboration will save the teaching profession! More here ⬇️ https://t.co/FIiqNlu3JK— Kat Howard (@SaysMiss) July 20, 2018
For example, as an English teacher, I enjoy connecting with Maths or ICT teachers when piloting a new idea; usually because their skills are useful, but to have a cross-curricular view of how a strategy or approach would work outside of my own subject is really beneficial when evaluating.
Alternatively, you may coordinate a whole-school role and would like to support in how others in a similar role approach certain challenges or obstacles. Twitter was a fantastic place to seek out other literacy coordinators when I first took up the post; sharing action plans or discussing how we could collaboratively work on initiatives was fantastic for time-saving, mutually advantageous CPD.
Source a coach - and coach in return!
Peer coaching is quite possibly the most valuable method of professional development that I have undertaken during my time as a teacher. As a result of the fantastic coaching provision that the MTPT Project provided to me during my maternity leave, I am nearing the end of my first year as a coachee and will shortly receive accreditation that I can then use to direct appraisal discussion for this year. When setting up LitdriveCPD, a free coaching tool for the approaching academic year, my inbox was full of nervous-yet-enthusiastic teachers, excited and willing to sign up but worried that they didn’t have the required skills. Yet, as teachers, we coach every day: students, feedback provided to colleagues, ourselves even.
Find someone, either within your own school or one that you may network with locally, and see if they would be interested in informal peer coaching for the year. This could simply be three discussions over the year, with the focus upon you both forming your own goals, then exploring how you may work towards achieving them. The coaching role could be as detached or involved as both parties feel is necessary or appropriate, but the process of sounding out ideas with someone else working within the teaching profession could be really powerful to aid both your growth as a teacher, but someone else’s as well.
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I write this at the start of April, whilst enjoying a view some may call “paradise”: sat on Long Beach, in Pulau Perhentian Kecil, with the South China Sea lapping up against my toes. It’s been a well-needed ‘switch off’ after the last three-to-six months (the last three in particular). The added benefit of five days without working WiFi was not lost on me. Whilst naturally there were those who worried about my radio silence, being blissfully ignorant of literally everything going on outside of a 1km stretch of beach has been quite refreshing! So how has this benefited me as an international educator?
Recent research from the Prince’s Trust has revealed some alarming statistics about the young people in Britain. Nearly a fifth of young people “think they will amount to nothing”, and 43% of young people don’t feel prepared to enter the workforce when they leave Secondary education. When the research moves to industries, it is evident that 67% of employers don’t feel like school-leavers have the necessary soft skills (communication, teamwork, resilience) to thrive in the workplace.
At the end of 2017, apprenticeship and skills minister Anne Milton released the Careers Strategy, outlining practical solutions in order to create a thriving careers system that is accessible to “everyone, whatever their age, to go as far as their talents will take them to have a rewarding career”.