Now we’re in August, some of you may be starting to plan your new academic year training days. These days are often focused on giving new staff key information, reminding current staff of the school vision and targets, and motivating everyone to work hard.
Except, are they really that motivational? How useful is it to be reminded of the same information over and over again? Are all these blanket messages about teamwork, trying our best etc. just subtle hints that maybe not everyone has done this for the past year, or that new staff aren’t expected to work hard without being told directly.
When done poorly, these days can feel pointless. Teachers end up staring at the clock waiting for lunchtime and wondering why they only have one hour of dedicated free time to prepare for the start of term.
Here’s a whacky idea… What if staff got to learn something new?!
Not to mention, they had sufficient time to prepare their classrooms and have meaningful conversations e.g. Teachers discussing key pupil support strategies with their TAs.
Of course, some subjects are mandatory and must be covered yearly, so I’m not suggested removing these parts of the training sessions. I’m talking about maybe not going over policies, visions and targets that staff have been reminded about over and over, to the point where their eyes glaze over when they are mentioned. I’m also talking about maybe not making the new members of staff feel awkward every time you mention you are sharing information just for them. And the ever so cringey moments where you ask them to stand up and share something ‘interesting’ about themselves.
However it’s not all bad. Whole school training days can be a really useful experience, if they are purposeful and well-organised. I’ve attended some great training days where I’ve finished the day on a high, feeling like I’ve learnt something useful that I can take away and use in the classroom. I’ve felt like the time spent in those sessions was worth it.
As a leader, if you want to ensure that your training days have a positive impact, then check out our 9 tips for getting the most out of your staff training days.
- Share something new
Don’t just use the day to recap everything staff know. Share something new that you think staff would really benefit from. Maybe, it would help staff to have some training on outdoor learning as you want to encourage this across the school? Maybe it would be good for staff to learn how to use some new resources that could reduce their workload?
- Provide sufficient free time for staff (and trust them to use it well!)
If I’ve heard a staff member complain about a September training day, not having enough classroom time is one of the top three reasons. The other two top complaints are recapping the same old stuff, and timing issues (such as the day running too long, running over scheduled breaks, starting later than planned etc.) Your staff should have time, in school, during work hours, to get things ready for the start of term. When I say free, I mean free, not allocated to specific preparation tasks. Whether this is putting up displays, writing names on books, planning with the TA etc. is their choice. Trust your staff to organise their time. It’s an important skill they need to use throughout the year!
- Give options
Not all training is relevant to everyone, and the best CPD is focused on strengthening the skills a staff member already has and helping them to learn new skills that will improve their practice. One way to do this is to provide optional sessions during the training days. Any safeguarding and first aid training sessions (e.g. EpiPen training) would be mandatory, but during the rest of the day/s staff could opt in to training sessions they think would be useful to them.
- Consider how you ask for input
It’s something school staff are asked to consider when questioning pupils, yet on training days this thought process seems to go out the window. Too often, staff members are put on the spot or the same people putting their had up to share for every question.
Personally, I don’t like putting people on the spot, and feel if it’s going to be done it should be obviously random e.g. some app that chooses the staff member, names out of hat etc. I’ve seen staff members picked out when the speaker assumes they haven’t been listening, and wants to catch them out. Embarrassing staff publicly like this is not the right way to get them actively involved. If you really feel that a staff member is actively disengaging from the session, talk to them about it privately. They may have a good reason to be distracted.
Asking groups or pairs to share, is one way to combat putting staff on the spot. Less confident staff may feel more comfortable sharing their ideas in smaller groups and can then let someone else take the lead when presenting. Additionally, you could ask for typed or written answers to take the pressure off.
- Make it active
Staff, like pupils, do not want to be talked at. Their concentration span only lasts so long. Get staff actively involved. However, try and avoid role play activities or at least keep them to a minimum. They are another part of training days some staff absolutely dread!
- Don’t run over and start on time
It’s easy to get carried away with the time, but running over is a sure-fire way to lose engagement. The kids are back at school tomorrow and teachers are itching to get last minute jobs completed so they can go home feeling prepared. Even more importantly, you need to start on time. Any more than a few minutes of waiting time, and teachers will already be thinking about the jobs they could have completed before the session, or the extra ten minutes they could have had in bed. If staff are more than a few minutes late, and they are not leading the training session, don’t wait for them. Start without them, and they will have to catch up. Waiting around starts the day with an unnecessary negative vibe.
- Plan in breaks
As mentioned before, the concentration span of your staff can only last so long. Regular breaks are needed for staff to stretch their legs, grab a drink etc. They’ll come back ready for action rather than counting down the minutes.
- Get staff involved in the planning process
Prior to your training session (e.g. during the summer term), talk to staff about what they would like some more training on. Perhaps in a staff meeting you could list some possible topics, and get staff to feedback on how useful these would be and add their own suggestions. By giving them this involvement, you’re making them more accountable for their CPD. If they want this training, they should be more engaged with it, and therefore get more out of it.
- Ask for feedback
Giving out some feedback sheets can really help you reflect on your whole school training days. If you know what worked well and what fell short, you can build on this to make the next session even better. I’d suggest keeping it anonymous for more honest responses.