How many times have you sat in a whole school training session, wondering whether you’ll learn anything useful this time while thinking longingly of your displays that need sorting, or that pile of marking on your desk? In my experience of English schools, it’s common to have ‘whole school’ training several times a year, which will somehow help the teachers to become masters of something regardless of whether they teach four-year-olds or eleven-year-olds. Too frequently, this involves the trainer selecting a topic from somewhere in the middle and hoping it will help everyone, but realistically, the skills and subject knowledge needed for teaching year 6 are wildly different to those needed down in year 1. So why do we insist on training everyone at the same time?
A few years ago, a school I was working with asked me to come in to do some computing subject training. They had just bought Kapow Primary, a scheme that I helped to author and thought it would be useful to support staff with using it, which is a great idea in theory. The thing about Kapow is that following the scheme is relatively simple, it’s just that for each topic you need some subject knowledge, usually found in helpful videos. After some initial discussion where it was suggested that I could ‘demonstrate something for Year 4’, we realised that a whole school training was not really what was needed and the team from the school tentatively asked if maybe I could come in and teach one lesson with each year group for a teacher to observe.
As a four-form entry school, they felt that the teacher could then take back what they learned to their colleagues and ensure that everyone felt comfortable teaching the topic. Of course, I jumped at the chance to work with individual teachers, and it was agreed that they would take a look and ask me which topic and lesson they’d like me to look at.
Unfortunately for both me and the school, the training was booked in for March 9th, 2020; so, while it was a great day, and my last in-school teaching experience for quite a while, the staff had a few pandemic-related things on their mind while I was there.
CERTIFIED COACH PROGRAM
In the meantime, Google launched the Certified Coach program globally, and I have been fortunate to be involved in supporting teachers in the UK to become certified coaches, as well as becoming one myself. I find myself surprised that more schools aren’t using the coaching model for training staff. I was also amazed to learn that in the US, many districts employ a full-time tech coach whose role is to support staff to use technology more effectively with teaching and learning.
Generally, these coaches are qualified teachers with a specialism in tech, who work with teaching staff for several weeks at a time; having meetings, observing lessons, delivering lessons or co-teaching where necessary. The key thing about coaching is that it is meant to be non-judgemental and supportive, rather than operating on target setting and critiquing.
Of course, in the UK, it is much harder to carve out a full-time role as a coach; however, it is possible for schools to allow some time for a potential coach to support staff on a one-to-one basis for half a term at a time, and this can be exceptionally valuable for all staff members, whether they are relatively new to using technology in the classroom or full-time tech-whizzes. With technology constantly changing, there is always room for improvement.
I was fortunate to support Chynel McCrink, a wonderful P1 teacher in Northern Ireland, in becoming a Certified Coach. As we have kept in touch, I love hearing about how positively the staff in her school have taken to coaching and how much of an improvement there has been in the use of technology across the school. It’s well worth speaking to Chynel if you are interested in learning about how coaching might work in your school, as she has a real passion for coaching and lots of experience in using the curriculum in practice.
But how does coaching relate to my earlier experience of whole school training?
Last week I was invited back to Grange Park Primary School in Enfield to spend another day training staff on teaching computing. Once again, we targeted individual teachers for support; they were asked to choose one topic in which they felt least confident teaching the content and I delivered the first lesson for them while they observed. However, this time we also booked in a 45-minute coaching session afterwards. This meant that I only worked with three teachers, but those teachers were able to ask me questions about specific computing teaching, and also about ideas for using technology more effectively (I introduced all three to the wonderful Toy Theater Virtual Manipulatives page as well as some other great tools as mentioned in an online blog post earlier in the year). We also included the new computing coordinator, who is now going to speak to the senior leadership team about becoming a coach herself, as she immediately recognised the value of the role. Meanwhile, I’m booked in to go back to work with different year groups to support their computing teaching too, and I can’t wait to have the opportunity to work with more teachers.
So, what I’m trying to say is that the next time you’re thinking about whole school CPD training, why not consider doing some targeted coaching instead, either with an external subject specialist or with a skilled staff member. It can be far more effective than generic training, and it means that teachers can get the help they need without stressing about
whether the time could be used more effectively elsewhere.
Cat Lamin is a former primary school teacher with 12 years of teaching experience. She has a passion for coding and computer science and specialises in supporting teachers who are getting started on their journey into using technology in the classroom. In 2017 Cat was shortlisted for the European Digital Woman of the Year award and has been invited to speak about her experiences teaching computer science around the world including in Brazil, Argentina and the US. She is passionate about talking about equality, stereotypes and mental health as well as supporting the teaching of computer science. Cat is a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator, CAS master teacher and Google Certified Innovator.