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The Importance of CPD for Researchers and Teachers

As Brilliant Club tutors, we are expected to ‘share academic expertise with state schools’. There are as many approaches to sharing expertise as there are approaches to developing that expertise. CPD is as much a part of pedagogy as it is a commitment of the teaching (sharing) practitioner, or of any professional, to the enhancement of personal skills and proficiency throughout their careers. Without reflection, the value and impact of CPD opportunities can be squandered. It is important that CPD is undertaken but equally important is that the practitioner be mindful of how ‘best practice’ is practised.

Most schools demand of their teaching professionals both a teaching qualification and a commitment to ongoing professional development. Reflecting the way students engage with the demands of the mark schemes for their subject exams, the first criterion for judging the effectiveness of teaching and learning is based on the ‘extent to which the teachers’ standards are being met’. As a result, teachers must be reflective practitioners and lifelong learners themselves and an awareness of some form of teaching standard must be a part of the T&L provision in any educational environment.

Rather than considering these a prescriptive set of draconian laws, we must consider the plurality of research outcomes behind this set of guiding principles. They merely should encourage us all to reflect on our practice. Whether or not we as teaching professionals are achieving these standards and the manner in which we address that as a goal is up to individuals and their observers – supervisors and students alike. The ultimate goal of @BrilliantClub tutors has to be that of facilitating experiences that help to prepare students from low participation backgrounds for the demands of university life – ‘hard’ academic skills and ‘soft’, though often more complex, social ones.

@hm_talbot‘s recent MA thesis calls for greater dialogue between HE and FE institutions in preparing students for the transition and as such Brilliant Club tutors can be at the forefront of that discussion. Her conclusions suggest that independence in undergraduate English Literature students is lacking and that students struggle with seminar participation, independent reading, and creating academic relationships – among other things. It should not be assumed that this experience is limited to university English departments alone.

Of course, The Brilliant Club has the potential to address these issues. But faced with students who demand increasing levels of support and scrutiny, coupled with this June’s Teaching Excellence Framework (which rated institutions on ‘some of the outcomes of teaching’) – are we as tutors equipped to deliver? The Brilliant Club stipulates that, ’New PhD tutors must attend a Researcher Development training weekend before undertaking a new placement’. There’s ‘core pedagogy’ for new tutors and ‘advanced skills training’ for those returning. So, core training is certainly given and tutors are responsible for selecting ongoing training through ‘electives’, but is that enough?

Professor David Nichol considers, ‘the underpinning requirement for all attribute development is the students’ ability to evaluate critically the quality and impact of their own work’. As teachers we must subject ourselves to the same scrutiny. Once trained it is up to us how we deploy our skills sets. Can we judge for ourselves the impact of our practice? To a degree, yes. Can we adequately rectify any issues on our own? Again, yes, to a degree. Should we have to do either of these things alone? No.

Brilliant Club tutors are given ample opportunity to engage in a T&L feedback loop – or supported self-reflection. CPD opportunities such as those offered by The Brilliant Club are a key part of this loop. Such opportunities enable professionals to vary their practice and test the impact of different techniques by raising awareness of the variety of pedagogical tools that are available. By confronting and reviewing different techniques we are encouraged to reflect on impact and thus our own performances. Tutorial observations can also play a leading role in this process.

“The most significant action that has had a sustained impact on my professional development, including visiting other schools, is being observed and observing other teachers.” @TeacherToolkit.

The well conducted observation tutorial can be a multi-beneficial tool. It can at once teach good practice, highlight strengths, highlight weaknesses, and give confidence to the teacher and observer alike.

There is a fine line to negotiate between jejune aversions to labels such as ‘best practice’ on the grounds of overbearing prescription and the recognition that everyone has their own style and idiosyncratic relationships with teaching groups. Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley suggest that ‘[t]eachers can learn a lot by watching colleagues, but they can rarely copy them completely because their styles and personalities as well as accompanying skill sets are just too different’. CPD opportunities can offer the teaching practitioner ideas to utilise where appropriate to both their students and their practice and the means with which to review their efficacy and impact.

As a part of the plan, implement, and review loop, observations as a CPD opportunity can play their part in each stage. Not only that, they are an integral part of the culture of any outstanding teaching institution. So why not approach a Brilliant Club colleague to observe you or allow you to observe them. After all, they too have probably spent time getting good at something to show you or could do with a second opinion on something new they are trying. Go on, practise what you teach.