Creating a culture of innovation, part 2: Make The Professional Development Interesting

This is part 2 of a 10-part series.


I'm choosing my words carefully here. I use the word 'interesting' rather than useful or relevant because you cannot necessarily know in advance what is going to be useful or relevant. I have worked in several schools where in order to be considered to go on a training day or a conference you had to make sure it was 'relevant'. I can see the sense in that, but another way of looking at it is to say that that approach keeps you inside a bubble. How can you be exposed to a completely different way of thinking if you only ever go on training that reinforces the paradigm with which you are already familiar?

Interestingly enough, a school I evaluated for the ICT Mark stipulated that staff had to do a certain number of professional development modules, but the choice of which ones was left to them. Thus an Economics teacher could attend a basket-weaving course if they wanted to. I think that helped greatly to make the school the exciting, go-ahead place it was. The choice, I mean, rather than the basket-weaving. However, I can imagine that what you learn from a skill like basket-weaving, book binding, print restoration, painting, knitting, cooking or any other practical, craft activity would be of enormous use in teaching Computing. After all, you have to be able to choose the right materials for the task in hand, know how those materials will behave in the longer term, how they will interact with each other. In other words, practical tasks require thinking, use a different part of the brain than other kinds of activity and have the potential for transfer of training. We know that recipes have become a favourite analogy for algorithms, and (as perhaps you don't know) Steve Bunce has demonstrated the connections between knitting and programming.

I've found from my own experience that I learn a great deal from going on 'irrelevant' courses that I've been able to improve the writing services I offer.  

If you run or organise a more traditional type of professional development, where an expert comes in and runs a training day, at least make that interesting. I've been to some pretty awful ones myself, such as:

  • a 90 minute lecture on the importance of interactive teaching
  • a 6 hour conference of hour-long lectures on the importance of assessment for learning, which is about nothing if not a lot of interaction with and questioning of the class.

Training days should have variety, some hands-on activity and changes of pace.  I could go into detail, but this post has already outlasted its word limit. Perhaps another time.