We all know that one-off INSET days can’t, by themselves, create lasting change. But at their best they can inspire, nudge or provoke teachers to make these changes, and they remain very popular with schools seeking to maximise limited time for whole-staff CPD. I was recently asked by a teacher preparing an article for the TES how schools could maximise the value of their INSET day. That made me wonder whether I could distil my experience of working with schools for the best part of twenty years, most of these with Osiris (yet I’m still not their most experienced trainer – Andy Griffith remains the father of the Osiris house). Here are the thoughts of one trainer – the person at the front of your hall at 9am, trying to seem nonchalant but wondering if he’s got time to nip to the loo before the head calls the delegates to attention; the person who’s looking gnomically at you in your dress-down casuals as you chat animatedly among yourselves, sharing your INSET-day chocolates (where are mine?!), and laying bets on the capacity of this bald bloke to keep you engaged beyond the first few novelty-minutes.
Despite your suspicions, for the most part we trainers don’t cut and run at the end of our day with you, thinking, “At least that’s the mortgage half-sorted this month.” INSET that is satisfying to us is INSET that we think might have a chance of leaving some legacy of ongoing professional discussion, leading to the considered development of school policy and practice. Such INSET includes the following.
1. High-quality liaison beforehand. By ‘high-quality’ I mean a frank, open discussion of what the school wants to get from the day, and whether or not I’m able to offer that. I’m not always – and if I’m not, I advise the school to secure the services of someone better placed to meet their identified needs. I’ve found that this approach, though often inconvenient for the school (they have to cast the net again) and financially disadvantageous for me (a lost booking), is far more likely to secure a successful outcome in the short and longer term (a well-received INSET day and a stronger reputation as a trainer). By ‘high-quality’ I do not mean a detailed breakdown of exactly what I’m required to say (and not say), and how I should say it. Again, I turn down bookings if I feel we’re reaching that point. As I see it, schools are investing a lot of time and money in bringing in outside speakers, so a day that simply confirms the brilliance of their existing practice is a wasted day. The speaker is being recruited, presumably, to add value and for their expertise. While there is no point in being provocative/unsettling simply for the sake of it, schools that are open to ongoing improvement must be open to challenging messages. Whether or not they choose to respond to these messages is up to them – after all, they know the unique constellation of factors affecting their school far better than the speaker, however ‘expert’ they are.
2. Reasonable requests. Remember Gardner’s caution that ‘Coverage is the enemy of understanding’. It really won’t help you if you expect us to offer an introduction to mindsets theory, alongside an extensive set of practical examples for growing growth mindsets, illustrated by school case studies and a survey of critiques of the theory – with discussion and action-planning time, please. In a 90-minute twilight. Really, less is more. Cut your cloth according to the time available.
3. Accepting dialogue. This is our job on the day – but please let us do it. Don’t insist on a Q&A session tagged on at the end of the day; instead, ensure there is sufficient scope for presenter–audience engagement throughout the day. This keeps, in Hattie-ish terms, the learning visible: as a presenter, I need to know how the audience is responding to the material; where I’ve over- or under-cooked the theory; what naive theories I’ve left unchallenged; or where my own input can be justifiably questioned. Even though I might have delivered the same material many times before, audiences all respond differently, which enlivens and gives meaning to the material. And audiences themselves stay engaged this way.
4. Respecting the breaks. Breaks in between sessions are necessary chances for us to prepare for the next session, tweak slides, pop to the loo, and rest our voices, but they also provide great opportunities for private conversations, questions and challenges. Generally, I welcome these ‘intrusions’. I also welcome email contact from past participants as evidence that the day was not an inert stand-alone, and that my input has not gone unquestioned or unreflected on. I especially welcome challenges as opportunities to sharpen or improve my material and my delivery – as Blake taught: ‘Without contraries, there is no progression.’ I still sometimes get the basics wrong and need to be taken to task – for example, at a recent twilight session, I massively (and inadvertently) overused examples of male learners at the expense of a reasonable gender balance, making me seem like a fully unreconstructed chauvinist. Profound apologies, you good teachers in Oldham.
(Oh, and if you’ve told your staff that lunch isn’t provided and to bring in some sarnies, please tell trainers in advance too.)
5. Using us fully during the contact day. We’re expensive, and though time for reflection/action planning in departments is crucial, this does not always need to be during the INSET day itself: where possible, try to hold a staff meeting or CPD session a week or so after a training session, for in-house ‘after the fact’ planning and ongoing discussion.
6. Giving us feedback. Please. Recognition (not praise) for what went well is always welcome – but what makes trainers better is honest, constructive improvement suggestions. Be frank. Thanks!
To find out more about bringing an expert into your school to deliver a quality training day, call 01790 755 783 today.
About the Author
Dr Barry Hymer is Professor of Psychology in Education at the University of Cumbria in Lancaster. Barry has been interpreting and researching learning theory as it relates to classroom practice since he became a professional educator in 1983, and he has worked with many thousands of reflective educators in pursuit of this aim, often as part of extended action research projects. Also over this period, he has acquired extensive experience in schools, initially as a primary and secondary school teacher, then as an educational psychologist, and since 2004 as an independent consultant, academic, and researcher. Having invested his “10,000 hours of purposeful practice”, he has an international reputation as an engaging and highly effective communicator.
Barry has particular interests and expertise in the related areas of motivation, mindset, talent development and independent learning. Barry has toured with Professor Carol Dweck during the summers of 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2016, speaking at packed conferences in England and abroad. Barry has created and leads the Osiris Mindset Programme – a one-year intervention aimed at introducing and embedding growth mindset practices in schools. His most recent books are The Growth Mindset Pocketbook (Hymer & Gershon, 2014), as well as Learning Teaching: Becoming an Inspirational Teacher (with Pete Boyd & Karen Lockney, 2015) – described by Professor John Hattie as “the perfect book for those who want to make the most of their opportunity to enhance students’ brain power.”