A challenge which most forward thinking mathematics departments face is to have effective CPD which encourages teachers to collaborate and share ideas whilst also minimising the amount of time taken out of the classroom.
As mathematics adviser, I recognise that one of the most effective ways in developing the quality of teaching and learning in departments and to implement the many curriculum changes taking place is to work with a number of teachers from a department and not just one or two. However, I find myself under increasing pressure from school leaders not to take teachers out of their lessons. Department meetings are too short and rare to have a big impact and are not an effective use of support time in a rural authority. Recently out of school, I know that there are too many other items that are on department meeting agendas for effective CPD to take place and I remember all too well what leaving my classes for a few lessons can mean.
This case study explores an approach taken with two mathematics departments in schools quite close geographically and with a similar key stage 3 scheme of work. Hamonds High School in Swaffham and Methwold High School are schools fairly isolated in their locality and often find it difficult to travel to training in Norwich or Kings Lynn. With relatively new subject leaders, they are keen to have support and are looking for ways to develop their schemes of work. In addition, both schools have recently been part of a reorganisation that has seen them pick up year seven students for the first time. This has meant that they have looked for ways to develop a mathematics curriculum for those youngsters.
A project, funded by the Teacher Development Agency through another Norfolk high school, Notre Dame in Norwich, in improving the CPD practices with mathematics, allowed us to look at ways in which we could provide for the support needs of these two schools in an innovative way which would have maximum impact and be cost effective.
We agreed with the department leaders and with the senior teams of each of the two schools that we would look at development of their scheme of work over the course of the Spring Term. This development consisted of several meetings:
- Planning meeting and demonstration of the unit planning process with both of the subject leaders. We met for half a day and agreed the initial dates for the department collaboration and discussed which aspects of the schemes of work would be the highest priority. It also allowed the subject leaders to model the process of unit planning and the issues for consideration. This was helped with the assistance of two PGCE students who were also able to contribute.
- Twilight INSET for both departments at a local hotel with which one of the schools has links. Teachers from both departments met for a meeting from lunch time in school until six in the evening and included an evening meal. This initial meeting for the department which was collaboratively planned by both subject leaders was slow and involved a great deal of discussion about the pedagogical approaches behind effective teaching and learning. Two units of work were completed during this session.
- Whole Day Collaborative Planning. Volunteer teachers were funded by the project to participate in a planning day during the half term break. Again, this involved a hotel setting and refreshments. During this day, we discovered that the lengthy discussions about pedagogy were no longer needed and a common cause meant that the unit planning process was quick and efficient with about 8-10 units planned in various levels of detail.
- Final twilight INSET. Identical in organisation to the first meeting and involved the planning of two more units of work as well as a discussion with head teachers about the impacts of the project and future opportunities for collaboration. Staff were asked to evaluate the impact of the project on their practice.
As a result of the project, a large proportion of the scheme of work for Key Stage 3 had been planned and was being implemented in classroom practice. The opportunity to discuss the pedagogy behind the rich activities had an impact on how teachers taught their classes and teachers placed a high value on the CPD they had received. The schools have agreed to support this model again during next academic year.
The key features of the success of this model of professional development are:
- Schools in similar circumstances and willing to engage in collaborative planning
- Department leaders were able to engage with active learning approaches
- Teachers in departments agreed to participate and saw the value to their practice in being able to plan collaboratively
- Senior Leaders in school were willing to support departmental requests for time. We used the last lesson on two days for the whole department and although this was a heavy cover request, were well supported by both schools
- Time for both departments to work away from the school environment and concentrate on developments
- Funding to cover the venue, cover and staff for their extra work day. The project total was less than £3000.
Some of the evaluative comments from the departments taking part:
“The move away from text book learning to a more interactive and engaging approach has been accelerated by this collaboration”
“A lovely way to share ideas to benefit the teachers involved, the whole department and students at both schools.”
“Sharing good practice and having the opportunity to contribute to topic plans with a partner school – ie sharing resources and ideas across schools – has been illuminating and helpful for my own teaching development”
Andy Edmonds, Mathematics Adviser
Norfolk Children’s Services