Collaborative online learning with a constructed balance of interactive activities that engage trainee teachers and stimulate questions, reflection and discussion on the latest research and effective teaching pedagogies.
In response to school closures and the announcement of trainee teachers losing their placements and therefore links with their placement schools, CTSN SCITT were faced with some challenges. We quickly came to the realisation that we needed not only to move centre- based training online overnight, but also find a meaningful online CPD offer for trainee teachers to cover the hours and experience of the training they would have previously had in school.
This challenge was one we took head on, starting with emergency online Core Training using Microsoft TEAMS. (The announcement that schools were closed came on the Wednesday and by the Friday all Core training had been moved online!) It was surprisingly straight forward and trainees both coped and responded well to this.
After the initial emergency phase, we needed to consider how to support trainees to continue to work on identified gaps in their practice and provide opportunities for them to evidence the Teachers’ Standards in an online environment. At the same time, we were mindful of the challenges many trainees were facing at home and the need for some flexibility with any provision.
After reading a blog written by Olly Lewis, I reflected on his point about using familiar resources already at your disposal and initially not trying something too complex. Olly states:
“Making the best use of the resources you have, carefully strategise how and what learning will look like for your students and become excellent at what you do with the familiar tools at your disposal.”
Trying not to change too much too soon was the initial emergency plan as it was key, we kept in touch with our trainee teachers and continued with our sense of community.
Our trainee cohort already worked online for some of the time to capture their evidence online though OneNote and communicate with us via Microsoft Teams messaging, so sticking with this familiar platform for any online ‘live’ Core Training sessions seemed the most sensible, equitable and less stressful approach for everyone involved. In our emergency teaching phase, we aimed to keep systems familiar and simple, yet gradually teaching trainees the rules, expectations and use of the technology through online ‘live’ CPD sessions. We tried carefully to get each strategy used right before trying something new and more challenging. We wanted to build confidence of our trainees in using online platforms and help them feel positive about the power of online learning.
On looking more deeply into the research around the ‘TPack’ model, referenced in Olly’s blog, I was interested in the dynamic between content, pedagogy, and the chosen technology. I was struck by the need to put the learning first and technology second. Our aim was for all other online learning experiences to be meaningful and offer personalised, quality teaching and learning opportunities for all our trainees, with technology as a supplementary aid to learning.
The core principles which guided us were that any online learning should:
Cater for all abilities
Cater for different areas of targeted need- identified in the trainee teachers’ Term 2 Report
Be realistic and manageable for all, given the challenging circumstances
Be well planned, controlled, and professional
Allow for ways to monitor learning, engagement, and attendance
Focus on learning as the ‘end game’ and technology to aid the learning
Olly’s quote reflects our initial thinking:
“We are leading learning in a new direction that is both a best fit for our context and one that is equitable for all individuals.”
Offering a weekly programme of guided online activities, with personalised options which had the same focus for each day of the week, offered trainees a comforting and familiar structure to work through in these unstable times. Using pre-existing online packages such as NASBTT Learn and Future Learn alongside our own bespoke guidance allowed trainees to feel supported through modules that met their personalised needs. Having one day to focus purely on developing subject knowledge gave trainees a unique opportunity to engage more deeply with their professional bodies, read and work on an identified subject knowledge weakness ahead of their NQT year. Many trainees were incredibly grateful of this precious time and it will prepare them well for their NQT year.
“Every cloud has a silver lining”
As we all became more comfortable with online learning, it was interesting to see the shift from anxiety and excitement when using these platforms to disconnection and in some cases apathy within the trainee cohort. Beckie Supiano from The Chronicle of Higher Ed, referred to an article written by Professor Adriano Udani who described this process as ‘ZOOMED OUT.’ This resonated with my experience. Trainees had got too comfortable in receiving remote instruction and switched off, missing the deep reflection we aimed for. I realised I needed to work harder on making the online ‘live’ CPD experiences more creative, interactive, and engaging. Which meant upskilling my knowledge of using the technology and learning what strategies I could use that would facilitate discussion and deeper learning.
Taking part in some online Zoom training which not only focussed on the logistics of online learning, but also on more creative ways of using this online platform to improve teaching and learning really enriched my own learning. Research from Laurillard (2018) on Effective E- Learning made us think about the range of synchronous and asynchronous techniques that could be used depending on the learning. This break learning down into eight parts - instruction, note taking, discussion, thinking, collaboration, investigation, presentation, and practical use
Taking core principles from the research of Ruben Puentedura which asks us to consider if the online platform is being used as substitution, augmentation, modification, or redefinition for the learning. Thinking about online provision as either enhancement or transformation to the learning was thought provoking. A summary from my reading and research into best practice in online CPD for ITE is below.
Platforms like Zoom and Teams are meant to encourage interaction and communication and not remote instruction, so we must plan for meaningful interaction. (The tools I experimented with were breakout rooms and moving to small groups and one-to-one tutorials to help facilitate discussion again.)
The Human option is the best!- Make time for a chat outside the learning, as you would in face to face CPD training. (We started to share pictures of trainee teachers’ pets at the end of each session. This helps build our sense of community and togetherness, so needed at this time.)
Share the rules and expectations. (We agreed that we all have our cameras on, would use cold calling questions throughout and that trainees must contribute to the chat when asked. We also sent reading in advance to allow for a flipped learning approach.)
You cannot always do the same thing! Why this came as surprise to me, I do not know! (I started to get more creative with online low stakes quizzes, quick fire chat responses, group constructed diagrams, and open discussions.)
There is power in small groups collaborating, talking, co learning alongside the expert. (We created smaller group online tutorials with the Senior Tutor as the expert to do just this.)
Synchronous teaching needs to be supported by the ability to think, read, talk, and question. As you would in a face to face CPD session. What is the learning and is the technology a substitution, augmentation, modification, or redefinition for the learning? (We built in reading and discussion time into ‘live’ online CPD sessions, asking trainees to come back with their reflections after a short period of time.)
Must be flexible to meet the complex needs and circumstances of all trainees. (We developed a pastoral care plan, which allowed trainees to follow up any missed learning with their Senior Tutor by watching the recorded the sessions but following this up with a one-to-one discussion.)
I think Beckie Supiano sums up my thoughts, online CPD should offer…
“Intellectual nourishment, social connection and personal accommodation”
...especially in these challenging times.
Secondary Hub Lead CTSN SCITT
Assistant Headteacher at Saffron Walden County High School
The initial decision to pursue a career in teaching can feel overwhelming. You are leaving the financial security and comfortable knowledge base of your previous employment or educational setting and committing, not just to a job, but to a lifelong occupation. You suspect that this occupation comes with as many responsibilities, hardships and unknowns as it does rewards, purpose and personal growth, and you are not entirely wrong. You feel, perhaps rightfully, daunted. From the outset, however, and above all else I would like to write here, CTSN made me feel like I was an equal partner alongside them as they supported me through my application, my training, and my transition to employment. I have never felt judged or tested. I have never felt afraid to ask questions. I have never felt that my best interests, the interests of the school, and the interests of the SCITT were in conflict. From the schools that went out of their way to let me visit before applying and the interviewers who treated me like the colleague I aspired to be, to the mentors, tutors and other staff at both my placement schools and my future employers within the trust, I have always been made to feel that the process is designed to find the right fit for me as an individual, mutually benefitting both trainee and school.
This individualised focus is reflected in the range of pathway options, comprising combinations of salaried, non-salaried, full-time and part-time flexible options. These options allowed me to make the leap from my previous employment to pursue a career I felt passionate about, and the diversity of trainees on the course is testament to its effectiveness as an approach. It is truly one of its greatest strengths. The breadth of experiences and backgrounds present has made weekly core training sessions a genuinely critical forum for debate and has consequently allowed for a strong social and professional network to form out of the core training groups. Each week, targets are set centred on the learning from core training, and these help to guide and inform the weekly mentor meetings in school. These meetings anchor the theory from core training in your classroom practice and provide an opportunity for individualised target setting to tailor the course to your specific needs and circumstances. Core training is then further augmented by Subject Specialist Link (SSL) days, which provide the opportunity to critically apply and adapt the latest research from core training, alongside like-minded trainees and a highly experienced specialist in your subject, to the unique challenges and opportunities presented in your particular classroom. In this way, whilst everyone’s course may look different, trainees are equally enriched by the experience of others and supported personally throughout their journey towards becoming an NQT.
Looking to the future, I of course cannot say with certainty the role CTSN will play in the rest of my career. However, my experience to date gives me every reason to believe that my mentor, senior tutor, SSL, colleagues, fellow trainees and course providers will continue to show the unparalleled interest and concern for my personal and professional development and well-being that they have done thus far, and I them. They will no doubt continue be an invaluable asset for as long as I am in the classroom and I can only hope that I am able to return the favour in kind, perhaps becoming a mentor or delivering training myself one day! And in the end, I suppose that is what school-centred initial teacher training is really all about.
I have really enjoyed my initial teacher training year and am pleased I decided to complete it with CTSN. Not only have I felt supported throughout the year but I know I’ve trained with a SCITT who will invest in me throughout my career. The practical nature of the course means I have been in school from the beginning of my training. Not only has this given me the opportunity to consistently observe and evaluate the theory and practice of teaching but it has helped to prepare me for the role of the teacher. Being a regular presence in form time, meetings and lessons, has enabled me to feel like an integrated member of the school community, not just a trainee.
I feel so lucky to have had two wonderful placements in two wonderful partnership schools. Both were filled with experienced and knowledgeable teachers who were always eager to support and advise me. The opportunity to be placed in two different schools allowed me to gain different perspectives and approaches to teaching. The high employment rates in partnership schools was also appealing and I now have a job teaching English at Bassingbourn Village College where I had my first placement. It’s exciting to know I have a job in a school that I already know so well.
Having practising teachers from local schools present topics they are passionate about has not only deepened my pedagogical understanding, but has allowed me to draw on their knowledge of how this translates into the classroom. The range of voices and experiences I encountered at core training ensured I have a broad understanding of education. From the role of the form tutor to exploring metacognitive approaches in the classroom, I always found myself looking forward to our weekly training and left the sessions with new ideas to try out. The spiral curriculum approach means key aspects of the curriculum were revisited as my classroom experience grows and I could view them in a more reflective and mature way. This weekly contact was also a great opportunity to receive support or ask any questions that popped up over the previous week.
My in-school subject specialist mentors were also an important part of my training. Whether I needed advice after a tricky day or want to celebrate a breakthrough with a class, they were there to support and advise me. I found that because my mentors regularly observed my teaching, they were able to create bespoke and meaningful targets to improve my teaching. The step-by-step approach to improving big areas of the curriculum means I never felt overwhelmed and was given specific feedback by those who observed me to meet that week's target.
My senior tutor has been incredibly supportive throughout the year. I always enjoyed our tutorials and it was comforting to know there was someone throughout both placement from the SCITT I could consistently approach with any problems. I was visited at both placement schools to check I was settled and supported and to have my teaching observed. I felt each observation was an opportunity to show my senior tutor how much I’d learnt and receive valuable feedback.
As part of core training I’ve had a number of subject specific afternoons with an experienced English teacher. Subject link sessions have provided me with an opportunity to reflect on how general pedagogy from core training specifically applies to my subject, English. From exploring the use of drama to support SEN students by re-enacting the siege of troy to writing and sharing our own attempts to respond to exam questions, I was always left with new ideas to bring to the classroom and a deeper understanding of the demands of teaching English.
Throughout my training there has been a focus on becoming an evidence-based practitioner. In training and as part of our set wider reading, we regularly reviewed research from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Chartered College of Teaching and reflected upon its implications for classroom practice. Completing a PGCE has also enabled me to develop a critical response to research. This not only helped me to build a solid foundation of understanding in my teacher training year but also gave me the skills to continue being a research engaged practitioner in my NQT year and beyond.
Having lots of trainees to share my experiences with was also an important part of the course. The weekly catchups over tea and biscuits at training, where we could share highs and lows of the week or simply discuss the different ways we were going to celebrate after we had handed in an assignment, always kept me going.
I feel prepared and excited to get started in September knowing I have been given the skills to succeed in such a wonderful profession.