From Surface to Deep Professional Development #TMNRocks

The following post was inspired by #TMNRocks and the sessions of @headguruteacher Tom Sherrington, @HuntingEnglish Alex Quigley and @geogphil Dr Phil Wood. Thank you for three awesome sessions; the learning from each workshop together with the day as a whole somehow led my thinking here:

In a world driven by data, teachers need to remember that they are not just a number and neither are the pupils they teach. We are not teaching students one year at a time in order to pass a test, turn a spread sheet green and move on to the next cohort. We have in our classrooms the future citizens of our country. With great responsibility should not come dismay over workload or despair over time (although it inevitably does in the current climate); with great responsibility should come a deep longing for self-improvement and a search for eventual mastery over our vocation.

You know this already. You’ve been trawling twitter and have stolen a myriad of ideas; you have attended lots of Teachmeets and Pedagoo events, enjoyed professional discussions with likeminded teacher geeks and filled more note books than you can comfortably fit on your shelf. You attend school led CPD and sit attentively through each session wanting desperately to be the best teacher you can be. So why are you still not achieving ‘outstanding’ every time?

  1. Assessment Methods: Being assessed according to a rigid criteria makes you less likely to access further reading, opting instead to demonstrate new learning by rote in order to fulfil the criteria requirements. Are you in search of the mythical outstanding from Ofsted? Do you see the Ofsted criteria as the only way your teaching can be awesome? Have you tried to demonstrate rapid progress in a lesson because that is what the criteria states you must do? Have you taken every CPD session lately and applied it directly to your next lesson hoping that it is the quick route to outstanding you were searching for?
  2. Teaching: How you are taught influences how you learn. When teaching outcomes contain verbs such as investigate, explore and create a deeper learning is more likely. When teaching is didactic, rote learning is encouraged. Most CPD presentations are didactic; teachers are expected to be professionals that can sit through hours of endless talk without boredom (yeah right). If you take point one and point three into consideration, most CPD sessions are likely to either be quickly forgotten or quickly applied to lessons without further investigation.
  3. Workload: According to a survey completed by the DFE, the average teacher now works 56 hours per week, up six hours from 2010. Day to day teaching, planning and assessing takes up a great deal of our time. When you have a heavy workload, you are more likely to take a surface approach to new learning. If you have a head full of ideas and a hand full of time, are you going to carefully assess the impact of new strategies or just apply them quickly and see if they work?

Look upon yourself as a learner in the school of pedagogy. Twitter, Teachmeets, external CPD days or school led CPD are lessons leading up to your end of term exam (the SLT lesson observation or Ofsted inspection). Are you allowing the above factors to force you into taking a surface approach to your professional development? If you are, how are you equipping yourself for life beyond the examination? A pupil who narrows their learning to focus only on the examination may pass that examination with flying colours but may also find themselves unable to apply their learning to unfamiliar situations. Lessons are so unpredictably human that each new hour with your students has the potential to be that unfamiliar situation and Sod’s Law states that the situation that is likely to be most alien is the one with the inspector sat in your room. A master of pedagogy in the making will need to move from exam passing behaviours towards deeper learning and confidence in the application of knowledge in various contexts.

Surface   Learning Behaviours

Deep   Learning Behaviours


Repeat   verbatim new informationLearn by   heart assessment requirements

Take a narrow view of topics

Are motivated by a fear of failure.


Actively seek to understandTake a   broad view and relate new learning to old

Are   motivated by interest

Make use   of evidence/ enquiry and evaluation



Moving Towards Deeper Learning

Time, assessment methods and teaching of CPD are unlikely to change anytime soon. However, planning to overcome these challenges can set you in the right direction for success.

  1.  Assessment Methods: Stop trying to fit into a rigid criteria that does not belong to you. Great lessons happen in so many different and interesting ways that there can be no one size fits all model. Utilise available criteria to help you assess what awesome* learning looks like in your classroom but investigate what success is for yourself based upon your own context. If you are actively seeking to truly understand what success is within your own classroom, you are more likely to create the right environment for awesome lessons more often.
  2. Teaching: You cannot demand that all CPD you receive from now on must contain higher order thinking verbs as an intended outcome. You may not have control over how you are taught but you can control the way you process the information. Plan improvements to your practice by making use of action research, peer observations, self-observations or lesson study and evaluate your progress. Use your evaluations to create your own ideas. Lesson study gives teachers focussed time to think deeply about learning (learning of students and teachers); the observations have no externally imposed criteria for success and, as the observers have been involved in the lesson planning, the lesson is not driven by a fear of failure but by the motivation to understand learning. Teachers would have choice over who they work with, their area of focus and the conditions of the observation making them more likely to engage with learning. This is a challenging, self-controlled project with the aim of exploring and embedding past learning.
  3. Workload: Hell is likely to turn into a frozen wilderness before anybody will believe that teachers need more time. Therefore it is going to be down to you to control how effectively you manage your progress. Think strategically about your development and focus your deep learning on one area at a time (rather than attempting every new idea that crosses your path). Choose a focus area that interests you to make it more likely that you will enjoy further reading. After all, much of this will be done in your own time so you do not want to choose anything too tedious. Try to link new learning to your focus area rather than seeing every new idea as separate from the last.

As we continue to suffocate under dataveilence, I hope that we can all remain as human in our roles as possible. Spread sheets have their place; it’s great to see them turn green as pupils make progress and it’s helpful to see who needs a little extra help if they are timely and used as a guide. However, we must remember our bigger role as educators and never become data victims. One day, education may be placed back in the hands of the educators but until then, we have to do all we can to keep it human.


* I sincerely hope that Ofsted never categorise “awesome” learning. I have used this word because it is a word that I like and I know what I mean by it! Putting it as an above outstanding category would not be helpful to anyone…

2 thoughts on “From Surface to Deep Professional Development #TMNRocks

  1. Pingback: From Surface to Deep Professional Development #TMNRocks | The Learning Geek | The Echo Chamber

  2. Pingback: Development of Research into Professional Practice - The Learning GeekThe Learning Geek

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