A fading tan isn’t all that remains of Rosemary Cairn’s CPD experiences in the Caribbean!

Professional development has been defined in various forms. According to the DfES, it is “any activity that increases the skills, knowledge and understanding of teachers and their effectiveness in schools“. It shouldn’t matter at what stage in a career a teacher might be; CPD is essential if we are to stay focussed and wish to move forward. I was one of a group of teachers from Swindon who recently visited the Caribbean island of Dominica for a week to investigate education and look particularly at the impact of Fair Trade.

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The Best Practice Network, with whom we made our arrangements for the visit, provides short-term study-visit places to LEAs under the Department of Education and Skills Programme. The role of the Best Practice Network is to ensure that each Teachers’ International Professional Development (TIPD) visit is exciting and stimulating, and that teachers and LEA officers are able to integrate the experience within everyday school and LEA activity. Dominica was not just an exciting place to visit, but was the focus of CPD for all the staff that went. There are extensive opportunities for teachers through the TIPD programmes, to meet with educational professionals across the world.

Each member of our TIPD group had individually focussed aims, which addressed our own needs and career plans together with school-focussed development. I believe that CPD encompasses all formal and informed learning, which in turn assists to improve our own practice. Personal development does matter (as does professional support) to assist in helping someone to develop. We are not, as someone put it, merely teaching machines; we have many facets, all of which are important. Many of the staff in Dominica do not hold formal teaching qualifications, so training, performance management and CPD are areas that the island is looking to develop. Some Dominican teachers look overseas for a career move, but all those in post are proud of their cultural roots and celebrate them in style.

Our time in Dominica made a lasting impression. We have much in common with our Dominican colleagues and it was valuable to be able to exchange ideas and share expertise together. Methods of delivery may be different, but pupils are very similar the world over. Teaching in Dominica is usually much more formal with pupils sitting in pairs sitting in pairs at wooden desks. Very often there are up to 40 pupils in one classroom but they all responded well to the more formal approach and the heat didn’t seem to affect them at all!

It was interesting to be in this largely Christian culture, which promoted biblical values and prayer on one level, yet acknowledged problems in the country such as STD, drugs and alcohol .The head teacher in one school spoke a lot about the litter problem and children being late to school. Something sounds familiar! We also had the good fortune to be there whilst the Creole Day celebrations were in progress. The steady beat of steel drums and the smell of street barbeque food were some of the experiences that accompanied my time in Dominica.

Alas, Dominica may lose some teachers to other countries, but we in the UK also need teachers who aren’t going to give up within the first five years, which is often the case. If CPD programmes are managed well within schools, it could well prevent haemorrhage from the profession. If someone was to be cynical, the cost of international CPD might be questioned. However, I believe it is cost effective if teachers of good quality stay in the profession.

Before starting out on our trip we recorded what we hoped to get out of it. Good planning was crucial so that all participants knew what they were undertaking and could set clear aims and objectives with proposed outcomes. Therefore, part of the evaluation on our return was to see what we had learnt. Some CPD training is seen as an end in itself, but by stating our goals in this extended professional experience, we were able to evaluate the impact both within our schools and in the LEA. There is no doubt that if you don’t get onto the case quickly the impetus can be lost and the fading tan is all that might remain! We were able to reflect on our experiences and plan to enrich classroom practice in the term ahead.

All participants agreed that through the varied programme offered to us by our Dominican hosts, our own classroom practice has been extended. We are able to speak of first-hand experience and provide primary evidence e.g. a geography lesson on the rainforest, food technology and citizenship lessons on Fair Trade. There is no doubt that this will assist pupils learning and subsequently their attainment. From a school perspective (and beyond) we can apply what has been learnt and endeavour to influence systems and structures.

We’ve forged links with the beautiful island of Dominica and have pledged to implement many ideas in our school as a result of our trip. These include the production of a calendar, a ‘Cook School’ for Key Stage 2 and 3 pupils, encouraging schools and our town to become Fair Trade, taking assemblies, and setting up E-mail links with classes in both UK and Caribbean, to name but a few.

If we are to stay bright, focussed and interesting in our choice of career, we need to be given the personal entitlement to professional development. It’s up to individuals to make sure that opportunity is afforded them. Bon Voyage.

For more information visit:www.teachernet.gov.uk/professionaldevelopment/tipd/

www.bestpracticenet.co.uk

Rosemary Cairns is the Professional Tutor at Ridgeway School near Swindon. In addition to teaching D&T (Food and Textiles) and Health and Social Care, she also runs professional studies at the Swindon SCITT. International Professional Development

This article first appeared in Teaching Expertise, July 2005.