Tags: Continuing Professional Development | CPD Coordinator | CPD provision | Curriculum Development

Philip Jenkins, a P6 teacher from Dunvant Primary School in Swansea, started using Philosophy for Children and became determined to get as many of his fellow teachers involved as possible

I am a class teacher in a large primary school of over 400 pupils sited on the edge of Swansea. Our school is of mixed intake and I have been teaching in Key stage 2 here for the past 12 years. My involvement in disseminating my practice and skills started purely by accident and in a piecemeal way. As part of my Master’s in Education I was introduced to the Philosophy for Children approach. Even though this was a very brief hour-long session, it really caught my imagination and I could see it as a valuable tool to add to my teaching. I immediately, and with the blind ignorance of the uninitiated, started to try out philosophy sessions with my then Year 6 class. The response from the children and myself was both surprising and illuminating. I decided to undertake a small piece of action research as a part of one of my Master’s modules, which grew into writing my dissertation on longer research on the approach. The rest as they say is history and the whole CPD project snowballed from here. I was very fortunate to have Dr Sue Lyle of Swansea Institute of Higher Education leading the Master’s course, as she was extremely interested in the P4C approach as well. Through the college she organised for selected teachers to undergo a Level 1 two-day training course run by SAPERE, the charity that promotes P4C in the UK. We both recognised the potential in this approach, coupled with a change of direction in the Welsh curriculum towards more skills-based approaches. After I had completed the Level 2 training, more schools in Swansea were showing an interest in trying out the P4C approach. I decided that I would like to expand my own experience and took a six-week sabbatical to improve my own skills and spread my enthusiasm for the approach.

Identify your goals

The sabbatical was designed with three main goals related to my own and wider CPD within the county.

  • Modelling the P4C approach to selected schools to encourage them to undertake it in their schools.
  • Creating a video of practice to be used as an exemplar and training aid.
  • Training headteachers, advisers and teachers to Level 1 to help them promote the approach in schools.

Identify your target audience

The schools invited to attend the first few training sessions were carefully selected by Dr Lyle using her knowledge of the headteachers and teachers who would be most responsive to P4C. It was also deliberately targeted at headteachers and advisors in county. It was thought that if you could sell it to the managers and decision makers, it was more likely to have a wider and longer lasting effect. These people often have a large amount of control over CPD, especially in the primary sector, both over the finance and the direction and emphasis it takes. This proved a successful approach. The headteachers went back to their schools and immediately booked in deputies and teachers onto the next available courses. On the sabbatical I targeted 15 schools for modelling and training sessions. These were schools where the headteachers had been on the initial training and were keen to promote the approach with their staff. The type of input I gave was decided upon by the schools, based upon their needs.

Partners in the process

As with most initiatives in schools, partnerships and teamwork are essential to successful outcomes.

  • School: I have been extremely lucky to have a very supportive and understanding headteacher. She has been very flexible and allowed me not only the six weeks sabbatical away from class, but also a series of one- and two-day absences to lead courses and training sessions for other schools and colleagues. I have also had the support of a great year group partner teacher who has helped take pressure off when I have had large commitments with P4C. In return the school has gained a highly trained member of staff who can provide leadership and training towards a school development goal of improvement of thinking skills. The school’s reputation in the county has also been enhanced and it is seen as a leader in this area.
  • Outside bodies: Again I have been fortunate to have a fantastic relationship with Swansea Institute. They have led and promoted the CPD of teachers in this area from the outset. They targeted specific teachers and schools, organised initial and ongoing training, as well as promoting it on their undergraduate and post-graduate courses. This partnership was essential and gave me the time and support to focus my energies on what I was good at: modelling, training and tutoring colleagues.
  • General Teaching Council for Wales: Without the financial support of the GTCW none of this would be possible. All the teachers trained on the initial and consequent courses were funded by the council’s bursary scheme.

Funding

During the initiative, funding was organised in a number of ways depending on how the schools wanted it done. Some teachers applied for individual GTCW bursaries to cover the cost of the courses and supply cover. Other schools identified P4C as a priority in their school development plans, taking group bursaries for a number of staff and sending them together on courses. My own funding came, largely, from the GTCW in a number of forms. It has various pots of money that can be accessed; including a sabbatical fund to pay for up to six weeks’ supply cover and expenses. I’m sure that in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland there are similar bodies that allow access to funds for CPD. You need to become well versed in how to access and to make the process easy for others in your schools and outside. If you make it as easy as possible, then colleagues are less likely to be put off applying and taking up the CPD on offer.

Tips for organising CPD using a cascade approach

  • Enthusiasm: The lead person has to have a real enthusiasm for the initiative and be able to communicate that to others, or all will come to naught.
  • Targeting: Make sure you choose your target audience well. Select colleagues that you think will be interested and enthusiastic enough to give it a go at least. They will become your champions to the rest of staff, schools, county, etc.
  • Start small: Select a small group and work with them to establish momentum. Success with them will start your cascade and also fuel your enthusiasm as well as the initiative.
  • Influence: If possible try to get on board colleagues who you know exert influence over others either by seniority or by character. If you convince them their recommendation will be highly valued and the cascade will gain momentum.
  • Networks: Make sure colleagues have regular meetings to allow opportunities to share practice and update one another on new advances. All too often sound initiatives lose momentum and grind to a halt as the day-to-day work of teaching takes over. Teachers love to share and these forums are a great place to keep up momentum and pick up on new ideas.
  • Flexibility: Wherever possible try to tailor your approach to the individual teacher, school or organisation you are dealing with. If you target it to their perceived need it is much more likely to succeed.
  • Funding: Research access to funding and make the applications or form filling as painless as possible.
  • Partners: Try to elicit help from whoever is available in your school or organisation as well as outside bodies. Learn to delegate if possible. This is cascading, not you trying to do it all.
  • Link with Organisation Priorities: If your initiative is given weight in the school development plan then it is much more likely to gain support from managers and staff.
  • Whole-school approach: Try to make the initiative a whole -school action in primary and, at least, a departmental action in secondary. You don’t have to start with everyone but build up to this. It provides continuity and kudos to the project.

‘The effectiveness of the cascade method is down to the person taking the lead’ –

the headteacher’s view by Joanna Barre The cascade system worked extremely well in our school. As we are a large primary school it gave the opportunity for dialogue to take place both between staff and with the senior management team. The discussions between staff motivated others to become involved, first as observers, and then as participants. As an example, one member of staff asked to go on the two-day training after team teaching with a colleague taking a philosophy session as part of the initiative. Our school has a very strong PSE curriculum and we feel that this project has enhanced the whole ethos of the school and challenged staff to look at the ways they offer opportunities for children to develop their thinking skills. The cascade method worked for us, as several members of staff were keen to develop their teaching strategies. The effect has been improved the learning opportunities of the children as well as targeted and effective professional development for the teachers. The effectiveness of the cascade method is down to the person providing the lead. They are the key to the whole process. As with all forms of training those skills relating to dealing with people – enthusiasm and flexibility – come to the fore and can be the deciding factors on how the method meets with success or otherwise. There is also the need to provide release time to disseminate, reflect and feedback on how well the strategies are working and how they can be improved. Questions will arise from the sessions that need to be dealt with quickly and effectively. This is crucial to building in good practice and confidence with staff, but of course has implications for the budget. Introducing P4C in our school has reinforced the vision we have for our learning environment. We are still at the early stages but already we are seeing the children developing their skills of enquiry and thinking, while more and more staff are becoming involved, building up to a whole-school approach.

‘This cascade approach has provided a springboard to my own continuing professional development’ – the teacher’s view by Julie Dunn, teacher

My first introduction to Philosophy for Children (P4C) came during a staff training session led by Phil a couple of years ago. Phil was a keen advocate of the impact of P4C on children’s thinking and reasoning skills. Our school development plan for learning and teaching identified thinking skills and communication as a key focus and P4C appeared to be an excellent vehicle for promoting these skills. The initial induction stirred my interest and following discussions with the head, Phil was released to come into both Year 4 classes and model the approach using a community of enquiry. Phil and I began to discuss the approach and he provided me with some reading material so I could begin to make links between the theoretical perspectives underpinning the P4C model of dialogic enquiry and my own practice. This cascade approach has provided a springboard to my own continuing professional development – following Phil’s initial input I have undertaken the Level 1 training and am in the process of completing Level 2. It has also provided the basis for some classroom-based research, focusing on the use of philosophical questioning to develop children’s higher-order thinking skills. This has given momentum to my Master’s study. It has been extremely advantageous that Phil and I work in the same school. I have been able to discuss sessions with him immediately after they’ve taken place and use him as a critical friend to discuss aspects of learning and teaching related to P4C. This feedback is proved invaluable in keeping the momentum of the initiative. The support of the head has also been vital to the success of the cascade model. She has provided meaningful opportunities for myself and other staff to develop understanding of children’s thinking. Without this sort of support from colleagues the model would not function so well and produce such good results.

Within the context of our school this cascade method has been very successful and I believe it has been highly beneficial to my own CPD.

This article first appeared in CPD Update – Sep 2007

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