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Melded learning - teacher CPD

Updated: May 22, 2022

This blog is designed to support leaders in considering how they can increase the effectiveness of teacher professional development through the use of melded learning. There is a mixture of theory and practical tools that can be used by senior leaders to consider current CPD practice.

Blended learning is usually considered to be online learning + face-to-face learning.

Melded learning is the use of multiple ways of improving knowledge, understanding and skill to achieve a learning goal with the aid of others.

Melded learning can be achieved at different levels of intensity and breadth - from a small start-up approach ( small group of colleagues working on a specific objective) to becoming the beating heart of the CPD policy. You can take the principles and apply it to designing year-long approaches to school improvement support. If you would like training for your senior leadership team on melded learning or support for designing a year-long plan, why not get in touch and start a conversation.

The blog considers the human factors which contribute to successful CPD including the need for senior leaders to be actively involved and highly strategic in their approach.

What is the goal?

'I am the SENCO and I also lead on interventions. My goal is to learn about the most effective ways of providing reading fluency intervention so that we can ensure our interventions are as strong as possible. I am in a team with colleagues who have the same goals. The team consists of the headteacher, the English leader, the KS1 leader.'

'I am a Year 4 teacher. My goal is to enhance my practice in teaching nonfiction writing so that the as a school we can secure better progression and achieve higher standards. The key stage are focusing on information texts and instruction texts. We aim to develop a shared understanding of pitch, set out the sentence level work we expect each year group to focus on, develop our perspective on teaching children about audience and purpose, and increase our understanding of how to address common problems.'

Always start with the goal. The more precise the goal is the better. Then consider how different forms of learning will help to achieve that goal.

New opportunities; new ways of learning.

Are you taking advantage of both online and offline adult learning? Are you taking advantage of different types of online content, e.g. online courses, remote meetings, cloud storage to share and access documents, collaboration between schools, podcas

You can learn almost anything online. If you want to.

Confidence in using technology has in the past often been a barrier to using online learning for staff development in school. Due to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions many school colleagues who were previously nervous and reluctant to use online systems have faced their fears and found that technology has been surprisingly easy to use, such as zoom, a popular virtual meeting software, or online learning environments, such as google classroom. There has been an increase in the number of teachers engaging in educational conversations on twitter, watching video clips via platforms such as YouTube and engaging in live sessions online. We should capitalise on recent gains, particularly when seeking to deepen understanding of complex educational matters, by offering multiple sources of information and different ways to learn.

Technology offers teachers the opportunities to study at a depth and breadth that previous was unaffordable. Online sources provide schools with different CPD options - colleagues can work together or colleagues can work self-paced; colleagues can all study the same content or content can be matched to individual need; colleagues can learn from one source or multiple; they can access CPD locally or internationally.

However, success with online learning requires many of the same components as offline learning, e.g. a sense of direction, a clear goal, time and energy to commit to the training, like minded people to work alongside, deadlines for completion, quality materials, structure for conversations. And online external sources work best when they are combined with in-school sources of learning - circles of colleagues in school to discuss and debate with, people to plan lessons with, colleagues who bring different perspectives and experience to the offline conversations, 1:1 support, monitoring and feedback on changes to classroom practice, books to dig deeper into aspects of study, research documents to unpick the theory and practice. And who co-ordinates this? Who sets the direction? Who sets out the time frame? Who maintains momentum? Who motivates the team? So much more can be achieved if leaders invest in the strategy.

Success with melded learning does not happen by magic; it requires -

  • a positive learning culture,

  • a clear focus on goals to be achieved,

  • a big picture plan,

  • effective organisation,

  • high-quality ongoing dialogue,

  • careful monitoring and evaluation.

Leaders need to approach melded learning strategically and have a genuine commitment to professional development. The rewards can be amazing - but to unlock potential takes skilful leadership.

This blog considers :

1) how to create a melded professional development programme;

2) factors leaders should consider to ensure CPD yields excellent returns;

3) how participants can get the most from a melded learning programme;

4) the types of thinking that maximise the impact of professional development.

When designing adult learning:

Let's start with considering the components that should be part of any adult learning programme. Consider how each of these is timetabled, supported, planned in advance.

Look at the 7 items in the model above : ask yourselves as a senior leadership team how are you ensuring that all of the elements are strong when trying to achieve an objective through CPD? Use it as a checklist for planning. Use the model in discussions with colleagues. Ask colleagues to regularly look at the model and reflect on how they are engaging in different types of thinking towards a learning goal.

7 brick components image
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CPD design 7 components
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Stages of adult learning and preparing the way

Due to its significance, I highlight the words of this section.

How might you be able to use the 4 circles to develop a structured approach to CPD - see diagram and explanation below.

How might training and discourse on being an effective adult learner lead to better outcomes?

Moving from the inner to the outer layers of the circle - and moving between the layers. This four layer model can be useful in planning a way forward.

Also see the work of Diep, Anh Nguyet. Adult learners' needs in online and blended learning, Australian Journal of Adult Learning, Vol 59, No 2, July 2019. You can download the above diagram as a PDF.

melded learning concentric circles
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Each layer builds on from the last, but can also be returned to.

Circle 1 Readiness: It is important that participants are informed about what is expected of them as learners and are provided with optimal physical conditions to learn, e.g. space, time, equipment. At the lower end of the framework, we deal with physiology and safety aspects of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. For example, clarity of goals, success criteria, transparency of how progress / impact will be measured and assessed, time lines, programme structures all help to relieve uncertainty and enable colleagues to feel safe. In this circle, schools should address issues related to resources and equipment, technical support and confidence, e.g. how to use the online platform, confidence in using zoom technology for virtual meetings, ability to use brainstorming software; and confidence for actual learning, e.g. study buddy, allocation to a team/group, a lead facilitator or coach, dedicated time to talk about themselves as a learner and their progress towards the goal.

Adult learners should continue to advance their learning skills - we should not make assumptions that all teachers/TAs are effective at continued professional development. We should talk and discuss how to get the most from professional learning. For example, in university courses and A levels learning tends to focus on individual performance, whereas school improvement relies on collective performance. Teachers should consider not just how to improve their individual performance but ask, 'How do we work together effectively to ensure the whole team are competent and skilled? How do we achieve consistency? What does progress look like in different phases and what part do we each each play in securing progress?' Prior to entering the teaching profession colleagues may have engaged in courses that had a very well defined curriculum to follow and an examination to work towards, whereas in schools it may be up to colleagues to set out the content to be covered and the skills to be learned, and consider how performance will be measured! This is quite different from previous learning experiences.

Investing time in readiness will reap rewards later.

The readiness circle also includes understanding WHY professional development is necessary. How does the training and learning link to school improvement? "it provides a raison d’etre for the investment of effort in both individual and collaborative learning activities, given the limited time adults can reserve for learning. This is significant because while the learning itself normally intrinsically motivates adult learners, they are also goal-oriented, viewing time as ‘left’ rather than ‘passed by’ (Knowles, 1984;)." Diep 2019.

Colleagues completing motivational questionnaires often cite 'new learning' as being highly rewarding - but the conditions need to be right and 'getting ready to learn' is often overlooked. Use the prompts above to make a plan as to how to achieve readiness.

Circle 2 Foundation stage: The second element of the framework provides opportunities for participants to build knowledge, understanding and skills, e.g. through online learning modules, video clips, instructor led sessions, lesson demonstrations, direct instruction. Switching between circles 2 and 3 allows participants to engage in a 'knowledge community'. In order for circle 3 to be successful, participants need knowledge to share. The programme should set out very clearly how knowledge levels will be raised. How will knowledge be gained?

Circle 3 Relatedness: People working together / discussion. The third element acknowledges the importance of relationships and interactions in the knowledge building and learning process. Social inclusion and teamwork are essential ingredients in the participants having sustained motivation for learning. This dimension, therefore, embraces literature in knowledge construction and socio-constructivism. Metacognition and the critical unpicking of materials should be ingredients in this circle. Usually, there needs to be a facilitator (internal or external) to help get the most from the activities, e.g. keeping discussion on topic, raising perceptive questions, scaffolding discussion, supporting colleagues to express their thinking, capturing group conclusions, documenting ideas, aiding synthesis. Ideally group sizes varies, starting small and building up to whole team meetings or starting with larger groups and breaking off into smaller and smaller teams.

Sharing knowledge is a reciprocal exchange and there is perceived enjoyment for supporting others in this way. Blended learning research has shown that social exchanges are extremely important to the motivation levels of participants and for increasing the pleasure of study. Reciprocal knowledge sharing among team members can enhance their problem-solving abilities and therefore team effectiveness.

Sharing knowledge with others requires participants to: express their own understanding (and as a result they may gain a better grasp of concept through the articulation of their thoughts), receive feedback from others, listen and respond to questions raised by others and think about other's contributions. Sharing knowledge also helps participants to consider gaps in their own understanding or raise questions - these can then perhaps be pursued through independent study with a view to returning to the group with answers. Ensuring circle 2 is strong before moving onto circle 3 is critical for deep learning to occur. Colleagues may move backwards and forwards between circle 2 and circle 3. It also reinforces the idea that no single person is there to provide 'the answer'.

It is particularly important to emphasise 'critical thinking' in adult learning programmes and require participants to draw conclusions, synthesise information and share knowledge with each other. Reflective discourse is important in enabling adults to assimilate new information and in helping them to make accommodations to their existing schema (e.g. changing their perceptions, addressing a misconception, correcting an error, changing a viewpoint, altering habits, changing procedures, engaging in new ways of working). It is harder to make accommodations than it is to acquire new information! As adults bring with them a great deal of existing knowledge, it is important to engage with any new material with an analytical and reflective lens. An open mind and a questioning approach also help to move adult learning forward.

Reflection and critical thinking are more likely to occur when group sessions are facilitated, i.e. by an senior leader, expert in the field, coach. It should not simply be assumed that putting colleagues together in groups will automatically result in transformational discourse. Who will your key facilitators be? It is useful for facilitators to work together on becoming skilled facilitators, e.g. ways of ensuring everyone engages, opened ended question stems that are likely to promote discussion, ways of keeping the conversations on track, methods of agreeing and recording outcomes, settling disputes, knowledge of activities that promote discussion.

Circle 4 Growth and confidence: Once colleagues have achieved 'core knowledge and understanding' they are able to consider specialising in a particular aspect of the CPD or broadening the CPD beyond that which has been covered by the group. They may wish to do this because they have a particular interest or passion for the topic, because it aligns to their current role or for career development. The other circles provide a firm foundation on which participants can then successfully engage in self-directed autonomous learning, becoming experts themselves. Having built a firm foundation, participants are better able to make more sense of wider contributions to the field of study, e.g. appreciating twitter comments, placing blog posts in contexts, linking theories together, engaging with the research community. Intrinsic motivation plays a part in achieving high-level knowledge and understanding. This circle allows participants more freedom to pursue study along their own motivational lines of enquiry. "The researchers insist that adult learners should be afforded the opportunities to take ownership of their studies, namely respect for learner autonomy or diverse talents and ways of learning (Bangert, 2004; Ross-Gordon, 2003; Walker, & Fraser, 2005)." Diep 2019. This circle also works towards competence and skill - for competence to be enhanced, learners need to have access to feedback that helps them improve their learning, experience a feeling of efficacy (Bandura, 1988). "Additionally, learners need to be cognitively challenged by learning activities that help them to test and go beyond their academic capacities. Thus, feedback and learning activities that have a formative nature are necessary to support learners’ competence." Diep, 2019.

An A3 audit can be downloaded at the end of this blog to help you plan for all four circles.

How to attain circles 2,3,4 by combining sources of learning

One of the most common definitions of the term 'blended Learning' is "combine face-to-face instruction with computer mediated instruction" (Graham, 2006, p.41). We can unpick this further to consider what elements might be included when we use blended learning in the workplace. In 2002, Margaret Driscoll writing for IBM said blended learning was:

1. To combine or mix modes of web-based technology (e.g., live virtual classroom, self-paced instruction, collaborative learning, streaming video, audio, and text) to accomplish an educational goal.

2. To combine various pedagogical approaches (e.g., constructivism, behaviourism, cognitivism) to produce an optimal learning outcome with or with out instructional technology.

3. To combine any form of instructional technology (e.g., videotape, CD-ROM, web-based training, film) with face-to-face instructor-led training.

4. To mix or combine instructional technology with actual job tasks in order to create a harmonious effect of learning and working.

Melded learning is the combination of learning methods to achieve one or more goals. Blended learning is usually considered to be online learning + face-to-face learning. Melded learning is the use of multiple ways of improving knowledge, understanding and skill to achieve a learning goal. For example, in seeking to improve the quality of reading comprehension teaching, colleagues may undertake the following:

  • complete an online learning course in order to build knowledge;

  • digest a range of research papers to challenge their thinking;

  • work with colleagues on collaborative planning of lessons to aid implementation of ideas;

  • watch live or recorded lessons to analyse impact of teaching methods;

  • participate in small group debate and discussion (face-to-face or virtually via videoconferencing) to tease out ideas and improve clarity of thinking ;

  • read professional texts on the subject or participate in jigsaw reading activities to gain more breadth and depth of learning;

  • attend instructor led sessions (live) / links with experts in the field to ensure understanding is deep enough, ask questions and seek clarity;

  • share findings with each other to promote good practice and ensure there is collective responsibility;

  • test out their ideas in the classroom;

  • action plan together;

  • access twitter, blogs, chat groups to gather a wider perspective and ask the wider education community questions;

  • communicate with each other key findings and conclusions;

To build a programme of development that includes multiple sources requires leadership time and leadership commitment. You have to believe that the investment will reap the reward. Yes, it is easy to book a twilight training with an external provider. And whilst I would encourage this, unless you are tackling something very small and very specific, it ALONE can not be the answer. If you are tackling a hard to crack issue - you need to commit to one year or more, commit to different types of external support (e.g. 1:1 sessions with leaders, phase meetings, twilights) and a range of other learning sources, develop the in-house side of the programme - including careful consideration of how the role of leader(s) makes a difference to outcomes.

In the past, very few teachers have been able to study using more than one approach. Too often, complex educational matters are boiled down to a 1-hour twilight or bullet points on an A4 sheet. In reality, a quick fix or over simplistic approach or an 'out of the box' solution where all you have to do is 'add water' rarely leads to deep development, exciting new thinking or true school improvement. Worse, it often leads to disappointment (for both leaders and teachers) when, after participating in a 1-hour training session, leaders find that classroom practice has not changed or changed by very much or changed in all classrooms. Education is complex and multi-faceted with often multiple ways of solving the same problem. We should embrace this, and commit to helping colleagues manage the complexity. We should empower colleagues and provide lots of opportunities for them to engage in professional learning. Online learning certainly opens many more doors to learning than was possible 20 years ago both in terms of content, cost and availability. Added together with other forms of learning can provide us with a winning strategy.

Even if training and support is being provided externally, be that live or recorded, it is rarely effective unless leaders are engaged, involved and 'leading' developments, e.g. setting milestones, organising time tables, re-iterating messages, removing barriers, funnelling finance in the right direction, monitoring progress, asking colleagues about developments, providing both challenge and support, ensuring key points are returned to, facilitating discussion, providing opportunities for teamwork.

To achieve melded learning, schools should consider how to put together a full programme of different activities in a structured and systematic way so that it yields high CPD results. Ask : How will CPD linked to the objective start? What will take place in term 1? What will CPD look like in terms 2 and 3? What about in the following year? Too often, new initiatives are introduced because the previous initiative was never fully developed and therefore never consistent, never achieved fidelity of implementation. Switching to something new doesn't always mean better - it can sometimes just be different. If the old system / the new system never achieve quality implementation neither will lead to substantial differences in outcomes.

Melded learning plots a route towards a professional learning goal and links this very closely to the desired school improvement goal. If the CPD relates to a whole school priority, then it is likely that it would have some core elements that everyone would complete and some elements that would be allocated/chosen by individuals based on their needs, role, interest and career progression. If it was a personal goal: it would be a custom programme. Which elements of CPD are core and which are personal? Which are quick fix CDP and which should form a fully structured programme?

Melded learning focuses on deep learning that is connected and integrated with existing knowledge to build comprehensive schema on important issues. It should aim to build expertise and increase knowledge leading to empowerment of colleagues. A central principle is a commitment to creating a knowledgeable workforce that has the agility to respond to future demands in the profession.

It is tracked and monitored. A critical element is ongoing professional dialogue about how the learning is moving the person(s) closer towards the goal. It has a 'director' that is guiding colleagues towards desired outcomes. There are regular reviews and elements of coaching/mentoring that helps colleagues to take ownership of their learning and individual and collective responsibility for shifts in practice and processes.

Whilst research shows that self-directed learning can be motivating, researchers have also found that adult learners should be provided with structure to comfortably and effectively organise their learning (Cercone, 2008). Over time, adult learning should aim to foster independence and to do this professional dialogue 'about learning' and the 'learners effectiveness' are important, as is accountability and reflection on goals / success criteria. Melded learning allows the learner security and peace of mind of a central program (designed with a goal in mind) whilst also providing plenty of opportunities for self-directed learning as the learning unfolds.

It requires headteachers to commit senior leadership time (including their own) to leading melded learning. Strategic and ongoing leadership is essential for success.

Melded learning would include elements from all six of the areas listed in this diagram.

Melded learning
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Richness, breadth, depth and specialisation

Online courses can offer teachers CPD that is more extensive than a twilight, a single day course or even a multi-day face-to-face course. Face-to-face training can be limited by time available and training can be prohibitively expensive. Online courses can offer a richness of materials, allowing colleagues to add greater depth and/or greater breadth to their learning. In menu driven online learning courses, there is often also the option to specialise - allowing colleagues to dig into materials that meet a specific need, match well to their role in school or follow a particular interest or line of enquiry. A mix of essential and optional components can ensure everyone's needs are met. For example, EYFS colleagues can feel frustrated as they sit through training sessions that don't relate well to their phase. The EYFS team often try very hard to interpret training session through an early years lens - some are very skilled at doing so, but it is always great to have the option to access more specialist materials and online learning can offer a broader range of materials for participants to choose from. Online learning environment can offer more pathways through materials to account for the differencing needs and roles of colleagues. It can also be frustrating in face-to-face courses if the materials is too basic or too advanced. Online learning offers more control over the pace of learning.

However, there can be drawbacks that need to be mitigated against. For example poor quality equipment, a requirement to be self-disciplined in studying, a feeling of isolation if not combined with other forms of learning, not having a comfortable work space to operate in, a lack of associated skills (e.g. ability to create notes online, brainstorming software, software to help organise thinking), an ill-defined work schedule, time not allocated to study. All of these can be addressed by leaders who are serious about improving teacher performance.

melded learning steps
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Who is in charge?

This will vary from school to school:

  • Ultimately governors are responsible for the development and wellbeing of staff. There should be a governor linked to staff development. They can be particularly useful for interviewing staff representatives, e.g. NQTs, subject leaders, TAs, HLTAs, lunch time support staff, business manager, caretaker/estates manager - to get a rounded picture of professional development. They should support and challenge the headteacher regarding the quality, quantity, spending and impact of professional development and the extent to which it is supporting the school to achieve the school improvement objectives.

  • The headteacher needs the 'big picture' view. They should focus on the strategic elements. This would include setting out a vision, setting out the monitoring process, supporting senior leaders to effectively lead professional development activities, appraisal arrangements, reviewing spending, reviewing the whole picture and spread / depth of CPD, ensuring CPD is quality assured, ensuring evaluation takes place, holding leaders and other colleagues to account, delegating. Some of the strategic & some operational elements might be delegated to a DHT depending on the size of school and the way workload is divided. As with everything, there will be operational elements, e.g. ordering books, timetabling, organising meetings, linking teachers to coaches. It is important to ensure there is clear strategic leadership and an effective and efficient organisational plan.

  • CPD lead - There are likely to be some professional development that meets a whole school improvement objective. Leadership of the training would usually therefore be allocated to a senior leader or a subject leader / teachers with a specific whole school responsibility (perhaps backed up by a member of SLT). For example, if the focus is 'exploring how mathematics progress can be enhanced through the use of manipulatives', then the mathematics leader would need to help steer the CPD offer; if the focus is 'distributed leadership' then it might be the DHT or member of SLT leading improvements in middle leadership.

  • Teams - in primary schools either phases or year groups (depending on the size of the school) are an ideal way to: support discussions and professional dialogue, encourage engagement, provide access to support and advice, assist in monitoring developments, assess the impact of CPD on the pupils in the phase. Ultimately, the CPD needs to impact on ways of working and pupil outcomes. Phase leaders are well placed to see how the professional development is delivering results on the ground and help senior leaders to assess the ongoing needs of their team.

  • Other types of team: there might be other ways of grouping participants, e.g. a mix of phases, a mix of expertise, a mix of experience. Groups might be established of 'early adopters' or might specialise in a particular aspect, e.g. 'non-fiction reading and reading to learn across the curriculum' whilst another group specialise in 'book talk for fiction texts'.

  • Wider staff - don't forget to include your wider staff and governors. What training are they accessing, are they in a 'team' to aid professional dialogue, who is ensuring they are working towards goals?

Barriers to achieving success

Shared goals and teamwork, as has been said, are an important part of melded learning. One reason why they fail to work is lack of individual and therefore collective knowledge. You have to have something to share. Yes, colleagues do already bring experience and different levels of knowledge - but how will you add to this in order to get the most out of the group?

Studies of various kinds have found a positive relationship between peer learning and academic achievement. However, a key ingredient is the knowledge base of the participants. Too often in educational settings, peer learning is seen as getting a group together and working on an answer without proper investment in building the group's knowledge and expertise. To build initial personal knowledge, colleagues might, for example, compete online learning modules, watch video clips, engage with research articles, read chapters of relevant books, observe lessons. There may be specific pieces that everyone in the group has read / watched / reviewed. Some learning activities might be completed by the entire group, e.g. an instructor led face-to-face session.

Another barrier to success is the group not establishing the norms before starting / lack of discussion about how the group will work together.

In collaborative learning there would be:

  • strategies for increasing the groups' shared knowledge base;

  • investment by individuals to build specialist knowledge in order to increase breadth and depth of collective knowledge and understanding;

  • to have shared thinking responsibilities, e.g. reflect on what has been read, be open to consideration of new ideas expressed by external experts, be analytical about videos watched /practice seen, seek to understand the thoughts of others in the group, seek ways to improve group expertise, work towards shared schema.

  • to learn and share learning through dialogue, e.g. participate in meaningful debate and discussion; the requirement to ask questions and engage in thoughtful listening.

  • an agreement to work together to synthesise knowledge, e.g. build collective schema, draw conclusions, identify key points in the field of study, create models and diagrams to represent key concepts.

  • team effort to create tangible products from the learning, e.g. action planning, changing processes, updating policies, changing lesson structures, new ways of teaching.

  • support for each other in planning implementing and reflecting on ideas.

  • greater motivation for learning derived from the pleasure of working as part of a team (and improvements in team problem solving).

(These activities would be in circle 3 relatedness - you can download the prompts at the end of the blog). Ideally, there needs to be a 'group leader / facilitator' - which should be a member of the group who is learning alongside their peers.

You might use this table as a way of opening up discussion about what it means to learn together as a group.

Plus, you need collective accountability - the success of all colleagues working towards the goal rather than just individually accountability - and knowledge of this at the outset. Too little time is usually devoted to setting out clear objectives and an agreement as to how everyone will operate in order to achieve the goals. Time spent planning and thinking about learning before it takes place, particularly when the learning may take a full academic year (or more) needs a firm foundation on which to build. There needs to be clear expectations and a solid timeline.

Building the Right Ethos

A further barrier to achieving success with melded learning is creating the positive learning ethos that was identified earlier as being so important. It is ok for someone to say that a positive ethos is needed, but how is it created?

Learning, be that for adults or children, is more successful if the ethos of the learning environment is right. Creating a positive professional development ethos does not happen overnight. It is more likely to happen if leaders (particularly the headteacher) truly believes in the power of professional learning and see teachers as part of an educational landscape that goes well beyond the boundary of their school (or group of schools). They truly want colleagues to grow wings and they are prepared to set them free, even if it is painful to be parted. Headteachers who care about the people they work with, and their futures, usually have strong CPD offers and a strong CPD ethic. Their beliefs drive their actions!

At a very practical level what can leaders do to help create the right ethos?

An ethos is built through the million small things you do everyday. It is the print that runs through the middle of a stick of rock. It is not created by token gestures. Saying it also doesn't make it true! It is embodied in every action and everything that is said. It is about the values you hold dear, the ethics you use to make decisions, your moral compass, your beliefs and your vision. Talking about what you want the school to be like can help to form a collective vision to work towards, but then you have to live the words and hold others to account who do not! Not challenging poor practice / misaligned actions can be as damaging, if not more so, than positive proactive steps to create the right ethos. Don't let others set the ethos by stealth - tackle it!

  • Leadership enthusiasm - a genuine love of learning by senior leaders. Putting learning at the heart of the school for everyone. This should shine through decision making processes and every day interactions and be seen in what is value. Leaders send out signals (intentionally, unintentionally) by how they spend the school finance, how they direct colleagues time, the level of leadership investment in a CPD issue - active involvement by leaders, the questions they ask, the monitoring that is carried out, the daily conversations, what is prioritised.

  • An expectation that everyone will be committed to professional learning. This includes 'walking the walk' and senior leaders sharing their own reflective practice and professional learning. Enthusiasts of professional learning in the school can inspire everyone. I was recently watching Pritesh Raichura's session 'Planning Effective Teacher Led Lessons' as part of ResearcED 2020 (see YouTube) and it reminded me just how important enthusiasm for professional learning is in inspiring others. It is a great example of someone who has gained from professional learning and embodies reflective practice. Their approach would be likely to inspire others to commit time and resources to their own learning. Having people in school share how their learning has helped them to become better teachers / better leaders gets everyone talking about 'how' you learn as an adult and 'what' you learn as an adult.

  • Appreciation of different types of professional learning and differing levels of learning. Sometimes you need a quick fix, but at other times you need to acknowledge that expertise requires time and effort to achieve. Those leaders who are prepared to support colleagues in their pursuit of in-depth, long lasting learning are more likely to reap higher rewards in the long run.

  • A willingness to give people the time they need to train and undertake professional learning. Exhausted teachers do not make good learners! Neither do cold, hungry or stressed teachers. Leaders who really want to create an ethos of learning make sure the conditions are right and use Maslow's hierarchy of needs to help colleagues get the most from their learning.

  • Holding people to account - if we believe in the power of professional learning, then we should expect there to be impact. If we don't expect there to be impact, what does it say about how much we value professional learning? I don't mean superficial accountability either - I mean the type that recognises all the nuances of impact.

  • Options and choices - this might be via allocated funds that allow colleagues to purchase resources, books, courses, classroom materials, or the theoretical purchase of time (e.g. allocating some of the funds to classroom cover). Options might be about what we learn, how we learn, when we learn, who we learn with. This puts some of the power in the hands of those who will be held to account.

  • Making professional learning an important part of appraisals, including support and discussions around career development. A genuine interest in colleague's career progression in order to create a mix of learning that responds to school needs and personal needs. That also means devoting leadership time to meeting 1:1 with colleagues and meeting in small groups. It means evaluating the support provided and shaping the offer to meet the needs of colleagues.

  • Opportunities to celebrate and share findings.

  • Time to talk to senior leaders / headteacher. Time is a precious gift. If I give you time to talk to me about your learning, it tells you that I think it is important and has value. It also suggests that I might learn something from you, just as much as you might learn something from me. Sharing, talking, a rich dialogue that includes questioning and debate helps to build better schools.

  • Mary Myatt in her Researched 2020 session talked about reducing work that has limited impact in order to invest in things that do. It simply is not possible to constantly add more. An over stretched workforce do not make good learners. However, it is also about colleagues perceptions of how their time is being used - if colleagues are asked to complete a task that takes 1 hour but they feel it will have limited impact, no-one will follow up with it, it is a tick box exercise - then they will resent the hour; if colleagues are asked to complete a task that takes 1 hour that they feel is part of a well structured programme, that they know will be followed up, that they know everyone is committed to, that helps them in their wok - they will feel positive about the hour. It is the same hour.

Colleagues often say that what they find motivational is learning something new, working with likeminded colleagues, working for an inspiring leader.

I have been fortunate to work with colleagues who have been prepared to give me time - instructional, coaching, mentoring, support - many different types. I have benefited form working in schools who placed a premium on CPD. I have had access to funds that allowed me to participate in many different types of course, from single day to year long courses. I had the opportunity to work with experts within and beyond the local authority in my role as an adviser in Leeds. I have been able to attend many national events. Working for myself for six years has allowed me to pursue personal educational interests, direct my time to continued development of educational expertise and allocate funds to buying books and training materials - I don't have to negotiate with anyone! I have been welcomed by many schools in West Yorkshire and watched hundreds of lessons as part of school improvement activities and training for leaders. I have gained from different roles, such as being a Chair of Governors for a large primary school. There are so many CPD elements that I have accessed, I couldn't possibly list them all. It has been a mix of personal endeavour and support from others - I hope all colleagues are as lucky as I have been in having access to wide ranging and fulfilling professional development. What have you benefited from? What was the most useful to you? Who has helped you? What impact has CPD had on your teaching / leadership? How can you support others?

Helping participants to get the most from melded learning

Another barrier to melded learning is the approach of the individual.

There is no doubt in my mind that you only get out of training what you put in. Colleagues who come with an open mind and a willingness to work hard benefit the most. Some colleagues actively seek to squeeze every morsel from training opportunities and see advantages and opportunities everywhere they look. Teachers should consider of themselves - what would they want in an ideal 'student' or 'adult learner'.

An important factor is the degree to which colleagues are able to be self-regulated learners. To what degree are colleagues metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviourally active participants in the process of monitoring their own learning? Pintrich (2000) defines self regulated learners as those who actively construct their own learning process and are able to set their learning goals, while also making an effort to observe, adjust, and control their cognition, motivation, and behaviour in achieving those goals. There needs to be an ethos that openly and joyously talks about learning. Continuous learning, an openness to learn, a direct and conscious effort to learn therefore have to be valued and there should be an expectation that colleagues are working towards learning goals set by the organisation and their own goals.

"Students who engaged in more online self-regulatory learning behaviours generally had a more positive perception of blended courses. This is because during online instruction, students assume greater responsibility and autonomy for their learning. When they acquire the skills to regulate different learning strategies in their learning process, they will have greater satisfaction in learning, and hence higher chances of being successful in blended learning courses." Chee Leong Lim 2020.

Are we talking enough about ourselves as learners?

What can help individuals? If you feel that the lack of success is due to individuals, consider what conversations are taking place using the following prompts:

1. GOAL Participants need to be clear on the goal. This might be a goal that has been set for them (e.g. related to whole school development plan) or a personal goal (related to their own development). The goal might relate to a subject or be specific to a year group or might focus on a pupil group. Participants need to understand why undertaking the professional development activity is important. Buy-in is essential for maintaining motivation. 'The more important I believe the goal is, the more motivated I will be to achieve it!' What does the school (or individual teacher) hope to achieve by completing the professional development? Why is change necessary?

2. CLARITY / SUCCESS CRITERIA What will participants know, understand and be able to do at the end of the professional development programme? How will teachers (and school leaders) judge the impact of the training undertaken? Knowing the success criteria helps participants to self-evaluate and judge their progress towards the criteria - enabling them to alter their learning plans accordingly. It also helps them to consider how close or far away they currently are from the goal. The distance needed to be travelled to achieve the goal might not be the same for everyone. Having a sense of this enables colleagues to adjust the amount of time and effort devoted to the learning, and helps them to consider what strategies and resources might be most useful to them in achieving the goal. For example, a novice teacher thinking they are a long way from the goal might need a mentor, a more experienced member of staff might have had feedback that indicates they are not far away from the goal and actually their focus might be on deepening their understanding, reading research and deconstructing their practice in order to be able to share it with others.

3. AN EMPHASIS ON KNOWLEDGE & UNDERSTANDING - Professional development that deepens / extends participants knowledge base is likely to reap rich rewards for the individual and the school. Deep knowledge empowers colleagues and will allow them to develop understanding of key concepts and ensure that they can build links between concepts. Being an effective teacher / being an effective leader requires a powerful interconnected web of knowledge and skills. We are more likely to be able to make sophisticated links between elements of our practice if we focus on achieving a full understanding of the issues. Learning which focus on a mixture of 'quick wins' and 'deep knowledge' are likely to make an impact on school improvement and will aid future learning undertaken by the individual. Deep learning is an investment in the person and leaders that favour deep learning for their school are likely to believe that a knowledgeable workforce will ultimately benefit the school (education sector) in many ways (achieving the goals set) and in currently undefined ways!

4. CORE ELEMENTS / FRAMEWORKS As a profession, there has been an emphasis on trying to create a 'painting by numbers', 'just add water', '5 minute summaries' approach. There is a benefit on trying to distil key messages to colleagues, particularly if consistency of approach is important. Visuals and graphics, lists and flow diagrams etc can all be helpful. Some colleagues may well need a framework on which to hang their new learning. A framework can help colleagues to engage in structured professional dialogue on key issues. Breaking complex issues into modules helps colleagues to specialise. However, in truth, this will not be enough to change practice or achieve ambitious goals. There needs to be a mixture of the simple and the complex.

5. TIMELINE AND PLAN As melded learning may include multiple ways of learning, it becomes even more important that there is a clear timeline / time frame for learning. This can be a personal timeline for personal goals or if it is a group goal, then there needs to be some non-negotiable points. For example, by (date) everyone will have completed the online learning module 1, read and discussed (x article) with their study buddy, planned and trailed one idea in the classroom as these will all feed into the reflection group meeting planned for (x date). In group goals it is important that everyone understands and commits to the timeline and appreciates the work that must be undertaken before meetings / face-to-face sessions. It is useful if there is some negation or discussion about the timeline so that it is realistic and achievable (whilst still being ambitious!). Note: Try to think about when you want the goal to be achieved and work backwards as to what will need to be completed by when. If it appears too ambitious, think about how you might facilitate learning - e.g. release time from class, reducing other responsibilities or elements of work to free up more time for study, allocation of meeting time.

6. MILESTONES Participants need to be aware of what progress over time is likely to look like. This is particularly important for professional development that will take a long time to complete and goal(s) that are ambitious and complex. It can be hard for colleagues to maintain motivation if the professional development is a long programme, and therefore they need to be able to celebrate and evaluate their progress in learning as it unfolds. What will green shoots look like? Leaders also need to be able to respond to progress and support/challenge/adjust programmes as necessary to ensure participants make good progress.

7. FEEDBACK and REGULAR OPPORTUNITIES FOR EVALUATIVE DIALOGUE and ADJUSTMENT. Leaders and teachers need to talk about the professional development being undertaken. Participants need support in reflecting on their learning, considering the impact it is having, with consideration for any adjustments they may need to make to their approach to learning or the melded learning programme itself. For example, perhaps a teacher is struggling to implement the ideas and theories that they have read about. They may need to add to their melded programme a 'mentor' who can help them plan lessons and can provide advice and guidance, or perhaps they need to watch someone delivering a lesson using some of the techniques that they have read about. Another person may have had difficulty in completing modules and needs support with creating a structured timetable and clear deadlines, e.g. every Friday morning between 9.00 and 9.30am is online learning, by (date) chapters 3-6 will have been read, on (date) I will meet (name & name) to discuss the implications of module 1 on our teaching.

8. PRACTICAL WAYS TO ENGAGE WITH THE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. For example: opportunities to try out ideas in the classroom, planning lessons that incorporate elements of new practice, working on the production of resources that will aid implementation of the new ideas, discussion groups, presenting to others the key points /conclusions, jigsaw groups - where each participant has studied the same theory but from different sources (e.g. four different research articles on phonological awareness) which they then meet to discuss and work on creating an action plan together, reviewing a process and making alterations to a policy, changing some routines, creating a case study of their work to share with others, creating their own set of reflection notes to aid their practice, meeting with a study buddy on a regular basis to discuss and debate the ideas.

9. STOP, REFLECT AND REPLAN - Some goals are not achieved in a single year. It may be necessary to stop, reflect and replan to consider how to move along the next leg of the journey. Sometimes we switch to something new when actually we needed to continue to develop our expertise on the area we were currently working on!

The above list with a participant expectation column can be downloaded at the end of the blog.

Infrastructure barriers

A significant factor in the success of online learning is the degree to which participants feel the infrastructure is robust enough to support their study. Participants need access to computing equipment, e.g. laptop and webcam, plus ideally an iPad for more flexible access to materials. It is also useful for colleagues to have access to a printer so that those who prefer to make notations by hand, or those who prefer to read more lengthy advice documents on paper can do so. Consider if the laptop currently issued to colleagues needs updating, or if an external webcam may be needed if an internal laptop webcam is poor quality or not working. It may be worth putting aside some funding for infrastructure, or provide allocate study time during the working day to ensure colleagues have access to equipment in school.

Colleagues that I work with are often extremely frustrated by the technology they are expected to use. In an already stressful job - remove the stress by investing in the right equipment. Equipment that works (and works quickly) saves time. Also consider working spaces - it is difficult to have honest, complex conversations on zoom in a busy staff room. With the development of new forms of working, you might need to reconfigure work spaces.

If leaders say that online learning and online communication is important but then don't invest in the right equipment they are sending out an opposite (or at best mixed) message.

Keeping track

If your school are taking the approach that different people and groups will be involved in different types of professional development, then you'll need a tracking system and someone to follow-up on impact.

There are wide range of systems available for tracking professional development. You may want to invest in a commercial or specially designed product that will allow colleagues in school to enter details of the training undertaken, e.g. one that produces reports and overviews automatically. Or, you might start with a simple spreadsheet and over time decide what additional functionality you require.

Melded learning requires someone to hold the overview of the learning taking place, be that if melded learning is being used in school to achieve a single outcome or if it is being used more generally to improve teaching and learning. (This might include details of books / chapters / journal articles read - so that others who at some point have read the same materials know who they can have more detailed conversations with about the texts; completion dates or course milestones; subgroups - such as a whole school working on reading comprehension might have subgroups looking at specific issues, e.g. closing the gap, non-fiction, text selection). A computerised system can show the spread of learning and keep track of review dates. It can show (either via text, symbol, date or colour) professional development that is underway and training that has been completed / has concluded. It can help leaders to see who might need to attend a refresher course or who missed an important training session that requires repeating. It can run alongside other forms of tracking, such as google surveys and reflection sheets that might be used in coaching / mentoring sessions or to help the person leading the school improvement objective.

More information and supporting resources

Look out for future blog posts on assessing the impact of CPD and resources to aid group facilitators.


Cercone, K. (2008). Characteristics of adult learners with implications for online learning design. AACE journal, 16(2), 137–159.

Chun-Yu Lin; Chung-Kai Huang; Choa-Junk, Ko. The impact of perceived enjoyment on team effectiveness and individual learning in a blended learning business course: The mediating effect of knowledge sharing. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, v. 36, n. 1, p. 126–141, 2020

Diep, Anh Nguyet. Adult learners' needs in online and blended learning, Australian Journal of Adult Learning, Vol 59, No 2, July 2019.

Driscoll, M., 2002. Blended learning: Let's get beyond the hype. E-learning, 1(4), pp.1-4.

Lim. Chee Leong, Peer Learning, Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Achievement in Blended Learning Courses: A Structural Equation Modelling Approach, International journal of emerging technologies, 2020.

Gomez, E. A., Wu, D., & Passerini, K. (2010). Computer-supported team-based learning: The impact of motivation, enjoyment and team contributions on learning outcomes. Computers & Education, 55(1), 378–390.

Graham, C.R., 2006. Blended learning systems. In C.J. Bonk and Graham, eds. 2012.The handbook of blended learning, Hoboken, NJ: Wiley E Sons. pp.3に21.

P. R. Pintrich, Multiple goals, multiple pathways: The role of goal orientation in learning and achievement, Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 92, pp. 544-555, 2000

Resources to download from this blog post

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