I’m sat in the back right hand corner of a crowded classroom. It is filled with other PE Teachers, who like me, are eager to learn. To develop and refine our PE teaching. The session begins. As soon as the first App is flashed up on the interactive whiteboard, and the enthusiastic instructor starts their delivery, my heart sinks. I thought this time it might be different, but I’ve been here before. Many times. I sit through an hour and a half of what I consider to be a highly capable professional, reeling off a list of Apps. One after another. Some not even for the PE classroom. I take my notes to share with my department back at school. After the session ends I have some coffee and talk to my peers. The excitement in their eyes is undeniable. The session has given them so many ideas to implement into their teaching. I try to feign interest, nodding along with what they are saying. The break ends. ‘More apps’ I hear another course attendee say. My shoulders drop as I sigh and off I trudge wearily to the next session.
Over the last 5 years I have attended many external PE specific CPD sessions. Some in school time but many more in my own time and funded with my own money. I suppose the driving force for that is I don’t think my BSc in Sports Science and my PGCE in Secondary School PE actually prepared me well enough to teach. I have a responsibility to improve as a PE Teacher so I can make a difference to my pupils. Allowing me to support them the best I can. Starting in a position of deficit isn’t an easy place to begin with in a relentless profession like teaching. This deficit has been more sharply brought into focus now the number of children who are arriving at my school are unable to do the most basic of tasks that previously I have taken for granted, like running, jumping and balancing.
I do have the disposition to try and learn from my daily practice as well as seek out support from other teachers. I am well supported by a knowledgeable and generous department and we take our professional development responsibility seriously by running regular internal sessions. However sometimes a more structured and knowledgeable support is needed, which is why I continue to go on external CPD courses. With regards to the PE specific courses I attend, I am continued to be left disappointed.
Firstly where are the sessions on subject specific content knowledge? Not just knowledge of the activities and sports we teach in our subject but the understanding of the nature of movement. Without truly understanding the basics that under pin the nature of movement can we really be effective teachers of Physical Education? This bank of knowledge seems to be updated and refined regularly. It is important as PE teachers we stay up to date, but why does it never seem to be mentioned?
Secondly where are the sessions on subject specific curriculum knowledge? I have yet to attend a PE CPD session where the curriculum we provide or alternatives that may be better are discussed in any detail. We are given an overview by the government and then expected to implement it, but I’m not sure that means we really understand its ends, purposes, goals and aims. I think there is an assumption that we just know how to design and implement a PE Curriculum. That however isn’t what I have seen or heard in my experience. Most is through trial and error.
Thirdly where are the sessions on subject specific pedagogical knowledge? Once we have a good level of subject content knowledge and a sound understanding of the ultimate aim of our curriculum we can begin to pick the best ways of communicating the subject matter to our pupils. Having a wider range of specific pedagogical knowledge can help us in PE overcome the issue of amotivation in our subject. How we teach them is as important as what we teach them.
Where is the PE CPD that is firmly rooted in consistent theories of learning and of skill acquisition? Should these not always be the starting point for any principles of CPD that has a view to improve my teaching and therefore the learning of my pupils within Physical Education? Where is the practical PE CPD sessions? Our subject is mainly practical based but I have not attended one PE CPD session that has been delivered in a practical way. This would help us as teachers contextualise the knowledge being shared.
So more PE CPD needs to start focusing around subject specific knowledge, subject specific curriculum knowledge and subject specific pedagogical knowledge. There is a big opportunity for external CPD providers of PE to offer this as it is lacking. However I think this only solves half the problem of PE CPD. The other half is what do we do with that new knowledge once it has been transferred to us?
We need to give that knowledge context. The context of our pupils and their strengths and weaknesses. The context of the schools and the PE Departments in which we teach in. These can and do have a significant impact on our teaching. We do not teach in a vacuum. Having an understanding of the context we work in, will help us to use that knowledge to refine and improve our teaching and ultimately our pupils learning.
A method that we use in our department is slowly becoming more affective:
- Within department identify ‘gaps’ in our collective knowledge or areas of improvement that link to certain groups or individual pupils within PE. (Example – Sports Education to potentially improve motivation of pupils who dislike team sports)
- Agree realistic target. (Example – To plan and implement a unit of Sport Ed for Year 9 and gain qualitative feedback from pupils about their motivation during the delivery of the unit).
- Find and book a suitable course. One member of the department to attend while rest cover lessons. This is done on a rolling basis where possible.
- Member of department to attend CPD course. Try to ask relevant questions that take into account school or pupils context. (Example – How can Sport Education improve motivation of pupils?)
- Member of department to share knowledge and resources in an internal session. (For us this replaces one of our departmental meetings and now counts to our PD credits).
- Whole department plans how to implement knowledge into our practice.
- Sole focus on implementing new knowledge including supportive observation of lessons and discussions leading out of those observations. Review and refine practice over period of time.
- Measure impact with regards to achieving the goal or closing gap. Plan for future. More internal/external support maybe needed.
It is clear that one-off inputs to individual teachers are not effective at changing and improving practice. It requires teachers to keep coming back to it. Repetition and practice to deepen their understanding and delivery of the new knowledge. The above method can assist with that. It can also ensure collaboration in a structured way. Finally it can help facilitation through support, reflection and positive challenge by your colleagues within the department. These together can help to ensure that any PE CPD you attend not only ends up with teacher improvement but makes a difference to your pupils as well.