The Challenge of Adult Learning (Maximising your CPD

There are several instances in schools where teachers and/or school leaders come up against the challenge of teaching or training adults.  Often this includes trying to change practice through introducing new learning or new ways of doing things.  For example..

·         A teacher of History trying to motivate a group of Y13 students around the importance of learning the circumstances of the execution of Charles I;

·         A teacher training mentor trying to encourage a primary trainee teacher to adapt their use of language to correct behaviour;

·         A Senior School Leader trying to improve practices around questioning across a diverse teaching staff.

Whatever the situation, the challenges that come with adult learning are common and absolutely predictable.  The key to understanding the challenges of adult learning comes with an appreciation of the fact that adults arrive at the table with a significant body of existing knowledge and experience.  It is this prior learning that creates problems when we are trying to ‘teach’ or train that challenges existing practice, or introduces new concepts.  When we learn, we do so by relating new information to that which is already known. In practice that means that everyone takes away a slightly different version of the learning as they relate it to their own personal learning and experience, which can and does vary widely. It is almost impossible to avoid the biases that can obstruct effective adult learning, but with greater awareness, we can plan to expect them and to mitigate against them.

In their new book, ‘Unleashing Great Teaching – secrets of the most effective teacher development’, David Weston, CEO of the Teacher Development Trust and Bridget Clay, present a model for effective adult learning that is designed to circumvent some of these.  His excellent talk at ResearchEd Birmingham in February 2018 provided a compelling and engaging account of the biases we need to be aware of in ourselves, as well as others.  Read the summary below..

Main Challenges to Adult Learning (David Weston - @informededu):

 1. The ‘Sunk Cost Bias’ or the ‘Ikea Effect’ – as adults, we are more likely to value something if we have worked hard at it.  The quality of this item/knowledge is irrelevant, but the value we place on it, due to the time spent building/developing it means that we find it hard to let that go.  (Think - difficult to change teacher habits if they have been developing ‘their’ technique over many years)

2. The ‘Dunning-Kruger Effect’ – this describes the ‘illusionary superiority’ of those with a small amount of knowledge. This becomes damaging when adults are exposed to short and superficial learning experiences (think 45 minute CPD slot, or reading the York notes instead of the novel) as it creates the illusion of knowledge.  Learning is a deep process – to understand something fully means to engage with the depths of the issue.  Creating the ‘illusion’ of knowing and understanding can be damaging as the detail is lost (and the initiative misapplied)

3.  The ‘Not My Tribe / My Tribe’ Bias – we are more likely to believe something if it comes from within our own contexts or from people we believe are like us. It is not based on the value of information, but on the degree to which we can relate to the person delivering it.

4. Fundamental Attribution Error – this is where we attribute mistakes to the character deficiencies of others.  In doing so, we push or pull people out of or into our tribes. We attribute an error / mistake / unpalatable information to the bad character or incompetence of others.

5. Curse of Knowledge – we so easily forget what it was like to be a novice and not to have known.

It is not difficult to think of examples of where we may have fallen victim to one or more of these biases ourselves. If you are planning some adult learning, whether that is an A level lesson, an ITT professional studies session or a staff CPD twilight, it’s worth bearing these in mind. To find out more about adult learning and how to make the most of CPD in your schools, WGLA recommends ‘Unleashing Great Teaching’ by David Weston and Bridget Clay.

Leading Teaching and Learning: Evidence Informed

Read this post for 5 simple ways that all classroom teachers and school leaders can become more evidence informed.

Since the early 2000s education has become awash with fad after fad, many claiming to be the silver bullet that will drive up standards in the classroom.  The problem with many of these, which have come and gone, is that not many hold water when tested against the findings of educational research. The danger is that many can still be found haunting the folders of trainee teachers and embedded in the criteria of many a lesson observation form.  In recent years, with the pace of change in UK schools, there has come a demand for professional learning to be driven by schools and teachers who are enabled and empowered to become more evidence informed and research literate.  This does not mean teachers donning lab coats, but simply being exposed to relevant and accessible research findings that can help them make changes to their practice that will truly make a difference, not because it the latest next big shiny innovation, but because there is evidence to suggest that it can work to improve learning.  The problem, however is the significant gap that lies between classrooms and the field of education research. There aren’t many teachers who have the time to wade through lengthy and technical research papers. The good news is that the bridge between classroom practice and research evidence is very much under construction.  Below are 5 simple ways that all classroom teachers and school leaders can become more evidence informed.

1. Join the Chartered College of Teaching. 

If you are a trainee teacher you can join the CCT for free.  If you are an NQT, you can join at a reduced rate.  For the rest of us, membership costs just £45 a year, which provides access to a wealth of useful, informative and inspiring work from a range of educators from across all sectors. The aim of the CCT is to encourage teachers to take control of their own CPD through providing access to relevant and robust research findings. You can find research summaries through the CCT website and members receive a regular published journal which provides valuable information and insights, written by teachers or researchers with classroom practice in mind.

2. Engage with ResearchEd

The growth of this grassroots organisation since 2013 has been phenomenal.  The brainchild of Tom Bennett, ResearchEd has become a truly global movement that brings together teachers and researchers to share in collaborative professional learning.  Their events take place in many towns and cities across the UK and are typically hosted by schools on Saturdays to reduce costs.  A ticket to a ResearchEd event enables you to access some of the most informed and influential voices in education.  To find out more, or to sign up to their forthcoming publication, visit their website

3. Join Twitter

Twitter has become a virtual staffroom and essential source of support and inspiration for so many teachers and educators over the past decade.  It has become a valuable method for sharing ideas and professional networking.  It has facilitated collaborative learning and enabled debate and discussion to take place between teachers and educators on a daily basis.  There are many great education blogs that help bridge the gap between research and practice, many of which are widely read and shared through twitter.

4. Invest in a CPD Library

Or, if you’re not a budget holder, convince your SLT to invest in one for the staff.  There is a wealth  of very good, inexpensive books about teaching and learning that are rooted in educational research. They are typically written with busy teachers in mind and provide simple and practical advice and information.  For starters try ‘Everything Teachers need to know about Psychology’ by David Didau and Nick Rose, ‘What does this look like in the classroom; bridging the gap between research and practice’ by Carl Hendrick and ‘The Confident Teacher’ by Alex Quigley.  There are plenty more, but these three provide a great starting point for anyone interested in becoming more evidence informed.

5. Make links with a Research School

The Research Schools Network is a collaboration between 23 schools across the UK and the Education Endowment Foundationwith the aim of bringing evidence based practice into schools to improve teaching and raise the attainment of pupils.  Research Schools work with other schools in the network to bring evidence-based programmes into the classroom. They disseminate their work through regular newsletters, events and training courses.  You can find out where your local Research School is through the Research Schools Network website.

To learn more about leading Teaching and Learning as a Middle or Senior Leader, find out about our NPQML and NPQSL leadership development programmes.

Leadership: Developing Team Resilience

A person is described as resilient when they are able to ‘bounce back’ from problems, challenges and set-backs quickly and effectively.  Being ‘calm in a crisis’ or being ‘everyone’s rock’ is not necessarily the same as being resilient.  The demonstration of resilience requires the presence of difficulty, challenge or upset.  The most resilient people don’t simply bounce back unscathed, but rather they learn more about themselves through failure and often return stronger and more competent.

Resilience in the workplace is important for lots of reasons, not least of all being the wellbeing of employees, but this has added importance in teaching, where stress, workload and the unrelenting pace of change are amongst a number of reasons given by those leaving the profession in their droves.  

For teachers in post, resilience allows for learning from setbacks, the identification of areas for development and the willingness and ability to access help and support when it’s needed.  All of these things can help sustain wellbeing as colleagues are able to feel a sense of control, a clear knowledge of themselves, a sense of purpose and an open channel of communication with co-workers and leaders.  Alternatively, a lack of resilience in the workplace can result in low confidence, low motivation, difficulty in concentrating and ultimately reduced performance.

How can leaders develop resilience in their teams?

Resilient leaders can inspire teams and help members develop their own resilience. It makes sense therefore, for leaders to invest in their own self-awareness and development first. The following five strategies, rooted in positive psychology, can support leaders in building a resilient approach to their leadership.

  1. Focus on your communication style.  Are you being as clear in your communication as you can be? If you often feel annoyed or frustrated by a colleague misunderstanding your words, then it’s possible that you’re not.  Make sure that colleagues leave meetings with a clear idea of the action points and exactly what is expected of them.  You can read more about meetings and developing communication here.
  2.  Be open to feedback and model taking constructive criticism well.  Treating all feedback (good and bad) as a learning and development opportunity can require a shift in your thinking and practice will make perfect (or more importantly, permanent).  Seeking out a coach (or a colleague who can sit, listen and question) can help you reflect on your strengths and areas for development.
  3. Build and foster trust in your team.  Spending time getting to know your team and building positive relationships will pay dividends if you ever have to engage in difficult conversations and deliver challenging feedback.  Remember that your team members are ‘humans first, professionals second’ (Mary Myatt). Bringing more of 'yourself' to work will help you build trust with your team as they understand you as a person, not just a 'boss'. Getting out of the way and letting your team get on with the responsibility you have delegated is another way to positively affirm your trust in them.
  4. Become a ‘change champion’ even if you really aren’t all that sure. Change is inevitable, whether it comes from our Senior Leadership Teams or from the Department for Education.  It is not something that can be avoided without creating problems further down the line.  In times of change, your team will appreciate positivity and a determination to find a way through over a doom merchant or a nay sayer! Be the person who sees the opportunity in difficulty, rather than the other way around!
  5. Commit to becoming more emotionally intelligent.  You can’t manage the emotions of other people, but you can choose to acknowledge emotion and manage your own reactions.  Getting to know your teams and what motivates, worries and concerns them will help you plan to pre-empt potentially emotionally challenging situations.  You can’t remove the emotion, but demonstrating empathy and acknowledging how they are feeling can go a long way to helping you and your team members ‘bounce back’ from difficulty.

Leaders! Know Thyself!

So says the ‘first commandment of leadership’, according to Harvard Business Review, but what does it mean to ‘know thyself’ as a leader?  A quick google search throws up the following words and phrases: ‘personal intelligence’; ‘mastering yourself’; ‘consciousness of thought’; ‘knowing your habits.’ We could probably give an account of our attributes, our intelligence and our habits, both good and bad, but how well do we really know ourselves and how we are perceived by others?

As we launch our new NPQ courses across the autumn and spring terms, we are challenging our leaders to ‘know themselves’ as a way to better understand the impact they have on others. Emotional Intelligence, or the ability to control and express our emotions, is key to all successful relationships in the workplace.  In fact, studies have shown that EQ (the measure of emotional intelligence) has “twice the power of IQ” to predict success (Gerald Mount).

There are obvious benefits to be gained in schools in developing the ability to manage our own emotions and recognise and acknowledge the emotional investment that our teachers make in their classrooms. We are engaged in ‘emotionally charged’ situations every day, from dealing with pupil behaviour to providing challenging feedback to NQTs or struggling teachers. The issue in schools is that, as middle or senior leaders, our time is pressured and we often lack the ‘headspace’ to properly reflect on our own emotional awareness and the impact of our own emotions and associated behaviours might be having on our teams.

The truth is that, with the current pressures on the education system, there has never been a more critical time for Head Teachers and Senior Leaders to invest in the Emotional Intelligence and leadership capability.  An investment in developing self-aware leadership will pay dividends in the relationships around school, in teacher well-being, teacher retention and, ultimately, student outcomes.

Leadership in Focus: Communication

Time to sit down and talk can be a scarce commodity in schools. For Middle Leaders especially, who are required day –to-day to balance the demands of their teams, their students and Senior Leaders, time efficient and effective communication is vital to sustain forward momentum and keep their teams motivated and pulling together.  This post looks at three important areas of leadership where the ‘how’ of what you say can be more important, or as important as the ‘what’.

Making the most of meetings

Most meetings in school happen ‘after-hours’, when the teaching is done for the day and the children have gone home. Keeping your teams from ‘mentally checking out’ at the end of a long day is pretty important if you going to make the most of this time.  A well-chosen packet of biscuits and the free-flow of caffeinated drinks is not a bad start, but some careful pre-planning using the following prompts will ensure your meeting time is maximised and the communication is effective and time-efficient.

  • Is your meeting agenda meaningful and manageable in the time that you have available? Don’t try to cram too much in – give each agenda item a realistic time and stick to it!
  • How much of your meeting involves disseminating information from above? Could this be done more efficiently through another means?
  • Will you start your meeting and finish your meeting within published times? What can you do before the meeting to make sure it starts on time?  Nothing breeds resentment amongst busy professionals more than arriving on time only to wait a further 15 minutes for those who are ‘always late’!
  • How will you ensure everyone goes away with the same message?  End each item with a summary and action items and then end your meeting with a run-down of the action items, including who is responsible for what.
  • Think about how your meeting feels to those who attend.  Is there scope to start of a positive and end the same way? Leaving a meeting with some timely, responsive, unconditional and enthusiastic praise can reaffirm a sense of purpose and boost motivation.

Listen More Than You Speak

Actively listening to your team can be tough when you’re busy, but it important in ensuring that team members feel valued and supported.  A useful model for understanding the power of listening when supporting colleagues is shared by Andy Buck in his best-selling book ‘Leadership Matters’ (John Catt Publications, 2016). Buck’s principle of ‘Ask First’ encourages leaders to gain a full insight into themselves and their contexts through the act of asking the right questions.  He identifies three fairly typical types of conversation that take place between leaders and team members.

1. The ‘Monkey on the shoulder’

Think of a time when a team member or colleague has come to you with an issue they’re having difficulty with and you have ended up taking on a task for them.  Perhaps you thought it was ‘quicker’ to do it yourself than to sit and listen to your colleague. The problem they arrived with is the monkey and during the course of the conversation it has jumped from their shoulder to become a burden on your own. There are obvious problems with this, not least of all for the beleaguered Middle Leader, who out of desperation now has more to do.  They don’t know any more about the situation and they’re certainly not learning more about themselves or their colleague.  The colleague, on the other hand now knows that communicating their problems may well result in a reduced workload.

2. ‘Wise Owl’ Conversations

This is one step better than the monkey conversations, but is far from ideal.  Imagine the same colleague has gone to a different leader, but this one is a ‘wise owl’ and will sit with them, sharing their own wisdom and experience (usually with a lot of anecdotes) that might help them through their difficulty. There are benefits to this.  The leader has invested some time, but hasn’t taken on any additional work and the colleague feels supported. The same problem remains however, neither the leader nor the colleague has learnt any more about themselves or the context and now the colleague knows that the leader’s door is always open. This approach could result in a culture of dependency.

3. Dolphin Conversations

The most time efficient of the three is the ‘dolphin conversation’, even though the metaphor might be a little tenuous! This time, when presented with an issue by a colleague, a leader will ‘ask first.’  By adopting a coaching style approach and actively listening, leaders can establish a better understanding of a situation and get to the root of a problem using a series of well-phrased questions. It may take longer than simply taking on the problem yourself, but ultimately, it will help you in deciding the best way forward, whilst supporting the colleague in working through issues independently in the future. There are a range of different coaching models to help you phrase your questions.  You can enrol in a coaching course to develop your skills in this area.


Your staff come to work for more than to simply pay the bills. In fact, research into behavioural economics and motivational psychology (see the work of Daniel Pink) has shown that financial reward is a poor motivator when complex tasks are required.  Encouragement, praise and celebration, however can go a long way to creating a sense of purpose and a feeling of being valued amongst your team. The extent to which this is true, rests on how you communicate your praise and encouragement.  In their book ‘Gung Ho!’, Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles describe two kinds of positive affirmations that can go a long way to communicating encouragement and praise. 

Passive: give someone responsibility and then get out of their way! This passively affirms that you have faith in them and their ability to carry out the task you have given them.

Active: public praise, reward, the shout-out in the staff meeting or the box of chocs in the tray.

However you choose to communicate your praise and encouragement, it needs to look, sound and feel sincere.  Blanchard and Bowles suggest the following framework to measure the potential  impact of your words / actions:


How far to the right is your praise and encouragement? The further right, the more impact it will have.