Mark: My Words

Virtual Reality – Planning Remote CPD


On Wednesday, we delivered the first virtual staff CPD session in the school’s history. We had over 60 staff join our meeting on Microsoft Teams, some from school, most from home, two from Ireland and one from China at 11.30pm.

But this is not a blog about how to use Microsoft Teams, or any other virtual platform, successfully. Lots of those exist already, and considering that I managed to cancel this meeting an hour before it started and had to re-send invites to every member of staff, I’m probably not the right person to do that.

Instead, I wanted to share how we put together the session and managed to remotely bring our staff together in a way that made me really proud and genuinely excited for the CPD we can do virtually in the upcoming weeks.

Same Old

We started by keeping things as consistent and familiar as possible:

We do all of these things normally because they create and further our sense of community as a staff body, so it seemed really important to maintain them remotely. Of course, some other things had to be different…

New ground

We first had to decide how to manage the interactive element of the session. A strength of our normal CPD is the depth of discussion and breadth of feedback our staff provide, which is difficult to manage online with 60 potential voices at once. So we kept it really simple; staff were muted during the meeting (except for their virtual round of applause) and only Will and I were able to speak and manage the presentation.

Our interactivity happened through the Chat function – we really wanted staff to be able to contribute so gave them opportunities to answer recap questions and share thoughts in written form. We were initially worried about how to curate and feedback on this, but in the event a number of staff didn’t have the chat option (a glitch Microsoft are aware of) so I was able to draw together the main threads pretty easily.

We then moved on to the main CPD part of the session, the actual training part. This is what we were most worried about and had most struggled to envisage. We decided that all staff should complete a short online course on an area of teaching and learning. We chose cold call because it’s what our last actual, physical CPD was about and because it’s a focus for this term, even if it’s obviously a bit weird that we won’t be putting it into practice again in the classroom for a while.

We are really lucky that we could use the ArkLearning platform and a series of short Elearning courses that have just been uploaded to it (which couldn’t have come at a better time). I’d done the cold call one the previous day and liked it a lot; there was reading around the topic, quiz questions to check understanding and videos from Uncommon Schools to watch and reflect on. There were also various opportunities for written reflections, and a certificate at the end for successful completion.

It was easy enough to insert the link in the chat box and get everyone started, but we also had some clear expectations to make the course really impactful for staff:

  1. The course was meant to last 30 minutes but staff had the rest of the day to complete it (I’d taken more like 40). They could go at their own pace.
  2. We would keep the chat function open on Teams while they completed the course so that they could share questions and observations, just like in normal CPD.
  3. They would fill in a reflection on a CPD tracker that I’d sent out earlier in the week (where they will reflect on any CPD they undertake during school closure – example below with the cold call course and Daisy Christodolou’s new book both reflected on) and be prepared to discuss this with their coach in the next week.

And that was our weekly CPD. Staff logged on, completed the course, completed their reflections, and lots of them even sent their certificates of completion to me before the end of the day!

Lessons Learnt

Our staff are amazing, and they clearly engaged with the course enthusiastically. The biggest complaint has been that something went wrong with the software and they were only awarded 50% for the quiz elements when they actually got all the questions right, which shows how seriously they took it…

Keeping the chat open worked really well too, with interesting points raised around whether you can mix hands up and cold call and quite a robust exchange on whether to say the student’s name before or after you ask the question. This meant it replicated that feel of real discussion and debate that we have at our best CPD.

There are things we could have done better: the start, with 60+ people joining fairly blindly, was admittedly a bit chaotic. Being clearer with staff on the format of the meeting would have helped (a few joined in via Video link first, which wasn’t really fair on them), and we should have told them explicitly that they needed to mute their mics during the presentation.

We are also keen to explore the potential of Teams more, especially the possibility of breaking off into different groups/rooms for later parts of the sessions, so trainees for example could have their own bespoke CPD after the whole staff part.

But overall, when I get responses like the email below, I know that we did a pretty good job, and I know that I’m really looking forward to trialling it again and learning more lesson next week!