The Mini Learning Project began life in my mind and then on a Piktochart as The Big Learning Project in January 2016. The project was borne largely out of frustration that the only thing that remains continuous about CPD is its unshakeable reputation as something that’s done TO you.

The project I’ve designed seeks to address the following ‘issues’ often faced by traditional CPD:

  • It’s not continuous and there’s not enough time dedicated to it
  • It’s not meaningful or relevant to the participants’ experiences
  • It’s not closely aligned to the needs of the students / customers / staff
  • It rarely exists for staff in support roles
  • There’s not enough space for reflection or collaboration
  • Impact is not effectively evaluated
  • The learning is not shared with colleagues

What’s the point of asking our employees to give up valuable working hours for them, their students, their staff or their customers not to see the benefit of the time spent?

This week has seen a range of staff from across the college register to take part in a new way of thinking about their role. Every day this week, an email has been shared with all staff, which contains one reason why they might wish to engage in the project. As part of the learning and development I’ve been doing with Chris and Helen (the staff development team) in our weekly ideas meetings, we’ve concluded that a ‘Why’ will be added to all that we do and we’ll be investigating the impact this has. The Mini Learning Project is one of the first things to have a ‘WHY’ explicitly shared with staff.

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Reason Number 1- Meaningful Learning

‘An essential element of successful Continuous Professional Development and Learning is overt relevance of content to its participants and their day-to-day experiences and aspirations for’ students, staff and customers. from ‘Developing Great Teaching

So often, we can participate in development activities that have little to no impact on our daily practice. This is because it frequently takes place as a result of someone else directing us towards it, rather than selecting it for ourselves because it holds meaning for us and our context. A good indicator of the impact an activity has had is to ask yourself, ‘If I asked my staff / students / customers whether they had noticed a change in my practice, what would they tell me?’ Great development activities will always lead to perceptible changes in practice. Not so fabulous development activities will, quite simply, not! Instead, you’ll be left with a drawer filled with unwanted handouts and scribbled notes that hold little meaning. The Mini Learning Project seeks to avoid this by engaging you in development that starts with making observations about the students, staff or customers you work with, thereby connecting your learning directly with their experiences from the very beginning. You will then engage in experiments that seek to bring about a positive change to their experiences. These initial experiments may fail or succeed at bringing about the improvements you intended at first but your engagement in the project will have equipped you to take your learning forward in a meaningful way.

“We aim to take staff away from a tick-box approach with development opportunities. Professionals should drive their own CPD and develop their practice so that it really makes a difference to their’ students, staff and customers. from ‘Brilliant Teaching and Training in FE and Skills’

Reason Number 2- Multiple Perspectives

Whatever department we work in at the college, it can be only too easy to spend weeks on end working with the same handful of people day in, day out. Building strong working relationships with a close few can be great for productivity and team morale but it can lead to stifled creativity. Within such an environment, you begin to view things from one shared perspective and it can become difficult to see other ways of approaching challenges. If this sounds familiar then you’ll be pleased that there’s a way out of this echo chamber. The mini learning project is open to all staff across the college and there are multiple opportunities provided for you to collaborate together, share ideas and discuss possible solutions. These multiple perspectives may lead to just the solution you’re seeking.

Brilliant staff, whatever their role, ‘learn from others and are willing to share practice and engage in peer support’. From ‘Brilliant Teaching and Training in FE and Skills’

Reason Number 3- Mindful Reflections

Meditation and mindfulness seeks to bring us out of the automatic pilot mode we have slumped into. ‘Mindful’ can be defined as merely, ‘conscious or aware of something’. As we make our way through the week, running from one meeting to another, between workshop and classroom or from each to task to the next, it’s a rare moment when we have breath enough to stop to think about how things are going and what could be improved next time around. This breath is an important one to take and the Mini Learning Project provides multiple opportunities to complete mindful reflections that lead to changes in service or practice. There’ll also be an emphasis on ensuring your reflections are based, not solely on emotional judgement, but also on carefully selected evaluation methods to determine the level of impact your chosen actions are having.

‘Staff in successful Continuous Professional Development and Learning engaged in analysis of and reflection on underpinning rationale, evidence and assessment data, and this reflection and analysis was important for bringing about and embedding change in practice.’ from ‘Developing Great Teaching

Reason Number 4- Continuous Learning

‘The best CPD forms part of a’ member of staff’s ‘ongoing weekly activity, not a one-off special exercise or rush of activities.’ From ‘Brilliant Teaching and Training in FE and Skills’

Think about anything at all that you’ve learned in your life and you’ll find that it almost certainly wasn’t learned in one single moment. Learning is a process and a journey that involves a variety of successes and failures along the way. It seems madness to assume that professional learning takes any less time and can be ‘delivered’ instead within a single meeting, workshop or conference. In order to engage in learning that results in long-lasting positive impact on our students, staff and customers, we need to be provided with multiple opportunities to experiment, take brave risks, and then to reflect before moving on. The Mini Learning Project seeks to provide all of this through the experiments you’ll devise, evaluate and then share the progress of. Your learning experiences will be supported throughout by multiple opportunities for collaboration and resources shared that are directly relevant to your chosen area of focus.

Reason Number 5- Making Time

In the busy weeks that fly by each year, our best intentions can soon be swamped by the various demands on our time at work and home. How many times have you sat down in your office with grand plans to work on some fresh ideas, only to be interrupted by a colleague or student? Upon your return, the motivation and creativity you had suddenly eludes you? How often have you attended a one-off development activity, only to find that there’s little to no time allocated to turning your ideas into a reality? Carving out time (at least 4 hours over the next term) for the Mini Learning Project will mean that part of your term is solely dedicated to the business of collaborating, reflecting and experimenting- without any interruptions or distractions. What could you achieve?

‘We must prioritise CPD even though it may never be the most urgent thing on the list.’ From Shaping the Future of CPD. Time to Focus on the Important, not the Urgent.


 

Staff will begin The Mini Learning Project on Monday, where they will have until July 2016 to work their way through the four phases of the project:

#1- Learning Lens (2 weeks w/c 11th April 2016)

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In this phase of the project, staff will reflect on the learning taking place for students, the service experienced by the ‘customers’ or the work experience of their staff a number of times during the two week period of this phase of this project.

Delivery staff will observe learning in their own lessons. During this time, they will also reflect on the learning taking place in at least one of their colleague’s lessons.  LSAs will conduct a ‘learning review’. Managers and business support staff will arrange to participate in ‘‘service/ work reviews’.

#2- Thinking Out Loud- At each site w/c 25th April, w/c 9th May, w/c 23rd May

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In this phase of the project, they will analyse what they gained from the ‘Learning Lens’ phase of the project; discussing key aspects of learning / service / work experience that they observed. They will spend time with colleagues defining what the next steps will be for improving the learning experience for students, the service for customers or the work experience for their staff. The breakfast sessions will be influenced by aspects of ‘Unconferences’ and ‘Design Thinking’; leading to creative solutions for difficult challenges. 

#3- Learning Journey (Until Friday 17th June 2016)

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In this phase of the project, they will action their next steps through experiments and evaluate their impact on learning. They will continue to engage in phases 1 and 2 throughout their ‘Learning Journey’ and engage with other development opportunities as required to inform their experiments.

There are three evaluation methods suggested (although others may be explored) and this has been kept purposefully simple during the pilot. The Big Learning Project from September will provide greater opportunity to explore all that research has to offer. Evaluation Methods

#4- Sharing Learning (Before 12pm Monday 4th July 2016)

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They’ll provide a 300-500 word summary (or video/poster alternative) of their learning during the Mini Learning Project and this will be shared with colleagues in The Sheffield College Learning Journal- Issue 1!

The guidance for their sharing is as follows:

Content
Your summary must answer the following questions:
  • What are the key features of your context (job role, stage of career, subject, types of classes/service…)
  • What did your notice about learning/service during the ‘Learning Lens’ phase of the project?
  • What theme did you subsequently choose to focus on during the ‘Thinking Out Loud’ phase and why?
  • What were you actions, experiments, collaborations and experiences during the ‘Learning Journey’ phase?
  • In what way(s) has your involvement in this project had an impact on students/colleagues/staff/customers? How do you know this?
  • What do you feel you gained from being involved in this project and why would you (not) recommend this to colleagues?
Presentation
You can choose to present this summary in any of the following ways:
  • A poster- try Phoster, Canva or Piktochart
  • A flyer- try Canva or Piktochart
  • A video- try Powtoon
  • A Blog- try WordPress or Blogger (using your Sheffield College Google account details)
  • A Vlog- upload to YouTube or Vimeo
  • An essay
  • Something handmade…

This video outlines each of these phases:

There are a range of reasons that staff have given for registering for The Mini Learning Project, many of which support my aims when launching it:

  • Interested in the course content and how it might impact/improve my role.
  • I really like being involved in pilot projects so I can have an influence on the way that they are developed and rolled out effectively. I am always keen to find ways in which I can make better use of my skills and improve the service I provide for students. I like to understand how others work and make practical suggestions for ways in which their working practices could be more efficient.
  • Some of the delivery that is core to the tutorial programme is not the most engaging content . By becoming part of this programme it will increase my ability to present in a more dynamic manner. It will be a great opportunity to share best practice. All of which will benefit the learner
  • To have the opportunity to develop my own practice and share experiences with other colleagues. I think it is important to continually reflect and evaluate your own practice in order to improve/keep up to date with learning pedagogies and drive up standards. I particularly enjoy peer observation especially when I have a particular problem or less engaged learners – to help improve my own quality of TLA
  • Opportunity to be involved in what looks like a very good project to help reach our aim of high expectations. I also see it as an opportunity to make observations, develop/share ideas/experiments and try them out to help make things happen – ultimately to improve the experiences of both our internal and external customers.
  • I would like the chance to carry out some classroom based research. I also see it as an opportunity to develop my practice.
  • Always looking to develop, contribute and support myself and others.
  • I do not want to work for a College that ‘needs improving’. I want to ensure that I am doing all I can to improve these standards.
  • Exciting innovation from staff development
  • I really enjoy learning new things and I try to instil this enthusiasm in my learners, but some groups are so difficult and I feel they are very passive and don’t really ‘care’ about doing well in GCSE English and Functional English. I am eager to find new and improved ways of improving my skills, which is why I would like to register in the Mini Learning Project.
  • It appears to be a different approach from my previous experience and looks very intriguing
  • To become more involved in the work of the college and to expand my own personal learning and development
  • Eager to learn
  • To share good practice College wide and enhance the support and services that are provided for both academic and business support. Making the College an even better place to work!
  • I want to improve my teaching practice.
  • Curiosity more than anything else and because I’m always happy to test out new products or approaches. I’m a member of business support (long, long standing, almost 35 years!) so I’m interested in new CPD initiatives that can be applied to support staff as well as to delivery/teaching staff that are engaging and will make a positive difference to how we perform our duties and how we achieve our aim- to transform lives.
  • I enjoy enabling young people to learn and devising ways of achieving this. I’m extremely resourceful and enjoy devising new ways of assisting learning so this project looks fantastic.
  • Curiosity – how will this will make me a better practitioner?
  • The opportunity to discuss and work with staff from other depts as when otherwise do we have the time? And to challenge my thinking, and to refresh my approaches to teaching.
  • I want to be able to support my staff and consider new ways of teaching and learning.
  • I am finishing my PGCE and I want to ensure I maintain my current momentum. I want to ensure I keep on top of my training and development so I don’t fall behind or get set in negative ways – if that makes sense.
  • Modelling best practice, leadership and wanting to improve my own practice
  • I’m always interested to know more!
  • I would like the opportunity to work with staff across the college to identify how I can best make use of online platforms to enable a more interactive, collaborative and meaningful process for staff and managers.
  • To develop myself as a lecturer as I strongly believe we are all continually learning.
  • I am a teacher who is interested in teaching and I want to be the best practitioner that I can be.
  • One of my PDR objectives which needs to be completed by Summer 2016 lends itself to this project (its a shared objective with a close colleague) and I am interested in looking at alternative ways to evaluate the progress and impact. It was always my intention to seek advice /ideas from others in the college so I feel that doing this might provide a shortcut to others ‘in the know’.
  • Collaborating with other professionals that I might not yet have met to create new and innovative ways of improving my TLA methods.
  • After discussion with the AP for Learning, Improvement & Innovation I decided to use this project to support one of my PDR objectives; this objective is shared with a close colleague. I feel this project will help me to look at alternative ways to evaluate progress.

In spite of everything my journey in Sheffield has challenged me with so far and however much I feel as though I could be doing more- to see that this project has given staff an opportunity they would not have otherwise had is why I do what I do. I now look forward to the coming weeks and months with my breath held to see if this project can deliver all I have promised that it will.

*Really special thanks go to Stephanie Moakes, @S_Moakes and Paul Warren @paulw_learnwho both provided such valuable feedback in the early stages of this project being formed.

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