What’s the point of INSET days?

Recently, I overheard a colleague say that they had never attended an INSET (IN SErvice Training) day that wasn’t a complete waste of time. I have to admit that I felt rather startled by this as, with some notable exceptions, I generally enjoy these days. You get to natter to people you don’t see everyday, you get a break from the kids and often there’s a free lunch! But how often do I learn anything?

Well, that all depends on the type of INSET day it is. All too often the only requirement for staff  is that they sit and listen. Either to an expensive motivational guest speaker or to a member of the school’s own leadership team. Teachers tend to be fairly intolerant of this and have a tendency to misbehave. We know that if we took this approach in an observed lesson we’d be (rightly) lambasted so we resent having it inflicted on us. Why does it happen? Cos it’s easy. The expensive motivational guest speaker will have delivered his (it’s always a bloke!) spiel many time before and can just trot out the same old same old and pick up their pay cheque. The internal speaker doesn’t have to worry about planning interactive resources and collaborative workshops – they can just show everyone the PowerPoint they’ve knocked out on the last few days of the holiday. If this is your only experience of INSET, then I agree. It probably won’t be much cop.

Hopefully though, this type of INSET doesn’t happen too much anymore. Most schools really make an effort to involve staff in discussing solutions to pressing concerns or brainstorming innovative new approaches to whatever seems appropriate. There’s usually ice braking starters; Big Paper and a selection of different coloured markers; the staff will probably have been pre-grouped so as to split up faculties and other cliques and there will probably even be a learning objective. As with students, so with teachers: we’re much more likely to learn collaboratively and this approach helps to ensure that we all get an opportunity to vent out spleens. My only criticism is that this kind of INSET is usually about the school solving problems rather than about teachers learning new skills or knowledge. It might be, but normally it ain’t.

My favourite kind of INSET day is when I’m given time to work with my faculty in whatever way we see fit about whatever we think important. This way I can ensure a balance of disseminating new ideas and asking the team for their views. If it doesn’t work, I’ve only myself to blame. Obviously, if you’re not a head of department then you’re dependent on whoever is not being rubbish.

Anyway, over the summer I’ve been following @DanielPink and getting my head round the ideas contained in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. To get a summary, have a look at this:

Basically, Dan says that in order to be motivated we need autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy is the freedom to do what we want; mastery is the ability to do what you’re good at and purpose is about being clear and engaged in the organisation’s vision.

In his book he talks about ‘20% time’, where employees at Google are given 20% of their time 1 day a week) to work on whatever interests them. Other company’s have Genius Hour where employees are given an hour a week to develop themselves as they see fit. This would fit into school timetables easily but would be very expensive and I guess that means it’s not going to happen any time soon. He also talks about Fed-Ex days where company’s shut down for 24 hours and employees work on a project of their choosing. He writes a call to arms that could well have been aimed at school INSET days, “why not try replacing the next one with a FedEx Day? Set aside an entire day where employees can work on anything they choose, however they want, with whomever they’d like. Make sure they have the tools and resources they need. And impose just one rule: People must deliver something – a new idea, a prototype of a product, a better internal process – the following day.”

How cool is that? This is the kind of INSET day I want to attend!

Update: here’s what I think a year or so on.

21 Responses to What’s the point of INSET days?

  1. Dave Gale says:

    Can’t help but agree.
    I think it was Dan who said something along the lines of “next time you have a meeting, just cancel it. Don’t postpone, just cancel. See what happens and you’ll realise you didn’t need it anyway.”

    • learningspy says:

      Thanks Dave. Might go with shortening it. Am a bit weird in that I really enjoy faculty meetings. I do however insist that all agenda items are ‘learning focussed’.

  2. Sally-Jayne says:

    I agree with this post wholeheartedly – in fact I wrote a very similar blog post about it a few weeks ago. I consider myself really lucky to be self-employed and able to choose my own CPD instead of having INSET days foisted upon me!

  3. Ian Gibert says:

    Think a lot of this is spot on. Many schools have wasted a lot of money on me and my colleagues not because of the ‘same old same old pick up the cheque’ routine (the money-back guarantee if we’re crap sees to that) but because we’re treated as a one-off, stand-alone thing unconnected from the overall, stated and known-by-everybody (in theory) development aims for the entire school.

    Teachers turning up not knowing what the day is about means SLT is not doing its job. SLT not capitalising on the new ideas, the buzz, the questions we create, is also SLT not doing its job. One or two teachers sitting there being rude where there are obviously many teachers keen to learn is SLT not doing its job. Not asking the speaker to be better or to stop before they do to much damage if no-one is listening is SLT not doing its job. Ringing up in July asking if we have any speakers for the 1st September, doesn’t matter what they talk about, we’ve only just got round to thinking about it, is the SLT not doing their job. Not asking up front for a money-back guarantee and/or refusing to pay if feedback shows the day was awful is the SLT not doing its job. And for more horror stories on how to ruin an INSET day, check out the latest blog post here (if I’m allowed to plug one blog in another?) – http://independentthinking.posterous.com/ten-things-not-to-do-on-your-inset-day)

    Many schools get this right, more so these days than when I first started nearly 20 years ago, but there are many that still waste the opportunity.

    The best follow-up to an INSET day is for the SLT to outline their clear expectation that they will be looking for ideas from the day being employed in lessons within the next two weeks, that they will be looking for evidence of conversations about the day in faculty meetings and policy, that they will refer back to it during briefings and staff meetings (don’t throw that flipchart away, pin it up!) and that the next INSET day or twilight will be led internally by a cross-faculty collection of staff sharing their successes or otherwise based on how they have used the day to move things forward.

    So, demand more from your speakers and of yourselves – when that happens an INSET day can be the lever to change everything…

    • learningspy says:

      Thanks Ian – as you say: a big onus on SLT to get INSET right. This wasn’t intended as a criticism of motivational speakers per se – it was more a lengthy introduction for the idea of having a Fed-ex day.

  4. Julia says:

    Great in-set days are often those run by the staff. I really like the idea of a Fed Ex day but for it to be successful the leadership team will have had to do some work on the purpose of it which might mean a change of mind-set. There will always be those who think the in-set days are for clearing out your cupboards!
    Great post D!

    • learningspy says:

      I think the idea of Fedex days is that SLTs do not try to decide the purpose. This is an area in which teachers could have autonomy. The work they’d need to do is in organising and resourcing beforehand.

  5. Julia says:

    I understand that. It’s just that not all schools would have the philosophy & shared values to be able to introduce it straight away / cold. 🙂

  6. Julia says:

    Absolutely but one of them needs the idea first!! That is why in some schools staff are working really hard but not getting anywhere!

    • learningspy says:

      OK, but what’s your suggestion? Are these schools aware they provide inadequate PD? If they know and they’re not acting they need to be held accountable, don’t they?

  7. Julia says:

    Yep! I see it as a role governors can play. I go to all the in-set at the school where I’m chair. I’m a gov at another school and have persuaded the chair to get us invited to the first in-set this year which is tomorrow. I’t on vision & values but the SLT had not thought to invite Govs. There will be 3/4 of us so I’ll let you know tomorrow.
    I’m passionate about the role Govs can & should now be playing in school improvement. It goes way beyond nodding at a FGB meeting!

  8. […] some great INSET on day 1 with Ian Gilbert from Independent Thinking (he is a clear exception to my thoughts on motivational speakers) where I shared my admiration of the great man and his brand of “lunatic” teaching. Ian […]

  9. […] or consolidate what I’m being told. I get bored. As teachers we’ve all experienced bad INSET and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s fallen asleep or gotten a little leary […]

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  11. Stuart Lock says:

    I’ve done an INSET day like that:

    It certainly had impact, but I’d probably choose to do it a little differently next time!

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  14. […] be feeling guilty about being paid for going to another school and talking about teaching, I wrote this post asking what the point of an INSET day actually was. I didn’t really answer the […]

  15. […] be feeling guilty about being paid for going to another school and talking about teaching, I wrote this post asking what the point of an INSET day actually was. I didn’t really answer the […]

  16. […] listening to a great speaker is fab!) I get bored. As teachers we’ve all experienced bad INSET and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s fallen asleep or gotten a little leary […]

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