Ross Morrison McGill on the state of teacher development

Lauren Ward

Teacher Toolkit founder, Ross Morrison McGill, shares with Cambridge how the award-winning resource and opinion site came about, and why he’s not surprised about the results of our State of Teacher Development survey, which showed that people were keen to carry out more professional development but felt unsupported by their institution. Being a senior leader and headmaster himself, he was also able to share solutions for institutions to address this.

At the start of 2017, we surveyed ELT professionals around the world on their current views on teacher development and their studying habits. We were keen to get the perspective of Ross Morrison McGill on the findings, and hear his own experience of teacher development: both as a teacher and a senior leader responsible for developing his own team.

How did Teacher Toolkit come about?

In 2011, Ross decided to take voluntary redundancy – soon after his son was born prematurely. Previous to this, he was a prolific user of Twitter and had won the Guardian Teacher of the Year award in 2004. After seeing his peers go on to write books and appear at events, Ross approached the Guardian to write bits for them as well as building his own blog up. Alongside this, he also decided to go back to work full time at a different school…

So all these kind of things happened at that kind of period: being a new dad; losing my job; trying to get settled in a new job; and also survive… that was the motivation for Teacher Toolkit.”

Teachers doing it for themselves

Ross was not surprised to hear that a vast majority of our survey respondents stated that they thought professional development was important, however felt unsupported by their institution in this area. He himself has been in this position and spent a lot of his time either organizing or attending events run by teachers, for teachers. He couldn’t stress enough how great this all is, but it needs institutions to recognize and help teachers to bring it in as part of their standard working week.

“Teachers are hungry to learn… that’s why you see a lot of teachers on Twitter, being active and attending events, doing some great CDP at the weekend… But by default, teachers have a 32-35 hour contract, 90% of that time is spent teaching classes, you’re then expected to do your marking, follow up on phone calls, deal with behaviour issues, be on duty, try and grab a sandwich to eat, try to get some sleep – where is the time for your professional development, other than when a school tells when and where?”    

What can institutions do to help?

While working at school, Ross was able to implement a flexible programme where teacher’s timetables allowed for TD every Wednesday. He was keen for these to not be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach but to allow for personalisation and let people decide on their own goals. However, Ross is pragmatic and understands that these programmes can be the first to fall down once external pressures start to kick-in.

“As soon as things become a bit more niche, a bit more specialised, then you prick the ears of staff, and they want to get involved. But you have got to have the mechanics in place for staff to be able to do that. When you start to get external pressures, it’s very hard for schools to achieve.”

Watch the full interview with Ross Morrison McGill here:

We’ll be sharing the full results of the State of Teacher Development survey all this month – take a look at our first instalment looking at support and teacher development.

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