A few weeks ago, I created a whole page of the website dedicated to the value of trips as CPD experiences, and offered some tips and advice about how to make these outings as beneficial for your baby’s development and entertainment, as your own CPD. If nothing else, planning a day trip or two whilst on parental leave is a great way to get out of the house, get some fresh air and potentially get a disgruntled baby to nap in a buggy or a sling. Many trip sites also have fantastic cafes, and coffee and fresh air are very good for wellbeing.
After doing a lot of slightly random visiting, I decided to focus my trips on improving my understanding of the context behind 19th century literature, as this is big gap in my subject knowledge, and a big focus of the new KS4 English Literature curriculum. Off I therefore trotted for a week of visits to Strawberry Hill House (home of the gothic revival), Charles Dickens Museum, the Foundling Museum and the 19th century sections of the Museum of London, planning school trip logistics, discussion questions and ‘treasure hunt’ worksheets as I went.
During my trip to Strawberry Hill House, I was fortunate enough to chat to two members of staff, one who gave me a fantastic tour, and the other who organised the primary school tours and education days. I explained my reasons for visiting and, feeling 10% braver, as is the WomenEd motto, I asked about their KS3 and KS4 provision and the potential for a partnership that would benefit my own CPD in the six weeks I had left before I returned to the classroom.
What resulted was a very exciting meeting with the secondary Education Officer in which we discussed the development of relevant workshops and resources – me from an AQA exam specification and ‘frontline’ teacher perspective, her from a logistical, gothic and business perspective. Baby was with us at all times – he is now a meeting pro! – and what was particularly lovely was that, as with so many of my professional meetings, the staff at Strawberry Hill House were as excited to have a cuddle as they were to discuss links between assessment objectives and the house’s architecture.
I left the meeting feeling elated: I had been referred to as a ‘consultant’; the meeting on its own had been fantastic CPD for me – discussing gothic tropes and the development of the gothic genre from The Castle of Otranto to A Christmas Carol; I had learnt more about funding bids, intellectual property and events logistics; I had a handful of fantastic opportunities for Maternity or Paternity English teachers based in London; I was allowed to come back again, out of hours, to develop a self-guided resource for teachers, immersed in the gothic architecture of this important historical building, and the trains were cancelled at Strawberry Hill station, so I had an invigorating and cobweb-clearing walk back to Teddington.
This was all great CPD for me as a classroom English teacher, but could have far wider implications: I will pass my learning on to my department and academy Federation; any resources I develop for Strawberry Hill House will benefit students across three year groups in my school, as well as any teachers who choose to visit the house; the development of student and teacher workshops specifically tailored to the new KS4 curriculum will be a huge asset to any schools visiting the house, as well as a securing much-needed finances for a worthwhile charitable trust. This is fantastic leadership and networking experience, all of which could contribute to my Lead Practitioner accreditation when I return to work.
What occured to me is that there must be museums, stately homes, laboratories, factories, galleries, parks, gardens and sites across the country who would be very happy to snap up the expertise of teachers who have the time to consult on the national curriculum and exam specifications at KS4 and KS5 to make school trips more beneficial for both parties. Why not be 10% braver and ask to speak to the Education Officer at your local site of interest, to form a partnership that would be great subject knowledge, leadership and networking CPD and a huge plus for your students and the organisation?
The last thing that provided me with quite a moving moment of reflection were the comments of Sally, the member of staff with whom I had been meeting, when I told her about The MTPT Project. When I started the project, I felt very isolated, and as if wanting to complete CPD made me a ‘bad mother’ or in some way strange or counter-cultural. I felt silly for asking to bring my son to events and meetings and I had to do a lot of silencing of my own inner critic who asked me why on earth I was carting my three month old baby up and down the country to conferences in the Midlands, or watching FutureLearn videos whilst breastfeeding instead of bonding through eye contact. On many ocassions, I felt vulnerable and frustrated as a woman and as a mother.
Without me even realising it, however, the process of completing CPD, and setting up the project, has hugely boosted my confidence and normalised the realities of motherhood. I feel so much more empowered to say ‘my baby will be with me’, or ‘that’s not possible, logistically, for me as a mother – we need to do it this way’, or ‘how can we make this accesible for parents?’ or ‘could you hold him for me for a sec whilst I set up this projector?’ rather than apologising for my presence and my baby’s, or allowing opportunities to pass me by. At absolutely no point have I received anything but encouragement, support and adaptation whilst doing these things, and it turns out that the education community really does love to see parents at events, and want to do whatever they can to facilitate this – they just don’t always know how.
As I was leaving Strawberry Hill House and excusing my poor, sleep deprived, short term memory, Sally mused about her own three maternity leaves whilst working in the media and carting her son to work with her to happily sit under a tree whilst she got on with filming. “Maternity leave is exhausting,” she said, “but it provides a great opportunity for creativity. You’re free to really develop your creative ideas.”*
I almost cried (fatigue and hormones): being on maternity leave has been such a fantastic, creative opportunity for me as a teacher, and for so many people, this concept is neither shocking, strange, or counter-cultural. What a long way I have come since my initial frustration and fear of missing out five months ago! I hope that The MTPT Project can empower more parents to realise that they are not alone in their CPD journeys, and that pursuing learning whilst on leave can be hugely beneficial to both parent and child.
*Not an exact quote, but as good as I can manage with my current memory.