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.