Bullet Points Kill Staff Development Days!

Updated: Jun 26




If you are a school leader and you are reading this, I am guessing that you are soaking up the last dregs of the Christmas holidays and procrastinating over your inset for Monday! You might even be planning to spend all weekend preparing that perfect Powerpoint which begins with your ‘welcome speech’; reflecting on how the year has gone so far; highlighting successes and milestones reached and finishing with a rallying call to arms to inspire the staff to greatness for the coming terms!

All of which has very little or no impact if it is read painfully slowly off incredibly wordy and boring Powerpoint slides. My pet hate . . . pages and pages of bullet points on a standard blue background! I am sure you have all experienced this.

I am not downplaying the importance of professional development. People are after all the greatest resources and asset of any school. In my own personal experience, it is just undertaken very badly!

As a School Improvement Officer I was continually flummoxed by this paradox; a room full of what should be the most influential minds on teaching and learning would produce the most mind-numbingly boring training sessions. Furthermore, I was regularly asked to ‘tone down’ my programmes or ‘lose the pictures’ in my Powerpoint presentations. Effectively asked to be less engaging! The crux of this paradox being, if anyone of us had observed a teacher delivering a lesson in this manner this would be considered ‘unsatisfactory’.

So to help you with your inset and training the Right Learning Companyhave produced a handy guide for all staff and school leaders of rules to consider when planning any inset day

Rule 1: Begin with the ‘Why?’

The first questions before beginning to plan any session must be:

· What do I want to achieve with this session?

· What outcome do I want?

· What outcome do my staff want?

In other words ‘why’ am I running this session? If the answer is, because back in September it seemed like a good idea at the time to pencil some inset in… think again! People feel most aggrieved when training sessions are there just to tick a performance management box.

When running any session, it is always good to involve the staff in your why. Ask them:

· ‘What do you want to achieve in todays sessions?’

· ‘What are your expectations and concerns?’

By asking and involving the staff you demonstrate that the session is not all about the agenda of the leadership and management team, but rather their ‘why’ is as important as yours. You also get to immediately identify any issues that might railroad the session further down the line. Plan in this part of the session and give it some time.


Rule 2: Plan in Analogue

All too often when planning a staff inset, school leaders will begin with a blank Powerpoint and work from there. When considering inserting highly colourful graphs, pictures and numerous bullet points of Ofsted/ Estyn quotes - Don’t!


Plan in analogue. Truly great presenters such as Steve Jobs visualise and sketch ideas on white boards and big bits of paper before ever opening their laptops. This will, in fact, save you time in the long run as you will be clearer on the shape of your session before you start to prepare any resources.


Rule 3: Fun Ice breaker

It is all too easy to search the Internet for that fun Ice breaker to engage the staff and get them back into the mood for learning after their two weeks of mince pies and festive fun. But aside from being entirely cringe-worthy, it often has no place in the session. I liken it to a lesson with an activity that does not meet the learning objective. That is not to say an engaging icebreaker doesn’t have its place. Instead consider the following two important questions:


· How does this activity engage and challenge my staff?

(Please note this should been done in equal measures)

· How does this deepen their understanding of the topic/ why of the session?

(If it does not achieve this, why are we doing it?)

Rule 4: The Knowledge is in the room.

Most CPD is based on the assumption that there is a lack of knowledge in the organisation. Professor Dylan William put this best when he recently said:

“The Standard Model of teacher professional development is based on the idea that teachers lack important knowledge. For the last 20 years, professional development has therefore been designed to address those deficits.“

However this is not the case. Even the most obstinate, disaffected, elderly members of staff, who have already retired (but failed to inform the senior leadership team of this fact) can be a wealth of knowledge and expertise. Ensure that your sessions have plenty of time for discussion and activities that promote discussion and collaboration. This will enhance the pace of the day; role models good practice; allows time for personal reflection; the chance for staff to discuss and challenge each other’s misconceptions.


Rule 5: If you do use a Powerpoint, do it right.

Whilst I endeavour not to use Powerpoints, there is a place for visual prompts and cues. If you do use a Powerpoint make sure that you use this correctly and follow my Powerpoint golden rules:


· Eliminate Clutter. Steve Jobs said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Where possible keep your slides clean and free of badges and awards. You are a professional, not a boy scout. And please, please, please never use Comic sans font!


An example of apples simple clear style.

· No Bullet Points. That’s right – no bullet points. Ever. New research into cognitive functioning and how the brain retains information proves that bullet points are the least effective way to deliver important information.


· No more than 40 words. Each slide should have no more than 40 words. So when you are in the copy and paste mood, think about your audience and how they feel squinting to read your slide from the back of a school hall.


· (PSE) The picture superiority effect. People are more likely to remember an image rather than a word.According to John Medina, your brain interprets every letter as a picture so wordy slides literally choke your brain.

For Example:




If information is presented orally, people remember about 10% of the content 72 hours later. That figure goes up to 65% if you add a picture. This is why company logo’s have such an impact on people You could check out slides that rock for more examples of great slides.


Rule 6: Create that ‘OMG’ moment!

According to John Medina, “The brain doesn’t pay attention to boring things.” When the brain detects an emotionally charged event, the amygdala releases dopamine into the system… dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing



These moments are like mental post it notesthat tell your brain to remember this. The best way to do this is to consider how you will make people feel at various points in your training programme. Also remember to build in lots of time for personal reflection. If you share a concept or idea/ topic, always give people time to reflect on their own practice. This has far greater impact on changing attitudes and outcomes. This can be done through:


· Personal audits

· “Golden learning nuggets’ (post it notes of personal reflections)

· Elevator speeches

· Definitions

· Key questions they would now ask

· What is their take away?

Anything that gets them to take what they have learned and consider how they can apply their learning in a meaningful manner that will change their practices. Make your sessions personal, emotional and meaningful to the individual.


Rule 7: Have Fun

Simple point. All too often presenters forget the fact that an audience would like to smile and have fun. Even the most senior ranking MP’s and CEO’s like to laugh, it is part of the human condition… so don’t be afraid to let yourself go a little. The odd funny story to highlight a point goes a long way.


Rule 8: Role Model the Self-evaluation process.

If you are not prepared to ask for feedback from your staff, don’t expect them to accept yours. At the end of any session it is essential to:


· Revisit any shared ‘Whys’ to see if your session has met both your agenda, but also any agenda that has been raised by someone else. This highlights the learning journey and also reinforces the collaborative nature of the session, along with building in buy in.

· Ask for feedback in the moment (rather than on a form). Asking staff to voice, “ what went well in the session?” and for some “even better if’s?”

This demonstrates you value their feedback and you will act upon it. You also are role-modelling the self-improvement process.


I have worked in a number of schools where teachers expect pupils to review their own part of the learning, yet refuse to ask pupils for feedback on their lessons and teaching. This is usually for fear that the pupils may well be brutally honest. But as Dylan Williams points out, “Feedback functions formatively only if the information fed back to the learner is used by the learner in improving performance.” 


To help you with your next inset or any other staff development please contact the Right Learning Company. You can also visit the website and down load a free Powerpoint presentation to help you with your training, which includes all these Rules!


If you Enjoyed this blog why not read:

How Toxic is your school culture?


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