There’s a huge amount of chit-chat on social media groups for singing teachers about ‘professional development’. CPD (Continuing Professional Development) is apparently the buzz-word.

On the AOTOS FB chat I’ve seen members ask about others’ experiences of courses, financial considerations and even the odd admonishment for those who don’t do it.

In 2017 I had a bit of a CPD bonanza starting with a 2-day course on Rehabilitation of the Singing Voice, then ICVT and PEVoC, finishing up with another 2-day course run by the British Laryngological Society, also on clinical practice. I do love to hang out with clinicians and I got a huge amount from attending this course in particular.

We all know that ours is an unregulated profession and there are currently debates as to what constitutes ‘best practice’ within that. It’s a fact that anybody can set themselves up a singing teacher! Many of us trained via the traditional Master-Apprentice model, still in use in our conservatoires and in many private studios. Despite having a doctorate in voice research and 8 published works to my name I have had no formal training as a singing teacher. Like most of you reading this, I learned ‘on the job’.

Having got that off my chest I’d like to start by considering findings from the 2012 Bologna Process and the Polifonia Project (findings published 2010). Those of you working in Higher Education might have heard about these reports. I have always said that I learn the most from my own students and the image below nicely encapsulates the idea of an ongoing learning-teaching-learning feedback loop. That, for me, is the main motivator for engaging in ongoing professional development.

Within the same report, five competences are identified for vocal and instrumental teachers working in higher education and the fifth one (reproduced in the box below) seems most relevant to CPD

5.1. Instrumental/vocal teachers continuously reflect in and on their teaching and their personal philosophy and vision for music education in order to improve their practice.

5.2. Instrumental/vocal teachers identify, respond and adapt to developments within the profession and take responsibility for identifying and meeting their own professional development needs.

“Effective teachers also reflect on developments in the profession, expanding their own understanding of pedagogical materials and methods, keeping up to date with relevant research and literature and developments in their professional associations. They have a sense of their own professionalism and take responsibility for identifying and meeting their own needs in relation to their ongoing professional development.”

So – yes – I think there’s no doubt that we DO need CPD and let’s be clear that this is indeed one of the purposes of a professional organisation such as AOTOS, which provides opportunities to meet, network and learn with your peers.

Bearing in mind that many of us are self-employed, and will not only be self-funding but possibly giving up teaching days to attend CPD, how do we choose what’s best? I’m going to give an overview of what seems to be currently available in the UK for singing teachers. These are day, weekend or weekend events or part-time study courses. Anything that I have listed here ought to be possible for a working singing teacher although the financial implications may well differ, depending on factors such as the course fee, travel and accommodation, and loss of income.

The range of provision that I am aware of is:

  • Courses offered by individuals or registered business
  • Courses offered by professional organisations
  • Courses offered by a franchise or quasi-franchise (this includes courses in a proprietary branded method)
  • Outreach courses offered by universities or other HE institutions
  • Hybrid degree courses where a private entity has set up and runs the course which is validated by a university.
  • Conferences and meetings organised by professional organisations such as AOTOS, BVA, EVTA, ICVT or by universities or conservatoires

Key questions to ask

  1. Course assessment:
    Is the course itself assessed or externally validated in some way? Examples would be a short outreach course run by a conservatoire, university or a professional body such as ABRSM, or a course validated by a government-approved Quality Assurance agency for continuing professional development.
  2. Does the course include assessment of your work?
    How is this done? Is there a transparent process for feedback?
  3. Does the course carry any type of certificate?
    Is it a certificate of attendance, or does it specify a level of achievement e.g. a degree, a licensed or master teacher of a method, or certificate of achievement within a respected professional organisation? Check how you will be able to use that certificate to advertise yourself in the future and consider if it is worth your time and money.
  4. Quality and track record of the trainers.
    Have you seen the trainer(s) in a short course or presenting for another organisation? Were you impressed not just by their presentation but by their ability to communicate elements of their training approach successfully with individuals (say in a masterclass) or with a group and their willingness to interact with the audience and answer questions?

Watchpoints

Quality assurance for CPD

  1. The recommendation from the Bologna Process (2012) is that strategies for external & internal quality assurance be in place for courses offered to the life-long learner, as well as within HE. It’s for this reason that my own company has gone the route of CPD validation for pretty much everything we offer. I’d recommend it for any course provider because it puts you in the position of identifying learning outcomes and learning processes.
  2. In the case of ‘for profit’ degree courses – meaning courses run and administered by a private enterprise but validated by a university – we need an awareness that part of the remit of that course provider is to make a profit and so remain viable as a business. This should be made transparent in the advertising. Note – while I’m not aware of any private universities in the UK running degree courses in vocal pedagogy as yet, it’s worthwhile checking what this article has to say about this type of training and potential pitfalls
    https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/7668/High-cost-high-debt-high-risk-UCU-briefing-on-the-for-profit-education-sector-Aug-11/pdf/HighCostHighDebtHighRisk.pdf
  3. Where a proprietary branded method has no external validation, caveat emptor applies – i.e. the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality of the product.
  4. If the organisation is a franchise or quasi-franchise.
    What is the pathway for you to become part of that franchise – it is transparent? How much will it cost you overall to do the training? What is the declared procedure for quality control and their learning pathway? For example, is there a requirement to do the same course more than once in order to progress on the learning pathway? It’s hard to imagine any external body validating such a strategy – they would be asking for the interim steps needed, or if the level of the course was set too high, or too many numbers attending to facilitate real learning. Imagine if you had to do your bachelor’s degree twice before applying for a master’s.
  5. What’s the track record of the course leaders? Make sure you know who is teaching and that there is a visible track record in the field they are teaching: are they published in peer-reviewed journals, or have presented on their topic at conferences etc. There’s a big difference between articles that are self-promotion and articles that are peer-reviewed. For those who are not published (I recognise that we do not all choose the academic or publishing pathway) I’d recommend considering where the tutors have taught before, whether or not they have professional experience of performing, and in both cases at what level. If you cannot find this out, it should give you pause for thought.

What if you cannot afford to do anything right now?

Personally, I love these suggestions from Heidi Pegler in the Autumn Newsletter:

  • Go to a concert, workshop or masterclass together.
  • Spend some time discussing teaching ideas and techniques.
  • Each of you bring along a favourite song you use in your teaching.
  • Arrange a workshop or masterclass, or a student concert. Could you invite nearby pods to join you?
  • Ask an examiner in your pod to do some demonstration exams with pupils.

And I’d like to add to this list:

  • Invite a colleague to come and teach for an evening or day in your studio. Make it a special event for your students. You will learn so much from seeing how someone else handles the students you work with on a weekly basis. You can also make this reciprocal so that it doesn’t cost you anything.
  • Ask a respected colleague if you could perhaps sit in on their lessons one day as an observer. You’ll need to sit quietly in a corner and make notes – it’s important that you don’t comment or change the energy in the room.
  • Attend an online webinar or chat room. All of the NATSChat events are free; there are also several quality affordable learning resources that you can access online, so get clicking! If you head to the https://www.nats.org/nats-chat.html page you can choose to view historical events (these are all on YouTube) or register for new ones and there is also a transcript of each webinar delivered after the event.
  • Join a discussion or study group on Facebook. Make sure the group is well-moderated though because otherwise this can end up a negative experience. I am super ‘Mother Abbess’ with my study group and generally do not allow anyone to do original posts. That way I can keep an eye on discussion threads.

Final thoughts – getting the most out of your CPD

I suspect that most of us go to events maybe several times a year, but how do we consolidate?

  1. It’s worth having a CPD notebook and reviewing the notes – which things feel like the most useful and how can you start using the ideas in your teaching?
  2. Get together with a colleague who also came, and share notes with them. You might want to meet to discuss what you learned and brainstorm ways of putting it into practice.

This article by Dr Gillyanne Kayes first appeared in the AOTOS magazine December 2018

Vocal Process is a nationally Accredited CPD Centre


Ref: Mary Lennon & Geoffrey Reed (2012) Instrumental and vocal teacher education: competences, roles and curricula, Music Education Research, 14:3, 285-308, DOI:
10.1080/14613808.2012.685462