I’ve been thinking a lot lately about professional development and how often it is overlooked as a priority in schools. I can already hear you shouting at the screen that you take it very seriously in your school and I’m sure you do, but as a whole profession do we really get it right?
In 2011 most CPD in schools stayed at only informing or influencing teaching with only 10% actually embedding or transforming practice (Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education - CUREE).
For starters there are complexities and balances that we often don’t either recognise or fully address. Personal interest vs school development priorities; directive vs non-directive; internal vs external; research vs experience; private study vs face to face input; I’m sure you can think of more.
What is very clear, is that quality professional development is a vital ingredient for the confidence and success of teams, and to deliver high quality outcomes for children. There are some truly thought-provoking pieces of work that have been released in relation to CPD in the last five years: one is CUREE’s 2011 evaluation of CPD for school leaders; and the second is the DfE’s implementation guidance on the Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development (July 2016) based on Teacher Development Trust commissioned research from 2014.
I’ve been using coaching methodologies and reflective practice concepts in school improvement and teaching and learning CPD for many years but there’s still plenty more to learn as research and ideas continue to develop.
Developing new CPD courses
I spent this summer writing the coaching module for The Key’s CPD Toolkit with the support of some committed One Education colleagues. It was a fantastic experience and, although it was extremely hard work and not quite what I’d had planned for August, it was professionally exhilarating.
So why exactly am I so delighted that I spent the summer stressed about deadlines and working 80-hour weeks for the best part of a month? Well, the answer is, because it’s a real treat to be able to research, reflect and engage in professional dialogue around an area of interest that has been identified as a priority. And it’s even more rewarding to think that the ideas you have grappled with and pulled into some sort of order, might benefit other professionals with the same interests at heart.
As I responded to feedback from the expert reviewers The Key had set up for me, as part of their excellent quality assurance process, I took time to research and reflect on the key factors of effective CPD and to find ways of including them in my module.
The principles for effective CPD as laid out in the new Standard, and developed in the implementation guidance, provide a great starting point for effective CPD:
- Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.
- Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.
- Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.
- Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.
And all this is underpinned by, and requires that:
- Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.
Engaging with research is not an optional extra
In 2011 a survey of over 3,000 teachers carried out by the National Teacher Research Panel (NTRP, 2011) suggested that Advanced Skills teachers were second only to supply teachers as being unlikely to use research or to access research summaries on a regular basis; a worrying indicator of leading practitioner mindsets.
BERA recently reported that professional development in most parts of the UK was “fragmented, occasional and insufficiently informed by research”, in contrast to that of internationally well-regarded education systems such as Finland, Canada and Singapore where there is an emphasis on research training for teachers. NfER research showed that engaging in research encourages practitioner reflection and open-mindedness, ultimately making lessons more engaging for learners.
Lead the way
UNESCO 2008 International research emphasised the importance of leaders and their role in setting up opportunities to promote teacher learning, developing a realistic vision of alternative possibilities, modelling what it means to be a learner, and managing teacher engagement.
Plan for effective CPD
- Probe providers (whether in-house or not) on content and the learning processes, particularly in the four areas discussed in the CUREE research: needs analysis; impact on learner outcomes; collaborative approaches; and depth of reflective practice
- Make links between staff development needs and the selection process for CPD. Do you explicitly match CPD with identified needs in performance reviews?
- Explore how you will support and encourage collaboration in school. How will you provide for peer support?
- After CPD input, ask staff to make connections between their changing practice and their learners. Are there examples of CPD your staff have experienced where there have been useful activities and resources for explaining impacts on learners which you could use more widely?
- Are you able to explain the theory and underlying rationale for the practice that has been introduced by CPD? Do you provide dissemination opportunities where you can be briefed by colleagues?
Make CPD deep
That means it needs to be delivered over time with multiple opportunities for practitioners to practise new skills and ideas which they can talk about and develop formally (Timperley, 2008). Giving and receiving structured peer support using collaboration, especially reciprocal risk-taking and professional dialogue, as core learning strategies are highly effective in teacher learning.
The Key’s CPD Toolkit
The Key’s CPD Toolkit is a great resource. It provides a wide range of modules which disseminate cutting edge research-backed ideas and ensures that all the modules incorporate research around effective practice. Experts at One Education are currently writing modules on EAL learners and another on more able learners, and there are many more titles besides. If you can’t stomach tackling meta-cognition or coaching in-house, you can use the toolkit materials and ask One Education to provide trainers as The Key’s only preferred providers.