Building effective CPD in schools

Last Thursday I attended a conference by the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) at the Learn Sheffield Hub. The day was very interesting and provided me with a number of opportunities to compare the views of staff at the conference to those of the schools I have conducted research with to date.

The New CPD Standards
As the standards have yet to be released David Weston, the chair of the government’s CPD expert group, was unable to give us any detail about the standards. He was, however, able to tell us that there will be 5 standards which focus on effective CPD as a relationship between 3 stakeholders: the teacher, the school and leadership, and the provider.

In my discussions with schools around CPD, the relationship between leadership visions for the whole school and individual CPD needs was raised on a number of occasions. Staff noted a preference for having a clear vision for whole school development that they could then build upon with their personal CPD. It was felt that this would provide them with a clearer idea of where they should be developing their professional practices – to make CPD a more coordinated effort across the school.

It had also been stressed that CPD delivered by external providers can often misunderstand the context and needs of the school and their pupils. Improved communication between these companies and the leadership and teachers with whom they are providing CPD, would not only create a more effective service for school staff, but also a better trained teaching body for our students.

The importance of staff buy-in

David discussed the Developing Great Teaching report by the TDT, a review of reviews around continuing professional development and learning to investigate what makes effective CPD. Weston noted that staff buy-in was found to be key to successful professional development opportunities:
‘All the reviews found that an essential element of successful CPDL is overt relevance of content to its participants and their day-to-day experiences and aspirations for pupils.’ (Cordingley et al 2015, p.5)
Relevance of CPD content has been a key concern for my research participants. In every session this has been highlighted as one of the most important factors in deciding if CPD has an impact on current teaching practice. Relevance seems to be a particular concern in relation to CPD for technology use, with many staff noting that often sessions focus solely on learning how to use a new piece of hardware/software that has been purchased by the school, without supporting staff in developing ideas for how it can be used for their own subject teaching. Staff reported a sense of apathy when faced with CPD that was not clearly relevant to their own teaching, and stressed that given their already heavy workloads, they do not have the time to take on new practices without some guidance on how they might be beneficial to their specific needs.
Doing better, not simply doing more
One of the afternoon’s presentations, entitled ‘Effective CPD in practice’, came from Michael Watson, deputy headteacher at a primary school in Sheffield. Michael’s school has been identified by the TDT as an exemplar for whole school CPD strategy and a particular comment Michael made caught my attention.
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Anyone who works in education, or studies the area, will know that time is regularly cited as the biggest barrier to teacher’s professional development. In a climate of increasing bureaucracy and accountability, school staff are losing valuable time to be reflective about their practice. Michael pointed out that instead of simply equipping staff with more and more information, we should instead be supporting them in identifying an area of their practice that isn’t working effectively for them and investigating new practices that could improve this.
Whilst time has come up frequently in the sessions that I have held with schools, and the need for more reflective practices, this notion of swapping out old strategies for new ones is an interesting approach and one that I would like to look into further.
Cordingley, P., Higgins, S., Greany, T., Buckler, N., Coles-Jordan, D., Crisp, B., Saunders, L. and Coe, R. (2015) Developing Great Teaching: Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development. London: Teacher Development Trust.
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