Professional development, professional learning, continuous professional development, personalised professional development and so on… I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard, experienced and read about many other successful and unsuccessful reincarnations of what is basically a mechanism to meet the diverse development needs of all teachers, which underpin improved progress for all students. The question I often ponder is; what does great and truly meaningful professional development really look like? what is its purpose and, is there really a silver CPD bullet? Teachers are all too often ‘offered’ or perhaps in some cases, coerced into poorly planned, badly structured and at times, meaningless professional development. Let me attempt to explain (the clue is in scenario B!);
In this school all directed time is allocated in an over complex system and teachers are sent to CPD sessions, sessions that are quite often put in place based upon a perception of what the school and staff need, with no real evidence base to justify them. Non pupil training days are absorbed by instructions delivered (usually from senior leaders) with minimal or no time allocated for subject specific and department development. All staff meetings throughout the year are focused around working on whole school initiatives/fads and other ‘things’ that are ultimately distracting. Very little time is dedicated for teachers to develop themselves through a culture of self-reflection, instead, CPD is seen as a box ticking exercise to strike off directed time.
There is a clear commitment to ensuring all teachers reflect upon their practice and are able to access professional development opportunities on their terms through attending sessions which are timely and they can accommodate around their personal lives. In addition to this, whole school meetings and training days are not only tailored to school improvement priorities but also have a strong emphasis on meaningful, teacher led sessions. The core principles of professional development in this school are around breadth, choice, flexibility and the impact this has upon practice. Professional development is research rich and supports a culture of high aspiration.
“Teachers, are all too often ‘offered’ or perhaps in some cases, coerced into poorly planned, badly structured and at times, meaningless professional development.”
In all schools there will always be at least three interlinked elements of professional development; whole school need, subject specific/departmental need and bespoke teacher development need. The challenge is to ensure that no single element is neglected. Instead, it’s about ensuring all elements are informed from a comprehensive evidence base and hopefully this is achieved through a sensible and fair triangulation of teaching and learning over time, not an over bureaucratic box ticking approach and please, no judgemental observations!……..even better, no observations at all, unless of course, they are requested by teachers. The Standards for Teachers’ Professional Development, published in 2016 by the DfE provide a great place to start your train of thought. Here’s my 4 step process to building what I believe to be truly meaningful and great professional development for all teachers:
1. Gather all the facts
Teacher feedback and other background information will inform all three strands of professional development. Use micro and macro triangulation of teaching and learning over time and look for patterns and trends at a whole school level and subject specific level. Also and crucially, ask teachers to reflect upon their own practice and contribute to the construction of your professional development strategy and model.
2. Plan thoroughly
Using all the information you have at your disposal, create a concept that will form the foundations of your professional development strategy and delivery model. Here’s a copy of my initial thinking for our 2017/2018 offer. What has largely underpinned my thought process is flexibility in terms of directed time, in order to make CPD accessible for all teachers:
“Grow an ethos of collaboration, with high levels of trust and challenge in a low threat environment”
3. Delivery and directed time
Pay careful consideration to how you can create a flexible offer that will enable all teachers to develop their practice. For example, are you guiding teachers, perhaps to where an inset session might be appropriate? Are you targeting specific teachers to help them develop particular aspects of pedagogy, identified through your quality assurance triangulation of teaching and learning? More importantly, do you offer breadth and choice for teachers to be able to select where and when they undertake their professional development? I believe all schools must make professional development a priority within their time and financial budgets. My plea to school leaders; please do not use your time budget as mechanism to simply flog endless meeting time or as a vehicle to deliver top down initiatives/fads that ultimately serve as a distraction from the main thing. I can guarantee that this approach will inevitably become low impact and breed a culture of compliance. Every school needs time set aside for whole school development and I’m not advocating ever removing it, however, there has to be a balance in how this time allocation is devolved. Here’s an extract from our professional learning booklet, which can be downloaded here; Professional Learning booklet 2017
Written into our Academy improvement plan is; “Create a culture of professional ambition through high quality professional development and whole school leadership opportunities” and this is not tokenistic by any means. To compliment a comprehensive and informed offer, I believe it’s crucial to fully support the aspiration of all staff who express a desire to progress in their career. Here’s our continuum of professional development which not only outlines the wealth of opportunities, but also has a clear focus on aspiring leadership:
“Create a culture of professional ambition through high quality professional development and whole school leadership opportunities“
A thought to leave you with….
What if your school (and hopefully it already does) creates a culture of professional development that is founded on these principles:
- Flexibility in directed time
- Demand fed, teacher led sessions
- Supports career aspiration
- Rooted in classroom practice
- Research rich and evidence based
- Prioritises teaching and learning
Would it be a different place to what it is now?Follow @gary_s_king