Jon Severs

Brow-beating teachers doesn't help CPD

Most schools take CPD seriously, yet some teachers are still being subjected to humiliating and demoralising behaviour from those who are supposed to be helping them learn the ropes

Teacher CPD: The key to developing better teachers isn't just better training, writes Jon Severs

Professional development in journalism can feel a little brutal. In my first job, I got up to speed on headline writing by being routinely looked at as if I were a moron every time I filed a page. Later, one manager improved my grammar by glowing red with rage and laughing maniacally at any misplaced punctuation. And my feature writing? I once rushed to WH Smith to buy a magazine I had written for, and then spent an hour and a half trying to work out if a single word was in the order I’d filed it (it wasn’t).

Things have definitely moved on, but “teaching” the skill of journalism and then helping someone hone that skill remains incredibly difficult. Partly, this is because there is a sense among those who “do” journalism well that you either have “it” or you don’t. Thus, professional development in this trade is often about icing the cake, not baking it.

On the face of it, teaching is very different. This is a profession that takes CPD incredibly seriously. It is a profession that puts aside time for training, that sets out training objectives in policy, that is full of people eager to learn, and that has spawned teacher-led movements all over the world that provide a vehicle for self-improvement.

What's the key to better teacher CPD?

It is a profession that not only tries to define what training for teachers should look like but then debates that definition in an interactive, open, detailed way. Our cover feature this week is part of that fascinating and enduring conversation.

And yet, talk to teachers individually and they will tell you tales akin to the “CPD” I experienced. They will regale you with stories of learning through humiliation, error and disappointment. They will tell you of those who left the profession as “they weren’t really cut out for it”. They will, no doubt, have had that manager who flew into a rage at the smallest indiscretion.

These experiences are not historical; they have not been swept away with the big broom of modern CPD. This is happening now in schools across the country.

We need to work out what to do with these moments. Undoubtedly, they are learning experiences, but they are not of a kind we would like to think had a place in teaching. Most would hope that such experiences could be eradicated. I would argue that, first, we need to understand what has led to them.

Such behaviour on the part of managers happens for two reasons: insecurity and lack of support. The first is simple enough: when we feel uncertain or not confident about our own performance, we are more critical of others. The second is more complex: a failure to support the development of those leading the training or in positions of responsibility, as well as to support their skill set to support others, leads to multiple problems: resentment, stress, missed opportunities and more.

Layered over the top is accountability. As marvellous as something like the Early Career Framework (ECF) is in theory, in reality, it is part of a shifting of responsibility for teacher retention on to schools. Many leaders are finding that there has not been the level of training needed for those delivering the ECF, nor has there been enough research into the motivations, skill set and status of that delivery group of teachers. Yet a failure to retain will now be seen as a failure of a school to train a teacher, not of external factors, such as pay and conditions.

Thus you have a heady mix of low support, low resource and high stakes. Behaviour like that outlined in my opening paragraph is a natural byproduct.

Owing to the work of researchers, we now know, with some confidence, what CPD should look like. But, if we really want to help teachers improve and stay in the classroom, we also need to look at everything that sits around those approaches.

@jon_severs

This article originally appeared in the 8 October 2021 issue under the headline “The key to developing better teachers isn’t just better training”

Other articles in this issue