Teaching isn't easy, and getting better at it isn't a matter of trial and error. Whether you're newly qualified, in your first three, 10 or 20 years; a head or teaching assistant; and whether you're superb or struggling, your continued professional development is vital in improving the quality of teaching and learning in schools.
The Government wants to see more of it too. The five-year strategy for children and learners plans to boost demand for coaching and other forms of CPD by turning teacher appraisals into teaching and learning reviews. The idea is to make sure teachers receive the development that matches their needs and that career progression and financial rewards go to those who are continually building on their own expertise.
This "new professionalism" isn't new, but an expectation from the word go.
One of the standards for qualified teacher status is that people are "able to take increasing responsibility for their own professional development".
To cross the threshold, people must take "responsibility for their professional development and use the outcomes to improve their teaching and pupils' learning, and make an active contribution to the policies and aspirations of the school".
All schools have to meet their staff's development needs and there should be money and resources available. As Professor Peter Earley of the London Centre for Leadership in Learning says: "Good teachers make good schools, but, when it comes to CPD, we all know that it works the other way round: good schools make good teachers."
Schools have a statutory duty to set aside five days for continuing professional development and to give newly qualified teachers induction, but the reality is patchy. Some newly qualified teachers have fantastic experiences and couldn't want for better support, but in 2002, research found that a quarter of new teachers weren't getting their whole entitlement - and it may be worse now.
Some schools' provision is excellent, but in others money gets spent elsewhere because there isn't any requirement to ring-fence CPD budgets.
Ask your head how much money is available and how it's allocated.
Identifying your needs is important because it isn't that easy. Ralph Tabberer, chief executive of the Training and Development Agency for schools, says: "There is insufficient time invested in analysing the knowledge and skills that individuals could use to strengthen their teaching."
Money and time are precious resources that need to be spent well, so make sure they have an impact - and plan what that will be from the start. There is a huge range of opportunities - more than before - and it's hard to keep up to date with what's available. The DfES has developed an electronic portfolio for teachers' career planning called "keeping track", which is a start.
It's great if you can find someone to talk things over with, someone who knows your work and has seen you teach, someone to bounce ideas off, who can help you focus and who can give you more ideas. It's ideal if someone in your school can take the role, but sometimes an outsider is useful too.
Once you've chosen the area you want to develop, decide how you're going to do it. What budget or time allocation do you have? Whatever there is, it's unlikely to be a fortune so spend it well for maximum impact. Choose something that's going to work for you within your timescale.
Most people learn best when they want to learn and when there are continuing opportunities to ask questions, investigate, reflect, apply and share knowledge in real-life contexts. One of the problems with much continuing professional development, or training, is that it is seen as an end in itself - you just "do" it. That's why so much has so little impact.
Be creative in selecting the activity that will get you nearest your goal.
The range of professional development activities is huge: it's not just about courses. What about observing others, being observed, reading, watching Teachers' TV, talking to someone? Look around your school - there's often someone you can learn from so ask if they can be taken off lessons to work with you. Advanced skills teachers are ready and waiting to be used in this way, but so are lots of teachers.
Whatever you do, make sure it makes a difference - that you get better.
* 16 useful CPD tips, page 15
Techer Training Agency: www.teachernet.gov.ukTeachers' TV: www.teachers.tvSara Bubb (firstname.lastname@example.org) helps teachers with their professional development. She has written Insider's Guide to Early Professional Development (TESRoutledge pound;12.99) and Leading and Managing Continuing Professional Development (with Peter Earley, published by SagePaul Chapman, pound;19.99)