I have always been aware of the importance of CPD for the retention of staff, yet at the same time, I know now that I have under-appreciated its significance in making teachers feel valued as professionals.
I was recently struck by how CPD has the capacity to re-energise and excite. A teacher I spoke to recently who, after some time away from the profession, had returned to teaching and was waxing lyrical about his school’s CPD programme.
It wasn’t by any means rocket science – it was simply that he felt that leaders were invested in his development and he was given the time and space to focus on one aspect of his practice. He felt that he was able to reflect on this with sensitivity to his subject and he could see the impact it was having on student learning in his classroom.
At the David Ross Education Trust, we take into accounts lots of considerations when organising a CPD calendar. Below are our top eight dos and don’ts:
1. Don't be rushed
It is important that you dedicate as much time as you can to an individual topic or programme.
The Teacher Development Trust’s Developing Great Teaching paper states that “the most effective professional development lasted at least two terms”. This means that teachers can focus on developing a particular area of their practice.
Dedicating CPD time to a focused programme can increase the likelihood of lasting impact on teaching practice.
2. Don’t be restricted
It is a mistake to think that every session needs to be done in the main hall.
Teachers often just need protected time away from the typical day-to-day demands, so that reflection and discussion can take place.
3. Do encourage discussion
When planning, you should set aside time for teachers to discuss evidence with colleagues, as well as supporting the sessions with suggested further reading.
Empowering teachers with knowledge is central to treating teachers like professionals. It helps ensure they can recognise the strengths and limitations of any research and means they will be better placed to apply it with fidelity in their subject.
As Healy (2020) states: “If teaching a subject is a specialised activity, we must enable subject teachers to be able to draw on research in ways that are meaningful within the context of their subject.”
4. Do remember not all subjects are the same
As leaders, we must recognise the importance of subject distinctiveness. Subjects have their own traditions and forms of scholarship, and engagement with this can provide teachers with an important source of CPD.
Acknowledging and encouraging engagement with subject-specific CPD provides teachers with the time to undertake subject-focused professional learning. Without this time, we risk falling foul to genericism.
5. Don’t confuse practice and experience
Experience is what we gain by just doing something. Willingham in Why Don’t Students Like School (2009) notes that during our first five years of teaching, we improve our practice.
However, after 10 years this rate of improvement plateaus. This is not the place to discuss why this happens, but it does demonstrate the importance of practice.
6. Do allow time to practise
Any effective CPD plans must recognise the importance of practice and give teachers time to reflect and refine.
We cannot always practise something by tackling the whole thing. Instead, we might need to isolate a specific component – for example, focusing on practising live modelling of essay writing with one group of Year 9s, and then using CPD time to reflect and refine this before teaching a second group of Year 9s.
There might be a chance for this to be more powerful through collaboration, whereby you might co-plan the live modelling and observe each other teaching this part of the lesson. Working with peers can often help us critically reflect on the impact changes can have to student learning.
7. Do build in collaborative planning time
This allows guided modelling and discussions to take place, which helps teachers to refine their thinking with other subject specialists.
Team planning can also help develop a sense of shared purpose and reduce workload over time.
8. Don’t forget how long new things take
Many teachers have the knowledge and skills they need to plan a lesson automated.
If we are asking teachers to do something new and different, it is not automated so planning takes longer. Therefore, time for this needs to be built into the CPD programme.
Oliver Saunders is the director of teaching and learning (secondary) at the David Ross Education Trust