CPD should be a collective process

23rd July 2010 at 01:00
Continuing professional development is an important dimension in the current review of teacher education. But if it is to be effective, we must learn lessons from the past.

Approaches to CPD have tended to consist of relatively ineffective brief and single events, management commitment to it has been patchy and they have often been highly-directive sessions involving lecturing to teachers, which is comparatively futile.

Some improvements have taken place over the years. There is more teacher- centred CPD, a stronger focus on teachers working together is evident and it is not always just the one teacher from a school who attends external CPD events (as one commentator observed: "Single Indians get scalped when they return to the reservation").

So what lessons does this suggest for the future? CPD should be primarily, although not exclusively, a continuous process of school-based activity, focused on collective analysis and on action by communities of teachers: whole-school communities, departmental or faculty-based communities, phase-based communities (for example, early years) or inter-school communities.

The role of external consultants, external conferences and external award- bearing courses, while important as a useful stimulus, should be a second- order activity - on tap, but not on top.

CPD activities should be central to, generated from and anchored to the process of school improvement.

While all teachers should have a responsibility for, and accept a role in, improving their own learning and for assisting the learning of their colleagues, there should be teachers who additionally have specific mentoring and training responsibilities for their colleagues as part of their wider school role. The 1,000 or so chartered teachers are one possible source of such mentors.

These school-based mentors should be supplemented and supported from a national register of "critical friends", maintained by the CPD Scotland Team. That team should also organise national events to develop and support those who will work as school mentors and trainers.

The central aims would be to build within schools a CPD capacity which is generic rather than specific and embedded in a collaborative approach to school development.

But, if CPD is to be collaborative and assessment non-threatening, this makes the current discussions about proposed teacher re-registration or "re-accreditation" with the General Teaching Council for Scotland complex and problematic. Were large numbers of Scottish teachers to be bound up in procedures that were i) compulsory; ii) focused on the individual; and iii) centred on pre-defined classroom competences, then it is indeed difficult to see how one could achieve collective buy-in to approaches to CPD.

The implementation of Curriculum for Excellence would benefit from a focused, managed and resourced approach to whole-school planning and from CPD that revolves around collegiate structures and processes. A curriculum which was centrally imposed would be a contradiction in terms. But neither should CfE rely on the solo efforts of individual teachers.

Scottish education has somehow historically managed to have had simultaneous traditions both of central direction and of individual classroom autonomy. Creating a new middle way based on a collegiate tradition poses some challenges.

Iain Smith was formerly dean of education at Strathclyde University. This is a condensed version of his evidence to the inquiry on teacher education.

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