Dilemma

2nd October 2009 at 01:00
I've just been put in charge of continuing professional development at our school. How can I ensure everything I do makes an impact in the classroom?

Research has revealed a number of different approaches and attitudes towards CPD to be effective. For CPD to be successful, activities should be planned and assessed with explicit results in mind. What's more, CPD should take place within a positive and supportive culture.

CPD should not be a random assortment of pick-and-mix training activities. Nor should it revolve entirely around the wants or whims of the individual. Instead, schools should take a holistic approach, tying CPD to school improvement, performance management and pupil outcomes.

One option is to consider what you want to achieve and work backwards. This might be: better results in maths, more effective use of PPA time, or an increase in staff retention. Choose development activities that fit in with your aims and map the progress you want to see after each session. Working together with staff, you should ensure that every CPD activity is tied to a quantifiable goal.

Concrete and consistent aims will help drive school improvement and prevent one of the most common complaints about CPD: that it is little more than ticking boxes.

Having a goal in mind will also enable you to assess the quality of your CPD. Keep track of results and feedback from participants. Be ruthless. If a course is not working, drop it and let the provider know.

Connecting CPD to outcomes will make for a more professional experience. But for CPD to be really successful it has to take place in the right atmosphere. According to the Training and Development Agency for Schools, a CPD leader should promote a culture that celebrates staff learning, and encourages colleagues to share their knowledge with others.

Some schools have a positive, progressive and collective culture of professional development. For others this might feel about as realistic as a daydream world where pupils behave like angels and parents never complain. But the right culture is vital to successful CPD, even if achieving it won't be easy.

Schools have run informal CPD workshops, devolved CPD management to individual teams, moved all CPD in-house, based CPD on personal learning programmes, published individual CPD activities on the staffroom wall and mapped CPD activities against professional standards. You could try any of these approaches.

David Roche, an ex-headteacher, school improvement partner and education consultant, recommends developing a whole-school approach to CPD. "Think about all levels of staff. All too often NQTs along with middle and senior leaders are targeted and other staff are left out," he says. Mr Roche also recommends CPD inductions for all staff new to the school, teaching and support staff, no matter the role or level of experience.

It is encouraging that your school continues to invest in promoting CPD. As Mr Roche points out: "In the current climate of reduced teaching cover, it might be tempting to reduce staff development. I have come across schools that have done this. It's a grave mistake."

Finally, think of your school as a learning community that includes pupils, teachers and support staff. Try thinking about CPD in the same way you would look at pupils' development and you won't go far wrong.

Joe Blair, specialist researcher in staffing issues at The Key, an independent service that supports school leaders. If you have a dilemma for one of our experts, email features@tes.co.uk.

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