Traditional CPD lacks 'why' factor, claims academic

22nd March 2013 at 00:00
Practitioner enquiry is a 'way of being' that could be much more effective, she argues

Continuing professional development has failed to have the desired impact because it has focused on telling teachers "this is what you do", an academic has claimed.

Practitioner enquiry could succeed where traditional CPD has failed, provided it does not become another "hollow term" that is "bandied about", said Dr Gillian Robinson, of the Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh.

"What has been missing all along from professional development is the why - why are you doing that? We don't just need a 'tips for teachers' checklist, we need to deeply understand why," she told a recent Strengthening Professional Learning conference in Glasgow, organised by Education Scotland in conjunction with university schools of education, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Practitioner enquiry is about "understanding and deeply investigating learning", summed up Dr Robinson. It could just as easily be called teacher research, self-study, action research or professional enquiry, she said.

"Practitioner enquiry is about real life," Dr Robinson added. "It is an everyday process, it's not about an event or a course, it's a way of being."

Thus when Dr Robinson was asked to deliver CPD on reading at two Borders primary schools, sessions on how to teach reading were never on the agenda. Instead she helped staff to develop the skills to enhance their own practice.

The approach was welcomed by George Gilchrist, headteacher of the schools involved - Parkside and Ancrum primaries. It had become clear in recent years that the most effective CPD was not what people went off to do on their own, or what other people came in to deliver, but things that staff collaborated on, he told the same conference.

The appeal of the approach was its emphasis on self-evaluation, which under Curriculum for Excellence required staff to be able to say why they were doing something, and what the educational benefit was, he added.

His schools are now in their third year of developing practitioner enquiry. Mr Gilchrist said he had never seen a more powerful driver for change in more than 30 years in education.

His schools, which are four-and-a-half miles apart, took "toddler steps" at first, he continued.

With the improvement of reading the focus initially, the first year was spent "reading about reading" and engaging in professional dialogue about what was happening in the schools' classrooms, what was good and what needed to change.

In the second year, teachers homed in on an aspect of their teaching of language and investigated what was going on with a small group of up to half-a-dozen children, while Dr Robinson delivered sessions on how to collect and interpret data.

This year, staff are looking closely at an aspect of their teaching of maths; most have chosen problem solving. Ultimately they will present the focus of their enquiry on an A3 poster to their colleagues, explaining why they chose it; their reading around it; the teaching that took place; what they changed; the impact they saw as a result; and their next steps.

The introduction of professional enquiry has led to improvements to the school's achievement and attainment; teachers have been re-professionalised and are more confident; the implementation of CfE has become more manageable; and the learning experience for children has improved, Mr Gilchrist summed up.

Nevertheless, professional enquiry was a "Pandora's box"; one size does not fit all and "it's messy", he warned.

The speed of change also varied from one teacher to another, he concluded.

"Some were more on board than others, but everybody has moved on, so the experience of all the kids has improved but it has improved more in some classes."


CPD should not be an add-on for teachers but part of everyday life, says Kate Paton, who is behind a new Education Scotland micro-site that aims to help teachers move towards career-long professional learning.

"We're moving away from this idea of pushing CPD at people; rather it should be them pulling in the learning to meet their needs," Ms Paton, an Edinburgh head seconded to Education Scotland, told delegates.

The resource aims to help teachers self-evaluate, plan their professional learning, select activities and evaluate and gather evidence of impact.

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