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The Knowledge: Making professional development stick

Aside from being a statutory obligation, teachers should see continued professional development (CPD) as an integral (and integrated) component of their role.

A recent Teacher Tapp report showed that teachers are keen for quality CPD; unfortunately, interest does not automatically translate to success. Teachers and school leaders need to think strategically when planning CPD. What then are the considerations that should be taken into account?

Purposeful learning

As with so much in education, a driving consideration for planning CPD is purpose.

Of course, the purpose of some CPD will be necessary training, like safeguarding and school policies. But while these are important workplace training sessions, we consider them a different category from professional development to improve student outcomes.

The latter is the kind of professional development that actually develops teacher expertise, and fortunately we know what the ‘best bets’ are for teachers to dedicate their precious time on to that effect.

The research base provides insight into how to allocate this time strategically. Our colleagues’ Great Teaching Toolkit: Evidence review, for example, summarises the existing research and offers a research-informed curriculum for CPD in the form of the ‘Model for Great Teaching’. It offers a summary of the things on which teachers should develop their expertise.

On beyond twilight

Having selected a purpose, the next natural step is to plan the CPD’s format.

Our colleague, Rob Coe has written about using CPD time strategically. It is, after all, probably one of the most limited resources in our field.

It’s easy to just rely on twilight sessions or hearing from experts on specific techniques. However, the reality is that the choices are much more vast, as show in a recent systematic review of professional learning for primary and secondary school teachers.

CPD is not uniform. Training sessions may be the most common, but teaching observation, coaching and mentoring, and professional learning communities are also effective.

The key is to match the format to the aims, the resources available, and the staff most likely to benefit. In other words, the question of how CPD takes places is just as crucial as what it is about.

Bang for your buck

The aforementioned systematic review also showed that training courses, collaborative professional development and ongoing coaching are beneficial for students’ learning. So the evidence suggests that some forms of CPD may be more effective than others, at least in some contexts.

And while matching form and content matters, there is another dimension to the ‘how’ of CPD that also appears to make a substantial difference.

A recent study highlighted that science teachers’ professional development which lasted over multiple years was more effective for their pupils’ achievement scores.

Importantly, the training in this study focused not just on teachers’ learning for its own sake, but also the final effect on student learning itself.

Therefore, both the form and the duration of the professional development are important considerations when selecting the ‘how’ of CPD. Likewise, a consistent focus on impact appears to be crucial.  

Ultimately, we know that CPD is essential. Arguably, it should be seen as one of the most important activities a teacher undertakes, though it is often the one afforded the least time and resource.

Research shows us that when planning a programme of CPD (whether for a school or one’s own), it is crucial to consider both the what and how of any development activity. It also gives us some useful best bets to get from intent to impact.

Given schools’ stretched resources, our duty to our students dictates we use them strategically.

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