Professional development: some thoughts on practical implementation

I wrote a blog sharing my thoughts around professional development and performance management here and promised a follow-up that would outline where I am up to so far with regards to my thinking, but also what might be useful to think about when rethinking performance management in your own setting.

What are we trying to achieve with professional development or performance management?

Professional development and performance management are often discussed as two seperate entities, when in fact the one could not be more integral to the other. If we revisit the key ideas that underpin what we set out to achieve as a result of performance management, this may help to unpack some of the rationale behind the close relationship between these two processes. Both collectively as a school, and individually as staff, we hope that performance managment will:

  • acknowledge the individual’s development as a practitioner within the classroom or lead over a strategy or aspect of school life
  • acknowledge the way in which this has had an impact upon learning, not performance
  • acknowledge the way in which this contributes to the collective pursuit of the school improvement plan as a whole

Historically, these key objectives may have been hindered by the way in which a system is designed so that instead of conveying the importance of the journey rather than the outcome, or instead of reinforcing the message that accomplishment will predominantly be seen in the student experience, as opposed to the student outcome- which the previous post touched upon- it means that we may have developed misconceptions of performance management as:

  • a reward for completion as opposed to development- one can master all areas of their teaching, both pedagogy and subject knowledge and there is an endpoint to this process
  • performance of the teacher is perceived predominantly through the grades of students
  • professional development is in alignment with the school improvement plan, perhaps at the detriment of individual development

It is key that we acknowledge that such tensions exist, between several of the factors mentioned here; ignoring them doesn’t remedy the fact that any policy or process to develop staff will struggle to meet all objectives at play. Appraisal should act to find a balance between the individual and collective pursuit; appraisal should act to communicate the work in the process, not the outcome. The outcome is a consequence of the process. Appraisal should set the tone that, with the abundance of knowledge that we have in regards to teacher mastery, and the advantages, but also complexities that come with moving from novice to expert, we should look to continue to get better, with an astute focus upon where are already experience success, and building upon that- with a candid acknowledgement that we will never be, individually or collectively, a master of what we do. There are too many variables to teaching: in cohort, in subject fluidity, in context (as this year is definitive proof!).

Therefore, what can we do that accepts that we are attempting to measure the immeasurable, and instead, find a system that rewards reflection and refinement, seeks to develop these as catalysts for incremental change within our roles or within the classroom, and perhaps most significantly, hand autonomy over to the teacher to do so, so that this process is ‘done with, not done to’?

What considerations may we want to start with, pre-implementation?

The implementation of such an approach is as paramount to the process itself: as with any policy change that will impact staff across school. it is important to start by reviewing the current system, and staff perception of its success as well as where it may be refined. This may be through working party discussion or surveys or a combination of both, but this will prove useful, not only for making imporvements but also to outline a rationale behind such improvements.

The other caveat to establishing a process for professional development, or indeed any process, is that it must be communicated as the priority, both explicitly through staff meetings, communications and reiterations, but also implicitly though the allocation of time that is dedicated for its completion. If appraisal discussions are hurried affairs at the end of the year, squeezed in between data discussions or as an add on without the protected time that it requires, then it becomes yet another thing.

A final thought here, is to prepare for the movement of change response: change in policy or strategy will always come with objections (which I will talk about in a third blog) challenges and teething problems. This is inevitable- you cannot embark upon policy modification without these as a natural consequence. By expecting them, but by also being receptive and open to understanding issues as they are raised, this helps towards evaluation of the process further down the line. I wrote a little about objective rebellion here and I would argue that any feedback is incredibly valuable when looking at policy that impacts people as much as PM does.

What can we do instead of measuring performance?

Instead of objectives and data-driven targets, staff create self-made goals at the start of the year. These are linked either to a subject knowledge gap that the member of staff has identified, an aspect of their pedagogy that they wish to explore further, or if leading a subject or focus, a goal linked to an element of that role. Staff should look to form one or two goals, which seek to both challenge them, but also bring them on within the classroom, or within the role they undertake in schools. All staff are involved within the same professional development policy- both teaching and non-teaching. This deliberate lack of differentiation in policy is to again, reiterate that development is a continual process, but also because historically, non-teaching staff can sometimes feel that training or professional development is not applicable to them. The self- driven formation of goals means that right from the offset, coaching conversations that will take place are free from both directive, but also provide a place that will hopefully feel equally accountable, but in a more empowering way for the individual- they identify the current issue, they set the goal, they define what success would look like to move forwards.

Staff are trained as coaches to undertake their role to coach a member of staff for the year. This enables several minor shifts: conversations are driven by the teacher, as opposed to the appraiser, who now asserts a role of coach; their role is to guide with a level of flexiblity to establish that goals are narrow in focus, but also to ensure that the onus, autonomy and ownership rests with the member of staff. The teacher forms goals, with an emphasis placed upon the process and not the expectation of completion: we work to consider what we need to know to establish mastery of that particular goal, and what we might want to undertake to take us closer to that point, but with an emphasis on engagement over completion.

The member of staff works with their coach to establish an initial set of actions that they will seek to complete between their initial meeting, and when they re-convene in January. During this time, teachers use the reflection statement as a fluid document, considering how they have engaged with the goals set: any applicable reading and the impact they may have had; observing teachers or discussions that enabled them to make refinements; CPD that they may have made a key focus for that term.

Over the course of the year, coaches and staff meet during protected time to share their engagement with the goals set: coaches can help to gauge if goals need to be refined or in fact, the member of staff may find that as their role or context changes, that their goals do so as well. Coaches also experience a layer of healthy accountability – as a coach, they assume to signpost the individual to other members of staff, particular reading, or resources that may aid their work over the year. At the end of the year in June coaching meetings, staff present their completed reflection statement with a conversation with their coach around how the work they have undertaken has had an impact upon their practice or role. The coach signs off their completion, the statement is submitted with a view that we can then award pay profession approvals for September payday. Again, there are multiple factors that feed into this rationale: one, it removes the danger of reverting to exam data and results day as a key indicator of success; two, it eradicates the time lapse that schools seem to suffer in the appraisal loop. Appraisals in October, pay reward at Christmas, with one eye on the year ahead does not form an approach to appraising which has focus, timely evaluation or acknowledges the calendar of a school. Not only does the movement ensure we focus on the main thing, at the right time, but we are implicitly communicating that pay is important, and back pay implies a failure in the system, not the typical way that we should work.

How can professional development support professional management?

Staff goals should be informed by staff need: they look to their own gaps and then work to remedy them through reflective practice. To enable staff to be able to set goals that are achievable, in-house CPD must seek to work in alignment to staff needs, as well as the collective needs of the school in relation to its current journey. However, I would argue here that if the staff are continuing to address developmental aspects of their practice, often the school journey and the staff journey are synchronous: if we look to areas to address, rather than data, we not only move culture forwards, but we also find a far more accurate way of alignment whole-school priorities, because they are staff priorities. For instance, if whole- school curriculum was a whole school focus, it would be because it is a need identified through staff development conversations.

Subsequently, professional development opportunities should be bespoke to the needs of the staff, which in turn feeds the needs of the school. In addition to the usual National CPD pathways- NPQ, MA- we have a CPD programme which covers a range of pedagogy in the classroom, which staff can choose to to opt to attend.

After a significant time spent on whole- school and subject curriculum review, a key focus this year is to continue to develop as subject experts and so, with this in mind, subject areas have an increased capacity for faculty time and an additional protected proportion of training time to curate a subject- specific CPD programme for their teams. Some subjects select to provide a range of external experts in the field, however some use the time for members of their departments to deliver a selection of sessions; some subjects draw from the expertise of local subject associations, subject teachers in other schools or HE. This provides professional development which brings on subject- specific expertise, an aspect of CPD that is so valued and yet often overlooked, but beyond that, it enables staff to showcase their own experience and knowledge, providing the space and time to share that with colleagues.

Once programmes are drawn up for each subject, these are then shared via our school online platform so that other subjects can see the offer outside of their own specialism, which enables subjects to visit sessions which may be applicable to their own curriculum offer, or for the primary phase to explore a particular aspect of a subject in the secondary phase to develop their knowledge further.

The provision of professional development is the most exciting part, in my opinion! It means we can give staff a range of ways in which to explore and refine their knowledge. Current restrictions mean there are limitations to how people can see classroom practice of others, or role shadowing, for example. However, online offers of CPD, or blogs and think pieces; research synthesis or live professional development sessions which strengthen local subject communities; all these enhance and make room for vital conversations for teachers and staff, where without judgement, they can discuss the details and complexities of their subject or sector.

In the final blog, I will address several objections and how I will look to evaluate the process of professional development. I will also share the importance of a CPD curriculum (thank you to the Ensers for their insights here, and Richard McDonald) and how plotting a timeline of professional development can be useful when considering pedagogical improvement in schools. Please do throw your objections/ challenges my way, so I can look to cover them in addition to my existing list.

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