“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” – Aristotle
This is a series of blogs- with good intention to reach completion- that look to consider the way in which we approach professional development: the thought, the implementation and delivery, with thoughts around how we might begin to reflect and move forwards to continual improvement of the process. We are on somewhat of a CPD precipice, if you will. The last twelve months has seen an influx of training events, a CPD provision like never before and due to the nature of education, our CPD offer now transcends both the confines of a school or organised event, but reaches around to podcasts, reading, research studies, with a strong presence than ever before from key organisations, whose sole purpose and intention is to improve the quality of teaching across the sector. CPD is becoming more bespoke than ever: from nationally recognised pathways with perhaps a more formal sense of sequence, through to localised strategic plans, and where professional development measures are shifting in teaching, professional development provision must follow suit to ensure that staff are supported on their continual journey of improvement. It is hugely pleasing to see that as we shift further away from parachuting one-offs and quick fix training sessions, and understand the importance of timing, sequence and impact, but also ownership, that our attention is turned to a consideration of what that might look like.
What have we learned about the principles of effective CPD? If you speak to any teacher, they will be able to quickly recall a CPD horror tale from the past. What was it that made it poor? I think in order to start with unpacking this question, we may want to not just think about the common pitfalls, but why they may have occurred. Learning from legacy structures is paramount to moving forward, and as David Weston outlined in his recent BrewEd,
‘It needs the teacher to understands how the development happens… to unpick and translate…. And we try to unpick exactly how they got there, what happened and the mistakes… what central teams need to do is create the environment where different bits of thinking is unpicked.’David Weston, BrewEdClee
In that vein, perhaps the lessons we have learned might be more about the way we think of how we undertake CPD, as opposed to the what of CPD itself. As a start point, it seems to make sense for us to try and define what the purpose of effective CPD might be for the individual teacher, and how we can build on that as a series of ingredients for success.
For the role of the individual leading CPD, there will be some core questions that led their thinking, including:
- what is the key, explicit focus of this professional development? Is this clear at the planning and entry point to delegates? Is it as narrow as possible, so that the delegate’s attention is led by a thread that runs throughout the entire session or programme as a whole?
- where does this CPD draw from a bank of informed theory to aid our thinking?
- where does this CPD convey these key messages with a critical, yet inclusive voice as much as possible?
- where does this CPD move from the abstract theory to the concrete context of the classroom? Where does it move quickly from genericism to context or subject specificity?
- What will delegates take away and when will they return to it in the future?
CPD design and delivery has the very best of intent, but when we draw too much or too little from the aspects mentioned above, here is where we stray into CPD that has well meant purpose, but doesn’t always have the desired impact. CPD that fills the room with theory and evidence, but without the tangible qualities of how to drill down into what it looks like for the teacher working with students or other professionals, then it may quickly lose the footprint that we might hope effective training to leave over the coming days, months, or even years during that teacher’s professional journey.
Whilst it is important that we think about how we want delegates to feel, this wants to come from a good place- not just in sentiment, but with genuine care to improving their practice. Why is it important to move away from soundbites, rhetoric or awe-inspiring language in our delivery of CPD? Surely, this is integral to the way in which we leave delegates feeling about their practice? Not necessarily, because we all know how much more meaningful this sentiment can be when it is grounded in a clear set of guidance for what will improve what we do on a day to day basis. Sweeping statements of good intent fail to sustain when it comes to improving the quality of something as complex as the role of the teacher, because they are led by abstract language of ambiguity, as opposed to drawing out the vital, critical thinking that will help teacher not only to get better in their roles, but to think better. And it is this deliberate effort to think better that I will continue to draw back to over future posts.
From the delegate’s perspective, it is worth thinking on why they have chosen to complete to this particular aspect of CPD first of all. It may be part of a whole-school directive, in keeping with the school’s journey, or it might be that this is an area of their practice that has been identified by them, or their line manager as one to attend to. It might be because it looks interesting. It may be because it’s convenient. It may in fact be that their motivations do not spring from such points, but I would argue that on the other side of the table as it were, we may want to think about whether we are attending to our own CPD with the same sense of genuine intent. And whilst we may be drawn to the CPD that will simply feed our own confirmation bias, perhaps we should be seeking out not only what it relevant for that time, but what will serve to provide just the right amount of professional challenge.
Some questions that we may want to ask of our professional development journeys may be:
- what key aspect of my practice will this aim to address?
- does this CPD draw from a bank of informed theory, but with a blend of tangible, subject specific ways that I might consider to implement and trial within my own classroom or role?
- does this CPD provide such information with a critical, yet inclusive voice? Does it deal in absolutes and state truth as fact, or does it draw me in to think harder about where I might build upon what already works for me?
- What will I take away and when will I return to it in the future?
- How will I evaluate that this was a meaningful addition to the CPD I undertake?
In our bid to dissect effective CPD, perhaps it is of equal importance to determine what aspect of school operations the CPD seeks to address, but then how we set about designing a model that takes into account several key elements required for meaningful implementation and change: the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ are intertwined, but play different roles entirely at the point of design. Thinking harder about how we plot out both of these will enable us to move further and further away as both individuals and a profession from the scattergun approach of all and many, and move us to a more deliberate, selective process which holds merit in quality, criticality and a sense of care for longevity of the product.
At a macro level, there might be a sense of sequence and progression in CPD, as we would hope for our own school curriculum; decisions are made, much as we have seen for the Early Career Framework, around what must follow what. Equally, these choices may also actively seeking to build psychological safety within a school community, building in well placed discussions that encourage relational trust and respectful discourse of what might work less, and what might be worth further exploration. This shift then looks closer at the model of the EEF implementation framework as a model for our own self-improvement, in favour of looking to evidence, deliberate practice of the process, and a process of professional evaluation to move ourselves forward along a continuum of career-long improvement.
Perhaps the first steps to this are to consider the problem that we look to solve through CPD, and to what extent the current design or substance seeks to address that. Over the next few blogs posts, I will explore the various different thinking points that someone leading on CPD, or even just someone engaging with CPD might want to think about as they piece together meaningful ways to invest in professional development.