CPD Series: what makes CPD good CPD?

“You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too. And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird

This is part two of a series of blogs which I endeavour to complete, that aim to walk through my thoughts on CPD: quality, efficacy, micro and micro intention and execution, and how we might begin to explore this in more detail in our own school settings. The first in the series, Coming from a place of good intent can be found here.

In this post, I would like to consider what it is that we expect of CPD: how we might, at a micro level, consider what success looks like when we undertake CPD in schools, proposing some key principles that we might circle back to when putting CPD together. In this post, whilst some of these principles might apply to a more independent undertaking around professional development (indeed, I talk about this here in slightly more detail), this post focuses on a facilitated, delivered CPD session- whether online, or in-person. Much of the ideas outlined draw from what we know about the process of how we learn, but also how we deliver as teachers- as it should, I believe- and this is where I would like to open as a standpoint.

CPD is like a lesson. In the same way that we seek to draw student attention to the task at hand, give the abstract and theoretical a tangible and concrete form, we would expect the same for ourselves. As we would hand over knowledge for students to grasp, tussle with and reinterpret in a way that makes sense to them, this is where CPD seeks to do the same. And yet, historically, there might be some tension around this viewpoint.

The distorted indication that it might be somewhat patronising to assume, demand even, an active participant for CPD, or that it is polite to be satisfied with a passive, somewhat fatigued audience that sit quietly, appeasing a PowerPoint slide before taking a handout to put into the top draw of their desk never to look at again. I think we’ve set our bar a little low in that respect and much of that narrative is CPD of the past, as opposed to what we know works for us as individuals, what is available for us, and what causes us to encounter challenge. And yet, I would argue that the hypothetical still exists within our schools: CPD without engagement, self-accountability or a concerted effort to make big ideas and pithy soundbites into tangible, usable strategy that will lead to sustainable improvement.

Why have we ended up with such a budget-priced offer for our journey of development, either as individuals or as a collegiate? If I wanted to make tentative assumptions, there are a few to hand. The constraint of time in schools, where we may not work with a clear projection as much as we would like to be in a position to create a long-term sequence for where best to support staff; budget restrictions (although I will argue in a later post that this is again a distortion); the conclusion that all you need to deliver CPD is a little knowledge, when the process is not only weighted by an understanding of the foci, but a pedagogical understanding of how people learn, cemented with a psychological understanding of what leads people to want to learn.

And so, if we know all of the horror stories of the past, what are the leading principles of CPD? This question is pretty vast, and later posts will attempt to look at a more strategic lens around what we might want to think further on the contributing factors we might wish to consider in respect of both quality for professional development, but also a due diligence of care. To start with a snapshot, I would like to pull from the three strands of foci understanding, pedagogical understanding and psychological understanding to tease out how a singular CPD session might be structured in such a way that would not only prove useful to the individual who attends, but forms a component that acts as part of a pathway, utilising the necessary think time beforehand, whilst fostering a sense of continued curiosity once complete. What does an effective episode of CPD look like in isolation?

To determine what we hope teachers to gain from CPD, it would help for us to establish what defines an expert teacher, and how CPD can aid this journey of development from novice to expert. Hattie outlines a set of criteria for expert teachers, including being able to ‘identify essential representations of their subject’ (Hattie, 2003): teachers need to be able to align pedagogical knowledge with the knowledge of their subject to begin to create hypothetical ideas of how what is being learned will be actualised within the classroom. Additionally, McCrea asserts that mental models are imperative to teacher development:

They are a powerful way of thinking about expertise, and teacher development in particular, because they sit at the start of the causal chain of teacher effects. Knowledge guides action which influences impact.

Mental models contribute to our ongoing move from novice, and the inflexible nature of teaching as a novice, to more flexible, fluid practice, where we begin to move towards a level of automaticity in what we do within the classroom, and how we make decisions in a snapshot in regard to student learning (Berliner, 2004).

Finally, it would be useful to pull from Kraft and Papay: teachers must be, ‘ able to collaborate to refine their
teaching practices and work together to solve problems in the school,’ as part of a supportive and flourishing professional environment for development (Kraft and Papay, 2014). Teachers should be in a position to collaborate during professional development, but with a view that these conversations continue and ultimately, become part of our professional culture as a natural consequence. Drawing from these key readings, I propose that we may look at a standalone episode of CPD at a local level with this structure:

Distilled rationale of thought

Are the intentions clear? Was pre reading provided as a springboard for discussion? Does the person delivering provide an overview, or a set of aims so that delegates have clarity of what they should hope to gain or take away from the session itself?

A critical, yet inclusive synthesis of the research or theory

Does this CPD set the tone for a critical consideration of research of evidence to draw upon? Is there language present that avoids an over-reliance on the use of rhetoric or do-nots, and instead, invites delegates into an insight of the relevant research available, with e tentative of possibly, maybe, perhaps, so that we feel as though this may be an interesting line of enquiry to take around an aspect of our practice or role? Is the research well-grounded and do we feel that the individual has a sense of credibility to be able to reconstruct the research in a way that a novice will feel is straightforward, but not distorted or diluted? How can we ascertain this?

An intentional effort to tackle misconceptions

In a low stakes environment, where delegates feel a sense of psychological safety to explore such matters, does this CPD front load with where, as a profession, we might have misconceived or distorted this aspect of our practice in the past? Without fingers of blame, do we seek to unpack where education might have gone awry and set out a clear definition of what we understand this point of exploration to mean? If we attend a session exploring fully guided instruction for instance, do we draw from Clark, Kirschner and Sweller to agree a common definition, but also to expose limitations of discovery learning that is still respectful to those that applied it?

A rapid move from the abstract to the tangible

Do we ensure that once the headlines of theoretical are established, that we consider how this looks for the teacher in the context of the classroom? What analogies do we use to bridge between the complex and the practical? Tangibility should be subject specific and phase specific, with deliberate and thoughtful care to high quality, tried and tested examples that provide a framework for further thought. The delegate should seek not to just ‘lift and drop’ such examples into their practice, but be able to use such examples as a stimulus for discussion around to what extent they enable teachers to make the research or evidence of a principle applicable to a classroom experience.

The opportunity to share mental models of what this would look like

Discussion is a core component of CPD, as it would be for any classroom, because it enable the person delivering to take the temperature of what has been noticed, considered, but also to foster the essential discussions of making use of what has been learned or explored. Opportunities for these discussions to take place during or immediately following CPD increase the time and scope to again, have discussions around the idea of experimentation without the concerns around failure, or accountability, because these conversations are merely tossing around the possibilities, the hypotheticals. Depending upon the nature of CPD focus, this is where subject specificity is key: it enables the individual leading the CPD to share working examples which they have either created, or been talked through by subject experts before hand in incredible detail, so that they are able to contextualise these examples for subject teachers to get a firm grasp of how this strategy or approach might look in their subject. They allow us to mentally rehearse through what this change to our practice or beliefs might look like: to actualise whether it may be plausible or possible, successful even.

The continuity of deliberate discourse and further exploration.

In addition, moving teachers from a passive standpoint within CPD to more deliberate practice is an imperative to us being able to continually reflect, adjust and improve. Fletcher-Wood marks that Classroom judgements are irrevocable: deliberate practice allows us to stop the clock and refine them…..it is hard to learn from past decisions,’ whereas to practice something in the moment, before even the stage of implementation, with others who are invested and interested and curious can be incredible powerful. This structured, more deliberate way of leading a discussion means trialling, creating or designing how an element of our practice might look in the classroom, in real-time with the other delegates. This enables us to pause the busyness of teaching to look at how this refinement may just seek to improve it. Deliberate practice within CPD also increases the likelihood of experimentation : armed with a series of rehearsed moments or micro scripts, supported by discussions of how it might look with other teachers, underpinned by the credibility of theory, means that instead of feeling as though this is just another string to add to our ever-increasing bows.

Return to, reflect, revisit

Finally, where and when will delegates have the opportunity to discuss this outside of the inevitable time constraints of the CPD session itself? More importantly perhaps, when will teachers have the opportunity to share with other subject-specific colleagues, their mentor or coach possibly, not just immediately after the course, but also at a later point as they track the implementation and findings of any such change they may wish to trial? It may be that the session have provided food for thought that they wish to read a piece which is manageable yet provides an alterative perspective of the topic covered. Certainly, it is worth consideration as to when that revisit will take place, with who, and in what context or with what tools to evaluate so that these conversations are productive and useful to encouraging long-term change.

This set of principles moves us further away from the passivity of CPD as a spectator sport, and instead, understands that there is a responsibility and consideration to the needs of the audience, the authenticity of relevant subjects, but also the need for CPD to have a sense of quality and longevity in the way that it serves the profession as a whole.


Hattie, J. (2003). Teachers Make a Difference, What is the research evidence?

McCrea, P. (2018). Expert Teaching: What is it, and how might we develop it? Version 1.4, Institute for Teaching

Berliner, D. C. (2004). Describing the behavior and documenting the accomplishments of expert teachers. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society24(3), 200-212.

Kraft MA, Papay JP. Can Professional Environments in Schools Promote Teacher Development? Explaining Heterogeneity in Returns to Teaching Experience. Educational Effectiveness and Policy Analysis [Internet]. 2014;36 (4) :476-500.

Clark, R. E., Kirschner, P. A., & Sweller, J. (2012). Putting Students on the Path to Learning: The Case for Fully Guided Instruction. American Educator36(1), 6-11.

Fletcher-Wood, H., (2019), Deliberate Practice: Improving Teacher Decision Making , accessed at https://improvingteaching.co.uk/2019/03/10/deliberate-practice-improving-teacher-decision-making/


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