Professional Development | CPD series: diagnosis, treat and return

This is the fourth blog post of a series where I have tried to explore and propose changes that we might make to whole-school CPD, to further develop the pre-planning, execution and evaluation of CPD that teachers access to improve their practice. Part three can be found here, which should take you on a Russian Doll-esque journey to the rest.

In this post, I want to consider how we deliberate over the foci of CPD as a profession, but also as an individual: how we look to ensure that what we do addresses a need, that undertaking that CPD then enables us to treat such a need once identified, and that we return to the ideas and principles of the original CPD once trialled or implemented so that we can begin to develop a sense of evaluative self regulation to our own improvement. In the journey from novice to expert, these is a crucial need to learn about guidance of what makes for effective evaluation, and I wonder to what extent we currently consider this particular aspect of our professional development.

As someone who delivers CPD within my own school, to other schools, or to Trusts and other organisations, this is something that I have become increasingly aware of: I want to ensure that I am delivering, to quote the first post of this series, from a place of good intent. Will the content that I deliver meet the context for the individuals who attend? The place that the school or organisation is currently at in regards to a journey? Beyond this though, how will these big ideas translate to and fit in with the already busy, multi-faceted demands placed upon a school’s trajectory journey, or a subject leader’s priorities, or the classroom teacher’s workload? I am also invested in the discourse that happens in the moment; the discourse in the immediate time following exploration of process or strategy, but more and more, what will happen now, next and further on. How will these conversations become a volume of conversations that take place in schools? How do we then use those conversations to become a series of manageable, incisive actions? When we will return to review them not just as an isolated incident, but to what extent they met the original problem identified?

Where we might currently falter, is where we fail to identify the need and CPD becomes a scattergun of well-intended, but unwieldy, unexecuted strategies that are never returned to. We might fail to turn the conversations into tangible steps that take us closer to improvement. Or, we might fail to look back on what we set out to achieve and this then prompts us to contemplate as to why staff resource, time and school funding was directed in the first place. There can sometimes be a misdefinition of what successful professional development should look like, and ‘false or exaggerated claims of success’ (Guskey, 2000) often result, not with ill-meant intent, but we want a tangible demonstrate of the fix. In short, we want to know that what we learn makes what we do in the classroom better.

Diagnose the need

Drawing from McKeown, ‘when we say yes to one thing, we say no to something else.’ Time in school is finite, and it is therefore critical that we spend it in the most suitable time for where we are at currently, but with an eye on how it contributes to the next stage of a process. To begin, we would wish to look at what staff need in regards to current developmental auditing, but also where that aligns with the expertise needed across the school, and additionally alongside the intended priorities of the school overall. Trying to triangulate these is perhaps the biggest complexity in the process but critical to a consideration that CPD programmes must be able to flex to meet the demands of these three separate entities.

Robinson asserts in her Best Evidence Summary with Hohepa and Lloyd:

School leaders’ strategic decisions concerning staffing and the provision of teaching resources
had a small indirect impact on student outcomes. The researcher emphasised the importance
of the term ‘strategic’ in this dimension. It was not the head teachers’ skill in bringing in funding
per se that was important, but rather the fact that the resources they secured were aligned with
pedagogical goals

This observation insists on drawing away form a top-down approach to CPD, not allocating funding for professional development in a way that suits the individuals that the system promises to service. This sense of undertaking an essential dialogue with subject teams, pastoral teams and operational aspects of the school such as data, administration, finance, HR to establish the simple question: what do staff need?

Specifically in regards to subject-level identification of need, this should be heavily aligned with expected work to take place around curriculum review: we cannot say ‘we teach challenges to the Catholic church in Year 8’ without the commitment to ensuring our teachers are well-equipped with the knowledge, experiences and the opportunity to share such experiences to then teach it. We can’t insist that ‘all our lessons have a focus on tier three vocabulary,’ if very few teachers have been given the time and scope to discuss what that means for their subject, and how they will collectively approach this in the classroom with Year 7 when teaching the analysis, or even ambitiously, the reinterpretation of Edward Munch and are then faced with the task of unpacking ‘reinterpretation.’ These macro-choices must be informed, and are impacted by the curriculum design and development- but more than that: they bend the bough of curriculum for one subject to then reach to and aid the next.

In addition, to find a sense of balance between the subject need and whole-school priority, is where we might look to agree and then contextualise some leading pedagogical principles, before swiftly moving into a translation for the subject itself. If as a whole school, we wish to consider and then try to implement the evidence that sits behind the enactment of modelled examples in the classroom, then we might want to undertake an audit of where the current expertise are within the staff body (who demonstrates this effectively, in accordance with our shared understanding and language of what effective modelling looks like) before considering how these existing expertise could be utilised to deliver CPD in accordance with the identified need. Put simply, do we have a bank of expert teachers who could effectively share the theoretical principles of modelling within the classroom, for the subjects who have identified a need? This process of professional development audit in cohesion with the needs and expertise of the staff body enables teachers to explore what pedagogy looks like in their subject, acknowledging the similarity and nuance of disciplines. We might start with a universal set of principles, of course, but this is of little use without the imperative discussion of how this looks for the subject itself.

The careful and deliberate audit of the need enables us to transcend from macro-need- what do we wish to focus staff time and attention to? – to micro-need- who needs what? before any plans for professional development takes place. This provides us with a clear roadmap of the current need that we may then design our programme to treat.

  • What are the current needs of the staff and the school?
  • Is this the right professional development for the current need?
  • What is that judgement based upon?

Treat the need

Once the identification process has taken place through a front-loading approach to plotting out the parallels between individual, subject and whole-school need, then we might think about how to treat the PD need. Assuming that the substance of the CPD itself follows the guiding principles in Part 2 of the series, this is where it gets a little messier than the historic, traditional approaches to CPD that we may have seen in schools in the past. It moves us beyond ‘parachute CPD:’ the one-stop sessions where we sit and listen to a strategy that may or may not work, or we or may not understand; in isolation of the identification of personal need but the priority of the whole-school at the fore-front. Instead, we create a system which utilises the expertise of the staff, informed by the staff, as a responsive approach to what staff need to develop to move them forward on a continual process of improvement.

And what does that look like? At subject level, it might be knowledge-driven sessions that sit alongside aspects of the curriculum map where teachers feel it would support their teaching best; in other aspects of the school-level operations, it might be that we run a session on budgeting and spending allocation just before Subject Leads put together their financial planning for the year ahead, or a session which explores frequently experience HR scenarios for less experienced Subject Leaders in role. Irrespective of the focus, the sessions should enable those that attend to participate in an active process of discussion around establishing a shared definition, moving rapidly form the universal meaning to a context-specific set of principles, which acts as a foundation to allow us to move from abstract thought processes to deliberate practice of working examples- what does our policy around performance management state? How might we unpack these terms in discussions with colleagues?

Irrespective of the need identified, by placing an emphasis upon shared definitions, unpacking the nuance of different contexts and arming one another with mental models based upon our own lived-in expertise, this continuation of ‘passing the baton’ of knowledge becomes a far more meaningful sequence of diagnosis to treatment.

  • Where does our CPD provision utilise expertise at a local level?
  • To what extent does this provision create a sustained dialogue?
  • Where does our CPD establish shared meanings and definitions?

Return to the need

But then what? What do we do with this knowledge and how do we start to make use of it for our own role, practice, classroom? And this is where much of what we might carry out around our own professional development might go to waste. Schools are busy places, where holding a narrow, focused set of governing priorities is difficult due to the fluid nature that the contributing factors of those priorities encompass: as cohorts, contexts, relationships, dynamics, expertise and the wider sector-wide and societal pressures alter, our attention shifts in a bid to meet these in a responsive manner.

However, there is much to be said for, at both an individual and collective level, that we revisit the vapours of thought from previous professional development, but that further to this, we actively encourage it. Whilst the role and benefit of implementation is given a great deal of exposure, the crucial task of returning to evaluate a process is somewhat lacking as part of our professional development programmes in school. Far from a fleeting survey in the final moments of a session, or a nameless questionnaire which might haphazardly prompt individuals to consider the efficacy of an aspect of their practice that they have yet to even think further on, this sense of return runs a little deeper than that.

Instead, we could take use the implementation framework as a blueprint for our own professional development, where CPD aims to take us beyond the ‘prepare’ which merely equips us with theory, or poses possible ideas for trial, but probes around the delivery and sustainability of that which we trialled following the original CPD session.

If our focus was the implications placed upon cognitive load within the design of classroom materials, or perhaps the design of granular formative assessment, then following ‘treating the need,’ have we then planned out our intentions of implementation within the classroom, having equipped ourselves with a shared language of what successful implementation will look like, trialled with a class, shared reflections as an ongoing process, establish a stable level of implementation? Then, we can consider the active ingredients that sit behind that stability, before then creating the conditions to form a dialogue around these findings, and once again, sharing the similarity and nuance of how this might look from one subject to the next. Participating in discussions around the evaluation of success: its component parts; or possibly the immeasurable nature of implementation; even the extent or limitation of inferences that can be made as a consequence of the contributing factors. Can we assert that this change resulted in this outcome? Has this change improved the quality of our teaching, but above all, did it also address our original need, and if not (which is perfectly acceptable), then why not?

If we wanted to improve the methodology that sits behind evaluation, we might look to adopt Metfessel and Michael’s evaluation model, highlighted by Guskey in Evaluating Professional Development. Periodical observations of the change itself by the individual; recommendations for further implementation- these seek to view the impact of professional development through a far more contemplative lens that we have previously been used to.

This diagnostic approach to professional development brings us closer in alignment with the diagnostic nature of what it means to improve: we reframe learning so that, instead of one-off, quick fix sessions, where placidity reigns supreme and we might walk away with nothing, we can look to a cohesive structure to professional development: one that seeks to bring on our capacity to evaluate what we do as much as upskill is in the doing itself. This approach is both responsive to the inevitable gaps of teacher expertise, but also reflective in the process, taking the professional on a journey of identification, enactment, reflection and refinement, where we can take ownership of the micro-changes that help to incremental improvement for all.

  • Where do we week to execute a sustained implementation of change?
  • How do we evaluate what we have implemented?
  • What has been learned through the process of continual refinement?


McKeown, G. (2020). Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less. Currency.

Robinson, V. M., Hohepa, M., & Lloyd, C. (2007). School leadership and student outcomes: Identifying what works and why (Vol. 41, pp. 1-27). Winmalee: Australian Council for Educational Leaders.

The EEF Implementation Cycle, accessed at

Guskey, T. R. (2000). Evaluating professional development. Corwin press.


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