CPD series: macro level CPD and the stress/purpose ratio

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

In previous blogs, I have tried to outline the principles for effective professional development, closing in my most recent post to make a case for identification and treatment of a need to ensure that we do not waste predcious resource in schools and consider how to make some of the more intangible concepts that we know improve schools a little more tangible. In this post, I would like to consider how we ensure a sense of progression at a macro level, not just in terms of the content and substance of a CPD programme, but a sense of progression for the individual accessing training- and why this might be wholly beneficial to both parties.

Historically, CPD has been scheduled in alignment to a whole-school improvement plan, but in colleagues’ experience and in discussions with schools, it seems that this would be outsourced and either feature as a showcase moment in an INSET day perhaps, or during a handful of sessions over the course of the year. These sessions would usually be for the entire staff body, with a reasonable argument that this would be cost effective. I’m not sure the argument quite stands up here, and for a few reasons:

  • delivering whole-school training ignores varying start points of knowledge within the staffing body
  • delivering whole-school training ignores the responsive nature that we would hope to gain from CPD that tends to need in the way that this post asserted
  • delivering whole-school training may not achieve the psychological impact that can occur as a beneficial advantage of high-quality CPD.

Drawing from knowledge of how we learn, CPD that attempts to equip all staff with the same understanding is rather a non-starter. Beyond the regulatory requirements of safeguarding or health and safety policy, it seems a little illogical to hope that by delivering CPD to all, it will evoke the anticipated impact we aim for and furthermore, when delivered as a one-off session of strategy, that it will be learned, retained, implemented, returned to, particularly if the member of staff has a pretty substantial to do list, or perhaps just their own incisive focus for improving within the classroom that this session does not aim to treat. Whilst this approach is incredibly useful for ensuring we drive an ethos to establish the underpinning principles that might sit behind a whole-school vision, this becomes more a matter of effective communication than professional development. Furthermore, we run the risk of misconception rooting itself into the fabric of teaching and learning because when delivered in this nature, without discussion, how do we frame our thoughts and make sense of what we have learned?

If a maths teacher currently has a goal to improve the consistency of language to ensure readiness to learn within the classroom, does it seem sensible for us to ask them to attend a session that will explore the use of formative assessment in the classroom? Or perhaps the more experienced member of staff who, having managed to clamber over and descend the Kilimanjaro of teacher assessed grades to make it along, is now wondering why they need to spend an hour exploring formative assessment when they ran the formative assessment session for trainee teachers only last year as his previous school. Sam Sims’ exploration into this as part of the data for the Teacher Development Trust recently, states that this hour may be more imperative to the teacher than we realise:

A leading theory of workplace motivation and burnout suggest that the type of workload really matters. Hours spent on tasks seen as a distraction from teaching and learning (‘job demands’) have a negative effect. Hours spent on tasks that help teachers improve (‘job resources’) have a positive impact.

Full summary available here: https://tdtrust.org/2021/04/09/lowering-teacher-stress-through-cpd-teamwork/

Therefore, if we can spend even one hour of teachers’ time in a really meaningful way to develop them, this not only carries implication for students, but for workload related stress, and ultimately, we may infer that this could impact retention over the longer term. Therefore, perhaps we might want to view each component hour of each teacher sat in the one-off session of CPD, and consider its true value.

If of the 100 teachers in attendance, the CPD only attends to the need of 30 of those teachers, then not only has the financial resource of 70 teachers been wasted- for simplicity, let’s say the average teacher attending has a salary of £30,000 (this average is entirely for anecdotal purposes and not a true picture). That’s £1750 ‘spent’ on CPD that may not be retained, utilised or shared by those teachers because they fail to see the value. However beyond this, seventy hours now sits as somewhat of a defecit in the stress/purpose ratio for those teachers. Not only have resources been spent unnessecarily, but they may then go on to operate with less efficiency, sense of motivation or purpose and certainly less autnomy than they would, had they not attended.

This standalone CPD may create the perception of being capable of the ‘triage effect’ within schools, responding to the needs that the climate or classrooms demonstrate to need, but if it doesn’t serve the purpose we need it to, because how do we try to provide a one size fits all for what is a highly skilled professional body, undertaking a highly complicated task?

Our aim might be then, instead of trying to meet the needs of all through the one-off, is to create an eco system that will attempt to attend to the issue of CPD itself. How do we design a system that carries the intention of a whole school improvement plan, communicates value through both this intention and the level of quality and relevance, but to an audience with wildly varying needs? To deliver professional development to the ITT, NQT, RQT, Subject Leaders, Pastoral Care, Senior Leaders, and professionals of all other titles, roles and expertise, who we do have a duty and obligation to provide professional development for?

Professional development that values varying start points and continual progression of learning

We might shift away from a CPD provision that focuses upon outcomes, and instead reasserts the significance of understanding the process of learning, with a deepened understanding of retrieval and return to the subject matter: that to deliver once and walk away with a resource pack will not ensure the acquisition of knowledge that we might hope for.

We might consider the allocation of time for professional development as a curriculum in its own right: that with our knowledge that time, acquisition of knowledge, and the space for discussion is integral to learning. That having access to that discussion with other professionals at similar points is essential to ensure that CPD is a continual process. So that those in attendance can see where this component fits within a bigger picture, not just for a series of stepping stones for career progression, but instead so they can become equipped as experts in that particular field. So that when attending professional development that touches upon the implementation of change, that the individual is able to access not just a framework or toolkit, but the further time, discussions, mental models of how they would work with other members of their team to implement a change. Or alternatively, if learning about the implementation of formative assessment within the classroom, that the individual is then able to see it in action, within their subject or others, within their own school or others.

Professional Development that attends to the contextual need

We might think about creating such a curriculum that seeks to understand that it must create a relationship between overarching theory and principle and a sense of relatability for the context of the people it serves. That the collection of mental models created are fitting to the landscape, whatever that might be: the challenges of being an oversubscribed, inner city demographic with over thirty feeder schools to liaise with; or a coastal school on a journey of improvement where change has not been wholly prevalent in the past and local school to school support entirely absent; or the newer school of the local area, with an influx of trainee teachers as a result of the catalyst of increasing recruitment figures over the last year, wanting to ensure that they have a strengthened support mechanism for their staff. Even through to the operational aspect of the school, from recruitment processes to acquisition of expertise for budget planning.

Professional development that is a sum of its component parts

Finally, we might create a provision that connects with the other outlets of continual improvement within the school processes, creating a system where one component is mutually beneficial to the other. That if a teacher seeks to understand the process and student motivation a little better as their goal for the academic year, that they recognise their reading of experiences of this within the training that they attend, or the research group topics of discussion, or that their coach is well informed through their own training to be able to share and discuss valid aspects of working examples where motivation has been previously considered and by which teachers. This in turn adds significant value, not just for the school in regards to the financial implications mentioned earlier, but for all of the contributing mechanisms that support and move on both the teacher and whole-school change: performance management, professional development, coaching and discourse working as a series of transferrable entities that ‘talk’ to one another.

As curriculum is a wicked problem, so professional development must be for it to be designed and curated to meet such a multitude of purposes. Fortunately, some schools shine a light on moving away from placing such high expectations upon CPD as a work of art in isolation, and have begun to recognise its place as one part of professional imporvement. This can only be actualised through the thoughtful implementation of a series of rationales.

  • Micro improvement of individual teachers will result in significant macro-level improvement
  • Acknowledging a sense of cohesion not only within the CPD offer itself, but also between it and the other systems that drive school improvement will add value
  • A balance of context-attentive delivery, aligned with flexibility for the individual teacher ensures a meeting of minds between relevant direction and autonomy.

In what I think is the final post of this series, I will explore the practical implementation of such a process, looking at both the ‘that’ but also the ‘how’ to meaningful investment of professional development.

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