Leann is currently taking part in the Teaching Development Trust’s (TDT) Associate in CPD Leadership Programme. In this article she shares with us a little about her role as CPD lead, what she has learned so far through the TDT programme, and what factors she believes are most important in ensuring that CPD is as effective as possible.
What is involved in your role as Kyra CPD lead?
I help to plan, organise and oversee the CPD sessions and programmes that we offer here at Kyra. Our CPD includes a wide-range of areas of focus, including subject specific CPD, year group specific CPD, development of pedagogy, leadership programmes and NQT programmes- to name a few! However, our CPD provision is about much more than just putting on a session or a course. It also involves unpicking the latest research on what makes for effective CPD, evaluating which approaches have been most successful in our previous sessions/programmes, and finding innovative ways to help to embed new learning into ongoing practice for our delegates. Attending the TDT (Teaching Development Trust) Associate Programme has been extremely useful in terms of helping me to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of our current CPD provision, and to learn new ways to improve our provision even further.
What is the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) Associate Programme?
The TDT programme is a 6-month long course aimed at CPD leaders who are interested in becoming local or national champions of teacher development leadership. The programme includes critical engagement with research, planning for highly effective CPD, and learning to review CPD in educational settings and offer recommendations.
What have you learned so far from the TDT Associate Programme about what makes CPD most effective?
I have learned that there are some general rules about what makes CPD effective, and what doesn’t, which are heavily supported by research. Some of these rules are intuitive, but some aren’t; therefore the programme has been really useful in helping me to separate the facts (that are supported by research) from the many assumptions and misconceptions that often surround ideas about CPD.
Firstly, in order to be effective, CPD cannot simply be limited to a ‘one-off’ training session. This is a common mistake that has significant implications. It means ‘one-off’ inset day CPD sessions or twilight CPD sessions will be largely ineffective, and therefore wasted time, if the CPD is not somehow sustained, re-visited, or followed up on in a meaningful way. Fortunately, more and more schools and CPD leaders are realising the importance of the longer-term approach which is needed to truly embed new practice, and are planning for this in their CPD programmes. For example, it is now much more common to have CPD that lasts more than one day, or is split into several sessions over a period of time, and this is also true of the CPD we offer at Kyra. Effective CPD, even if it is limited to one session, should always include some kind of follow up at a later date. This follow up could take many forms, and examples might include post-training communication or discussions, evidence of changes in practice, or peer observations. The main thing is that the follow up, whatever form it takes, helps to fully embed changes and allows staff to properly incorporate them into ongoing practice.
Effective CPD should also be evidence based, and underpinned by research, and this is especially effective if a specific approach has been proven to work in your own school setting. Basing CPD on clear evidence helps to avoid ‘initiative fatigue’, where staff may grow tired of learning what may be considered the ‘latest fads’ in teaching, only to see little impact in their own classroom. If the CPD ties in with the needs of the school, and there is evidence that the approach works, it is far more likely to be taken on board by staff, and to make a significant and lasting impact. This also ties in closely with another rule of effective CPD; that staff need to ‘buy into’ the CPD, and the teachers themselves must take the lead role in identifying their CPD needs, and implementing the CPD (this is known as ‘teacher agency’). Teachers are then able to take the initiative, which makes them much more actively engaged, and also avoids the CPD becoming a ‘done-to’ process.
The ‘culture’ of a school or training environment is also a vital component in enabling effective CPD. It must be a culture that encourages taking risks and trying out new strategies and techniques in teaching and learning. It should be supportive of teachers who are engaged in the process of finding what works best- especially as this process may involve finding out what doesn’t work along the way too- and teachers need to know that they will not be judged if something does not work out as expected, as this is all part of the learning process! A supportive culture gives teachers the confidence to try new things, and therefore to keep adapting and improving their practice over time. A culture which encourages teachers to collaborate with one another, in order to support and motivate one another in improving professionally, is also an excellent way to enable effective, impactful and sustained CPD to take place. The right culture also means always regarding professional development as something positive and useful for all staff, with the attitude ‘every teacher can improve further’, and never as something punitive, where individuals are singled out to take part in CPD because they are ‘not good enough’.
What have you learned about the main challenges to making sure that CPD is effective?
There are a few challenges. The main one is that it can be very difficult to pin down the facts of what really works, and teachers, schools, and other institutions involved in CPD can face a lot of conflicting advice and research. There are no simple answers or formulas, and often trial and error is involved in terms of finding out what works for individual teachers and schools. It is also very difficult to plan and map out deep learning, into a formulaic, linear, upward trajectory, and there are certainly times when the most effective learning can take place incidentally, through dealing with circumstances or challenges which haven’t been planned for. Lastly, learning is always uncomfortable, and requires getting out of your comfort zone, and this is a challenge for anyone taking part in CPD. Sometimes finding that confidence to try something new can be hard for members of staff, especially if they have become very comfortable and proficient in their current approach and practice.
What are the implications of all this for school leaders?
Leaders need to take an active role in developing a culture which is conducive to effective teacher development. This means considering how professional development is going to be integrated into appraisal in a supportive and encouraging way. Leaders also need to consider how any CPD undertaken fits in with the direction they are looking to take the school in, and also how it can help to address the school’s specific needs. A large part of that means respecting teacher agency, and listening carefully to the opinions and needs of teachers, so that CPD can be organised to respond appropriately to current circumstances. It is also the job of school leaders to select expert facilitation of CPD carefully, checking on the quality and expertise of the facilitator, and making sure that what is provided for staff will be of a high-standard. If leaders take these steps regarding CPD, it will help to avoid ‘initiative fatigue’, which occurs when teachers can’t see the relevance of the CPD to their own practice, or regard the CPD training as just another fad, and therefore fail to properly engage.
Middle leaders also have an important role to play in enabling effective CPD to take place, and need to be made aware of that responsibility, and trained so that they are fully able to support the positive enactment of CPD. First and foremost, middle leaders should model being a learner and set an example of actively engaging in CPD themselves. They should also be there to provide motivation, coaching and support to teachers engaging in CPD, especially at points where the teacher is facing challenge. Finally, middle leaders are best placed to speak to certain teachers individually about their specific needs, and as a result adapt the CPD to make it bespoke, and therefore as beneficial as possible, for the individual teacher. They can also check in regularly on progress, and continue to provide ongoing motivation and support to individual teachers throughout the process of them enacting and embedding CPD, and also evaluating impact.
How has the TDT Programme benefited you so far, and how will it influence the planning of future Kyra CPD?
It’s helped me to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of the CPD we currently offer. A lot of what we do is really good, but there are certain gaps and weaknesses which have become clearer to me, so it’s been great preparation so far for next year, in making our CPD provision even better. With my improved understanding of great CPD I can keep what’s working really well, and improve elements of our CPD which could be made stronger. For example, currently LeadLincs, a programme for Aspiring Primary Headteachers in Lincolnshire delivered by Lincolnshire Teaching Schools Together on behalf of Lincolnshire County Council works really well. We have a real buzz from those who have taken part, and now I can see more clearly just why it works so well and the strengths in how it is delivered.
Something that is very useful for me, and for Kyra, is that I am free to develop CPD programmes without the day-to-day obligations of working in a school; but that also has set backs. As effective CPD should be tailored to each individual teacher’s needs, I know that we need to look at developing better ways of finding out what those needs are prior to our CPD programmes. Therefore, we are going to make it policy next year to have advanced communication before all CPD courses by sending a pre-email to participants, to find out information such as, where they are in their career and what they’re hoping to get from the course etc. We will be able to use this information to help us to tailor the course, or the groupings.
Another important part of effective CPD is that it needs to be appropriately enacted in the classroom, and this is another element of our CPD that I want us to address more closely next year. The best way for us to do this is by making sure that we set an ‘action plan’ in each session of our CPD programmes, to be enacted in the classroom, and evaluated and brought as feedback to the next session. Any specific issues that have arisen in the classroom can then be directly addressed in the next session.
In order to make sure that CPD is ongoing and sustained, it is my hope that we can engage in an ongoing conversation with teachers and leaders even after our CPD programmes have finished, to continue to check in on progress and developments. We will also encourage school leaders to support teachers as they embed their CPD, especially in adjusting what they have learned to their own school setting.
I think it’s also really important for us at Kyra to be forward thinking, to keep on top of what Kyra schools and teachers currently need in terms of CPD, and to be as responsive to those needs as possible. While it would be difficult to tailor our general CPD programmes to the needs of each individual school, we can tailor our CPD to support teachers and schools with pressing issues and current areas of focus in education, such as marking, workload, and assessment, and also more generally by helping schools to respond to any recent changes in government policy.
I am excited about developing our CPD provision at Kyra in the light of what I have been learning through the TDT, and I am passionate about ensuring that all of our CPD programmes are of an excellent quality! I think next year we will offer fewer CPD courses in terms of volume, but what we will provide will be of an even higher quality; so it will be a less is more approach!