In schools and colleges there are many real and complex challenges in offering CPD opportunities that both motivate staff to get involved and meet their varied needs and preferences. In my freelance consultancy and training role, here are some of the attitudes I have heard which highlight the challenges involved:
CPD is not for me; it’s generic and part of a management tick box exercise to cover the hot topics of the moment!
I meet many teachers who feel disengaged from the current CPD offer in their workplace and cynical about the compliance with sector agendas that they feel are more about fashion than substance. There is a challenge for managers and leaders who need to engage with national/local priorities and initiatives while relating them to their specific context and diverse range of staff. It can be helpful to think about:
- Ways to tailor content and method of delivery to different groups in your organisation. Not everyone necessarily needs the same session or depth of knowledge on every topic; for some staff a guidance document discussed in a team meeting will be more relevant and appropriate than attending a full training session, for example. In some settings it works well to have a concise briefing slot followed by differentiated group work sessions to address different areas of interest and need.
- Developing a communication process to find out from staff what development needs and interests they have and thinking flexibly about how to deliver those. For some people, signposting some reading with application and reflection tasks can be all they need; others may benefit from an ongoing relationship with a coach or mentor to develop some aspect of their practice in more depth; for others, online webinars or resources might be of use. Training sessions aren’t the only way to develop people and for many people other methods suit them equally well, if not better.
- Evaluation and feedback surveys or round table discussions in meetings can surface what people really think about CPD and what else they feel would be helpful. These are very positive tools to use on a regular basis to take the temperature of your organisation re-CPD.
CPD is done to me with no discussion of my interests or needs
Increasingly I hear complaints about CPD being undifferentiated in approach. With the current Ofsted focus on stretch and challenge and meeting personal needs and debates among educational authors about personalising learning, it feels as if CPD models in some settings are lagging behind.
Some schools and colleges are exploring ways to address this by:
- Involving teachers in shaping the focus for CPD sessions by circulating questionnaires beforehand to elicit challenges in the classroom, areas of interest and priority within the topic. These feedback comments act as input to the training design.
- Discussing CPD needs with teachers in 1:1 and team settings and passing that information back to the CPD Coordinator(s) who collaborate with the presenters to devise something relevant. This may involve in house practitioners sharing approaches or resources where appropriate.
- Some institutions offer a ‘Pick and Mix’ CPD programme of activities that staff can choose from; some places balance organisational priorities with individual preferences by asking teachers to identify two personal development targets for the year and also work on two more that emerge from learner achievement data, observation reports or appraisal. One teacher described this to me as the ‘Two for you, two for us’ model and felt it was a fair compromise.
There is never any time to design learning resources or plan how to put things into practice, so things don’t go from the training room into the classroom
I have worked in teaching, training and CPD for many years now and this is my greatest concern. Too many approaches never get thought about in depth, developed and applied in practice. We end up wasting time and money on CPD that has little or no effect on practice. It is so important to value reflective space and provide time to plan and develop resources and approaches with the support of colleagues. Here are some ways I see this happening:
- Incorporate a slot into the CPD activity where participants identify applications and actions for themselves and their learners. A grid or learning log, online or actually on that old thing called paper, can help here as you can review it later as part of professional dialogue with colleagues.
- Build in ‘workshop’ sessions for teachers to design resources, plan a series of steps or peer review lesson plans together. Make these a part of the CPD activity and make commitments to that process as managers and leaders.
- Encourage participants in CPD activities to pair up with a learning partner to connect outside the session and share experiences and materials.
- As a middle manager or Head of Department, build follow-up slots into your meeting programme to close the loop after CPD activities. Ask teachers to discuss: What were your main learning points? How did the CPD activity affect your thinking in any way? What did you put into practice? How did learners react? What did you learn from that process? Where next with that?
Nobody bothers to follow up; it’s as if it doesn’t really matter and it isn’t valued enough to be reviewed later, which is dispiriting!
In a sector fixated with impact and checking progress, there is an odd disconnect here. With learners we are all discussing how to identify progress, debating whether we can accurately assess the impact on learners of our work with them. Yet with professional development activities, the big focus is often on getting people to attend a session as opposed to noticing any learning later on.
It helps to focus on this question: You did some CPD but so what?
These additional reflection and discussion questions can be useful:
What changed in your thinking?
What are you doing differently?
What might indicate the impact on the learners? What else might have contributed to that change?
Who could help you reflect on the impact on yourself?
How could you learn more about this area of practice?
What else do you need to do in this area, to develop it further?
Who else might be interested in this?
People who lead CPD activities (trainers, coaches, educators, team leaders, programme managers, mentors?) can incorporate this focus on reflection into their materials and also into their process with participants. It may be a sheet of questions, a set of email prompts, an online discussion board, a Skype conversation or a webinar with a group of participants in different locations. Technology can be a great tool for enabling some reflection and sharing across space and time, especially where it is impossible to be in a room together.
For me, it is important to plan how and when you will close that loop or it just may not happen. It is best planned at the outset so that the developmental work isn’t a one-off event but becomes an ongoing dialogue about learning. This isn’t easy but it is part of valuing professional learning and giving it the space and time to flourish.
I would like some development but I can never attend the sessions on the timetable for CPD
The timetable is often a beast and it can make finding time for CPD a real headache. Being creative, flexible and experimental can help. Different institutions have told me that they have found success with some of these approaches:
- Breakfast bite-sized CPD sessions, sometimes with a bap!
- Learning lunches with a theme or focus for discussion
- Tea and Teacher Talk, often with a facilitator/coach supporting the discussion and with cakes/fruit on offer
- Webinar, podcast and video materials for access at a time that works for you
- A twilight slot for training that moves in terms of which day of the week it falls on
- Phone/ Skype or Face Time coaching or 1:1 s with a manager or mentor or coach
- Making sure that part-time staff have some hours paid and allocated to developmental activities as part of their contracts. They affect learners, they work with colleagues and they should be entitled and enabled to develop, just like everyone else
- CPD sessions can be filmed so people can watch the clips and access the materials if they miss the actual delivery
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to be so inventive, but current realities make it essential, and using these approaches we can involve and engage more people with developmental activities that mean something to them and affect their practice. We can collaborate together on professional learning and grapple with meeting needs in creative ways. We can aspire to create CPD that is continual, professional and truly developmental.