Many schools and colleges are still wedded to the model of a day each term where classes are cancelled and teachers are involved in staff development activities. From my twenty-five years of experience as a teacher, trainer and consultant, I see the many negative and ineffective aspects of relying on that window as a key focus for CPD. Some of the common problems are:
- One-size-fits-all sheep dip training delivery that doesn’t target needs or interests in enough detail
- Disengagement of staff as they feel CPD is imposed on them instead of involving them
- Inadequate or non-existent planning for either implementation or follow-up activities after the CPD day
- Too much focus on training sessions as opposed to reflection, planning or sharing activities that may impact practice more effectively. Training doesn’t necessarily equal development!
- An underpinning assumption that group-based activities are more valuable than individual or paired ones. Coaching, reflection, reading, research and practitioner-led action research can have great value and impact on development too
Research into staff development highlights the importance of longer, deeper, more active processes for developing practitioners’ thinking and practice. They emphasise the lack of impact from isolated CPD events without follow-up.
Some research studies also indicate that practitioner-led, evidence-informed experimental practice can be a positive and powerful form of CPD and this approach is embodied in Supported Experiments and Professional Learning Communities in many college settings.
So, for colleges constrained by a model of termly CPD days, how can they make the best of the time to foster involving, engaging and ongoing development work? One way is to embrace the stranded CPD day. This is a simple approach with many benefits. It involves dividing the day into time slots and allocating each one to a specific strand of development work owned and shaped by different groups of staff, for example:
9.00-10.30 Individual strand – this could involve 1:1 coaching with a TLC, private reflection or research activities, peer review of development targets win a colleague, time with your manager to catch up on your development plan.
10.45-12.45 Cross college training strand, organised centrally (faculties/schools/whole organisation?) and focusing on key strategic objectives but tailored to audience in terms of content and format
12.45-1.30 Lunch break
1.30-3.30 Team-based development strand, shaped by the curriculum teams and bespoke to their needs. This might involve cluster meetings on themes to share practice or tackle issues. It could include a chance for one team to visit another to share ideas on an area of interest. It may incorporate tailored training from an internal or external trainer, to meet specific needs. Teachers who have attended external training might be involved in disseminating content or materials. Professional learning communities can meet to discuss their experimental practice and reflect on it together. Individuals may be working on different aspects of their own curriculum development either alone or in clusters.
3.30-5.00 Action setting meeting/workshop strand in curriculum teams to devise plans and materials related to the development from the day. This is about taking ideas into planning and implementation as soon as possible and giving teachers time to work on this during their CPD hours in college.
Many different variations of the stranded CPD day could work but the key point is the focus created within the strands. The stranded CPD day has so many benefits:
- Time is allocated to individual, team and whole organisation priorities, so that different aspects of our work can receive some attention and focus during this valuable non-teaching time
- It allows curriculum teams to work on aspects of development across time, knowing that they can re-visit them together at the next CPD day for a longer slot than is possible in curriculum meetings during the term. This creates space for deeper reflection, more absorbing conversations, debate and challenge within teams. It enables sharing of ideas and also resources in a more thoughtful way than in a snatched ten-minutes during a crowded curriculum team meeting agenda
- It ensures that external trainers will have well-attended sessions, reducing the costs of having to repeat the training as a mop up exercise for those who were somewhere else on the first roll out. You would be surprised how frequently external consultants end up delivering training twice in the same institution because there were conflicting demands and clashing events on staff development day. For a college or school in the current financial climate, this doesn’t seem like a prudent move
- For Professional/Teacher Learning Communities, it provides vital time for a long session of reflective dialogue, looking at evidence/data from the classroom, planning ahead for the next stages of their experimental practice
The way the CPD day is organised needs to provide a practical, workable programme that balances different demands for time and focus, so that relevant work can be done. In many settings this requires cross-college collaboration and planning well ahead of the date to hammer out the shape and details. It means people getting round the table together who may not usually collaborate closely, so a working group or planning group model can be helpful.
Some leaders say to me that they feel uneasy about relinquishing central control of the CPD day as they are concerned that not much purposeful activity will take place without time tabling staff into compulsory sessions. This shows a troubling lack of trust for staff as professionals interested in their own development, I think. The stranded CPD day ensures that time is structured and the curriculum sessions will encourage middle managers to engage with the developmental activities of their teams, which we know from research is important in encouraging implementation. If we trust middle managers and their teams to shape it, we foster more involvement in and ownership of development. To me, this has more value and potential to create improvements than simply trying to enforce compliance with a centrally organised programme that may engage people less and therefore have little impact on practice.
For middle managers who may be facilitating these sessions for the first time, there can be a need for skills training. It can be useful for them to learn how to model a range of sharing practice activities for their teams and how to use coaching approaches in discussions and plenary slots to foster deep reflection. When training managers in these skills, I have heard many say how pleased they are to be developing this area of their practice as it is something they have not focused on in depth before. Many managers I meet are keen to support their teams in sharing practice and improving the quality of teaching and learning. They welcome input on how to do so and embrace the time provided in the stranded CPD day to take ownership of this process with their teams.
For me, the stranded CPD day can play a useful role in ongoing, relevant, engaging professional learning if it is structured to create space for these different priorities and audiences. It can then be followed up with related activities in team time and other meeting forums during the term. More on closing the loop on CPD activities in these blogs:
I would be very interested to hear about different ways that you are using the CPD days in your college or school, where such a resource is still available.