Creating the conditions for CPD to flourish

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Encourage participants in CPD activities to pair up with a learning partner to connect outside the session and share experiences and materials.
  4. 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:

  1. Breakfast bite-sized CPD sessions, sometimes with a bap!
  2. Learning lunches with a theme or focus for discussion
  3. Tea and Teacher Talk, often with a facilitator/coach supporting the discussion and with cakes/fruit on offer
  4. Webinar, podcast and video materials for access at a time that works for you
  5. A twilight slot for training that moves in terms of which day of the week it falls on
  6. Phone/ Skype or Face Time coaching or 1:1 s with a manager or mentor or coach
  7. 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
  8. 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.



Posted in Advanced Practitioners, CPD, CPD for Teachers, FE, Leadership of learning, Learning Leader, Professional Development, schools, Sharing good practice, Teaching and learning | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Research on teaching and learning: A list of reports, articles and blogs for FE and schools

  1. Thanks to Tom Sherrington for sharing this great collection of research summaries. He introduces them on his website as follows:

There are several superb summaries of educational research that have been compiled into easily accessible websites and articles in pdf format that can be read online and shared with staff. Although they are easy to find via an internet search, I am pulling them together into one place for easy access.

  1. Another great collection of research articles here from Chris Moyse so many thanks to him as well:

Key points from research in 100-word summaries here:

  1. Research Schools Network has compiled a wide-ranging list of research summaries with some additional recommendations for bloggers to follow:

  1. Blog post from Professor Rob Coe with a list of reading references, articles and reports:

  1. Blog post from Dr Gary Jones including points on conditions for effective research use:





Posted in Advanced Practitioners, Evidence-based teaching, FE, Research, schools, Teacher education, Teaching and learning | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cognitive Load: Blogs and Resources

Cognitive Load Theory by Dan Williams:

Oliver Caviglioli’s Cognitive Load Theory Resources by Greg Ashman:

Chapter summaries by Oliver Caviglioli of a major text on the topic of cognitive load theory:

Dual Coding: Can There be too Much of a Good Thing? By Megan Smith:


Posted in Action research, Advanced Practitioners, Coaching, Cognitive Load, CPD for Teachers, Research, Revision, Teaching and learning | Tagged , | 1 Comment

A Podcast:Innovation and Creativity in the Classroom with Joanne Miles and Kelly Long

Here below is a link to the podcast I made recently with Kelly Long from Inspiration 4 Teachers

We talked about how to encourage innovation, creativity and the sharing of classroom practice in schools and colleges. There is plenty of advice here for institutions wanting to explore the Supported Experiments model as part of their CPD strategy for developing T&L.

Innovation and Creativity in the Classroom Podcast

Related blog links:



Posted in Action research, Advanced Practitioners, Coaching, CPD, CPD for Teachers, Evidence-based teaching, FE, Geoff Petty, Innovation and Creativity in T&L, Professional Development, Research, schools, Sharing good practice, Staff Development, Supported Experiments | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A CPD session, but not as we know it

As a freelance trainer and coach in the education sector, I am often booked to deliver a session on staff development day at a school or college. This is inevitable as it is a rare opportunity for staff to attend sessions off timetable when learners are not around, but  this model of CPD is often riddled with problems- training that is not well-focused on teachers’ specific needs; lack of pre-session engagement and post-session follow-up; prioritising of training over longer term development planning; too much input and little or no space for reflection or planning.

With all of this in mind, I have been piloting a different approach with colleges and schools who are aware of these deep rooted problems with CPD. The first session on a topic has involved some carefully scoped training, bringing in ideas from research and practical approaches from the sector for debate and discussion with the group. Teachers have shared their own views, experiences and ideas about that content in critical reflection tasks with a peer or group, fostering some robust professional dialogue. They then have workshop time to devise something for use with learners, be that a classroom activity/resource or a task for tutorial time/flipped learning or they spend time reviewing and enhancing their scheme of work/learning or a lesson plan, using insights from our session together.  More details about this style of session on the blog below:

The second session, after some time has elapsed, is focused on sharing reflections and practices in thoughtful peer review conversations. The teachers implement their ideas or resources from session one with their learners and then come back together with me for some structured and facilitated review. I recently returned to the college mentioned in the blog for the second session and supported the teachers in reviewing their work and identifying their next steps.

This is what struck me as I facilitated this process. The conversations were dynamic, energised and thoughtful, with plenty of focus on the needs of individual students and the contextual features of working with them on a given curriculum. Teachers voiced concerns and debated the pros and cons of different ways to tackle challenges. There was the reassurance of everyone revealing a work in progress or a challenge with a learner, and finding a safe professional space to discuss this. I noted people sharing experiences, reading references or approaches and noting down things to explore further. In the plenary slots, the dialogue moved organically from stretching disengaged learners to tackling the planning of a new linear curriculum to ways to create engagement in group work tasks. Conversation was relaxed and informal, less like ‘training talk’ and more like dialogue with a peer.

After the break the teachers broke off into pairs or clusters or chose to work alone on planning something practical and relevant for them. Some worked on paper; some drew ideas onto flip charts; others used computers. There was work around identifying the key skills needed to pass the new assessments and discussions about how to thread those skills across the scheme of work. Others looked at how to plan a session to engage learners with research and presentation of information, stretching different learners in different ways. The conversations before the break had triggered thoughts about next steps and teachers were keen to get on with developing those ideas into something fit for practical use. I was impressed by the detail and quality of the work produced in a relatively short timeframe and several teachers mentioned that the constraint of the session end time had helped them focus instead of drifting off or frittering time away.

As a trainer, I found this session utterly fascinating and incredibly rewarding. I could see people bringing their own context into the room more easily and confidently than when they feel they are receiving ‘training input.’ I could signpost references from research and ideas from the wider sector but in response to what was emerging from the group. The style of the session created a platform for really responsive, tailored development work. I was a facilitator, coach, resource and advisor instead of being any kind of ‘sage on the stage!’

There is a place for ‘training’ sessions in a CPD programme, as new research and different approaches can challenge assumptions and trigger development of thinking and practice. There is also a place for reflection, peer review and collaborative materials design, to give teachers a much needed space for planning and implementation with the support of their colleagues. Without such space, it is too easy for ‘training input’ to be relegated to some handouts in a drawer. For schools and colleges wanting to foster actual change in practice, I think it is worth pondering the balance of these two elements within the CPD offer.



Posted in Advanced Practitioners, CPD, CPD for Teachers, FE, Lesson planning, Professional Development, Sharing good practice, Staff Development, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sharing practice to reflecting on practice: A positive move for CPD in FE?

Sharing practice sessions are a staple of CPD programmes in most of the colleges where I have worked as a teacher, trainer and coach and those in which I now work as a freelance consultant and trainer. There seems to be a widespread assumption that sharing practice from the classroom has value in and of itself, whereas I increasingly feel that the benefit is dependent on how it is done. For teachers to gain maximum benefit from these sessions, I think we need to move from simply sharing practice to a deeper and more focused reflection on practice.

Many sharing sessions that I have attended involve plenty of ‘show and tell’ elements, in which teachers describe their classroom approaches or activities and show resources to colleagues. This can become a process limited to basic narrative, telling the story of how teachers used the approach in class. Although it can be practical and useful to know how the activity or approach worked, the deeper professional dialogue comes from talking about how it affected the learners and the teacher and reflecting on glitches and potential enhancements. This deeper level of reflection can make these sessions rich, thought provoking and challenging for teachers. When these conversations have this kind of detail and depth, I have seen teachers debating the very nature of learning and what we can confidently say we know about how to facilitate it. Assumptions are made explicit and there is professional space to examine and challenge them in a respectful way. The session can then go way beyond conversations about how a checklist was used with level one in a speaking task, to the heart of our thinking processes, knowledge and professional practices.

This focus on reflection and professional critique also helps to tackle one of the other pitfalls of sharing practice sessions – the flawed but implicit notion that all approaches shared could be of value to you and worth adopting. Attendees at these sessions can feel a pressure to adopt wholesale some of the practices on show, whereas engagement with them as a critical friend for review, reflection and selective adaptation would be a more appropriate goal.

The way the session is configured can have a significant influence on the tone and style of the conversations that ensue. As the trainer or facilitator, it helps to create a space for high order critical thinking and encourage teachers to ask questions of each other and debate the benefits of the resources/activities on show. When you create a space for analysis and evaluation, teachers seem to feel more comfortable to offer challenges, critiques and even conflicting views, within a respectful professional dialogue. Subsequent conversations about evolving or adapting the ideas on show are so much richer and grounded in the teachers’ own knowledge and context. Without such critical space, I have watched sharing practice sessions stay on the surface limited to narrative, which for me is a lost opportunity to move our thinking on together.

For people who are thinking about ways to foster deeper reflection in their sharing practice slots, here are some food for thought questions:

  • How reflective are the sharing practice sessions in your context? What shows you that?
  • How could you encourage deeper professional reflection within them?
  • What role could coaches or advanced practitioners play in this process?
  • How could pre-session tasks help foster a spirit of reflection and debate in the conversations?
  • What could happen after the sessions, to foster ongoing collaboration and reflection?



Posted in Advanced Practitioners, CPD, CPD for Teachers, FE, Professional Development, Sharing good practice, Staff Development | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lesson observations – quality assurance or quality improvement?

The blog on the link above includes some thoughts on the importance of gaining staff feedback on observation practices and seeing observation as a tool for professional learning and quality improvement as opposed to mere quality assurance.


Posted in Culture for Learning, Graded lesson observations, Lesson observations, Professional Development, Ungraded lesson observations | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment