One thing that all schools have in common is some sort of ‘Continual Professional Development’, or CPD. Over the country, hundreds of thousands of collective hours and an equal amount of money is spent on the task of improving teaching. But is all this training working as well as it should be?
I don’t think so. And I think that this is as a result of the CPD paradox:
What are the aims of school CPD? To turn teachers into effective and skilled practitioners as quickly as possible so that students in their classes get the best possible deal. It is an aim that both teachers and schools are committed to; if the aim is achieved, everyone benefits.
But despite the fact that everyone in the relationship is committed, despite the time and energy that is spent by teachers and schools on training, it is often clear that very little, if anything, from school CPD sessions actually turns up in anyone’s day to day teaching practice. Why is this?
1) Teacher exhaustion
Teachers have stressful day-to-day jobs that can leave them feeling mentally exhausted and with little room for personal development at the end of the day. They can be left after a day spent taking part in literally hundreds of emotional interactions with other humans feeling drained. Any CPD programme that wants to be really effective needs to take this into account in its design.
Even if teachers come to CPD sessions feeling engaged and ready to learn, there is another challenge. As soon as the session is finished they have to get on with the myriad tasks that are part of the job. This could be marking books, exam scripts, planning lessons or any other of a huge variety of jobs. By the time the teacher finally gets to the end of this mountain of work, they go home, only to arrive back at work the following day to face a similar situation. They simply do not have the space to reflect on their learning and put this in practice. CPD sessions need to be designed to mitigate this issue if they are to be successful.
3) The Poorly Planned Session
Often, CPD sessions are planned and lead in school by middle or senior leaders with thousands of other things on their list that come under the category of ‘more urgent’. As a result, CPD sessions can often feel poorly planned and with not enough opportunity for active learning rather than passive listening.
Principles for a programme that avoids the CPD Paradox
•Participant led – I think that CPD sessions should be, as much as possible, driven by the participants themselves. This helps to avoid the issue of poorly planned sessions from busy senior leaders and puts the onus on the teachers themselves to deliver sessions that are effective.
•Accountability for change – Because teachers have so little space for personal projects and reflection, CPD programmes need to be designed to ensure that they are forced to make changes to their practice. This need not be draconian but can simply be some measures such as peer-to-peer observation that ensure that participants in sessions are reminded to actually try out what they learn.
•In-built uptake To avoid the ill-effects of teacher exhaustion and workload, sessions need to be designed so that teachers get an opportunity to put learning into place within the session itself. This can be through practicing skills in groups, or having some time to plan a lesson in the session, thus ensuring that they try out what they learn and increasing the chance that this finds their way into their teaching.
What is the point of this website?
I am an English Teacher and Professional Mentor at a large academy school in London. For the last two years, my job within the school has been to plan and lead the CPD of all new staff, NQTS and untrained teachers. After completing the Teach First training programme and being a participant in quite literally hundreds of CPD sessions myself, as well as working as a full time teacher while attempting to improve my own practice, I hope that I have made my own programme design and CPD sessions in such a way that they avoid the most pernicious elements of the CPD paradox.
I will be posting my CPD programme and sessions on this site in the course of time, and hope that they will be of use to anyone who wants them.