CPD: A long and winding road…

Photo by Deva Darshan on Pexels.com

School improvement is a tricky business, as Pete Foster (@pnjfoster) expertly explains in this series of blogposts. As Pete points out, a key priority is ensuring you identify a problem first, before trying to implement a solution. Sounds obvious but it’s surprising how many initiatives I’ve experienced, or implemented, that were about doing something that wasn’t necessarily responding to a particular need. I’ve been reflecting on our school’s journey with regards to teaching and learning, and want to share some of those reflections here. I’m not holding this up as a shining example; I don’t think we’ve got everything right yet, but I hope this sheds some light on some important things to consider, and the realities of trying to change the culture of a school. And if this sort of thing interests you then I’d thoroughly recommend checking out the blogs of Jade Pearce (@PearceMrs) and Alex Gordon (@MrAWGordon) too, who are at different points in their own journey. 

When I took on my current role as T&L lead it was clear that engagement with CPD was going to be a big priority. High quality professional development is crucial for improvement of individual teachers and schools as a whole, so starting there seemed a good bet. Our school had a culture where observations were high-stakes (graded), performative affairs, and performance management viewed as pointless box-ticking exercise. We’ve addressed both of those things, but it was also clear that professional development was seen as a once or twice a year event rather than a continual process, and certainly not a professional responsibility in line with the teacher’s standards. Some of this was down to the fact that our CPD provision just wasn’t good enough. We identified three key issues we needed to tackle:

  1. Engagement/Attendance

We had a termly schedule of twilight sessions, an hour after school on a Monday evening. There were around two per half-term, fitting into a schedule that also included HoDs meetings, department meetings, pastoral meetings… The key issue was that attendance at those CPD sessions was voluntary and, by and large, we basically got the same handful of people turning up all the time. There was a general policy that all teachers had to attend at least one per term but this was undermined by the fact that a) this included sessions that weren’t necessarily teaching and learning (eg we had a session on writing UCAS references – useful for sure, but not going to change anyone’s classroom practice) and b) this wasn’t really enforced. An obvious case of the rich getting richer. When surveyed, the main reasons given for not attending were time, logistics or (perceived) relevance. It was clear that we weren’t making CPD accessible for all.

  1. Coherence and vision

A second problem we identified was that there didn’t seem to be much coherence to the CPD sessions. They tended to be either reactive to something happening in school or just based on whatever the core T&L team thought was important / interesting / new at the time. The sessions themselves weren’t bad per se, some evidence-informed ideas presented well with plenty of practical takeaways, just little time for implementation and no real follow-up. A nod to subject specificity but not really an attempt to really consider the needs of those working in different departments.

  1. Implementation and impact

Although we did improve the coherence of the provision, with a series of linked sessions based around a theme that fit with whole-school goals, they still probably didn’t make much impact. The timing of the sessions meant people walking out at 5.30 with some potentially decent ideas but little time to really plan how to implement them, or to discuss with departmental colleagues and develop ideas or resources. The next session a few weeks later would be on something different with no time for reflection on what had been covered previously, and so it was doubtful if we were actually having any impact on anyone’s actual day-to-day practice.

After much research, thought and discussion we came up with a new model which we hoped would tackle the problems outlined above. Initially we were meant to launch in September 2020 which was quickly scuppered by the pandemic. To some extent this was a blessing in disguise as the extra year of discussion, experimentation and research meant we ended up with a much stronger model. So, to September 2021, and our relaunch.

Engagement / attendance

Our CPD sessions have now been moved to be part of the school day, removing the need for after-school attendance. Teachers get one afternoon per term off timetable to attend CPD. Everyone is given a choice between participating in a delivered program or a bespoke option, although, slightly to my surprise, virtually all staff opted for the delivered program. I’d like to think we were offering something that everyone wanted, but I’d be naive to think it wasn’t just the path of least resistance for some. Although it was feared that cover might be an issue, we’ve managed to minimise this, with very little disruption to teaching at all.

Coherence & Vision

The delivered programme is based around some aspects of cognitive science (schemas, cognitive load, retrieval practice amongst others) because it seemed clear that there was little knowledge of this amongst much of the staff body, at least in a formal sense. The sessions have been planned as a curriculum with a deliberate sequence to build knowledge and understanding of key principles, and opportunities to revisit ideas along the way. The sessions are aligned with our newly developed Excellent Teaching Principles and our new teacher appraisal system (more on this in another blog). This vision has been shared with staff, and is also reiterated in the sessions themselves so that the bigger picture is clear. A final strand of this is the weekly T&L read that gets sent out which is themed around our teaching principles and with explicit links made to the CPD program content.

Impact and Implementation

The CPD sessions are structured to include some delivered content, with an hour set aside afterwards for implementation. The delivered content includes discussion of key principles and underpinning evidence, application to the classroom with some clear and actionable takeaways. The second half is for staff to discuss and reflect on what we’ve covered, and start working out how and where to implement any ideas. Staff are encouraged to only adopt one or two ideas and experiment thoroughly rather than trying to suddenly do a raft of new things without time for proper reflection and refinement. In the next session, we won’t move onto the next topic yet, but have some time for discussion of what colleagues have tried, feedback and evaluation, and opportunity for refinement, with much more time for planning and implementation.

Reflections: how is it going?

It’s early days yet, we’ve only had one full term’s cycle (and now this term has already been stalled by Covid) but the signs are promising. Attendance has been excellent and, in the main, feedback has been very positive. It’s been great to overhear conversations, see appraisal targets, and discuss with colleagues the content we covered in the session.

Not all staff have engaged positively and there has been some friction. An unfortunate set of circumstances – mostly well beyond my control – conspired to create conditions that meant some staff really weren’t receptive to CPD. Low points have included the senior colleague who brought a pile of marking to do during the session, and two who ended up basically shouting “This is a total waste of my time” at me for about 20 minutes. I’m certainly starting to develop a thicker skin!

Logistics have been a significant challenge and my respect and awe for timetablers has reached new heights! It’s been clear that, where it’s been possible to do so, having teachers from the same subjects in sessions together has been really beneficial. The long-term plan will be to ensure that sessions are subject-specific so they can be better tailored to the needs of each department but that’s probably going to take some more significant structural changes to the timetable that we’re not in a position to do just yet.

A final reflection on our journey so far is the level of commitment required to really make a new strategy or model work. I’ve mentioned the logistics already and can’t overstate how much time and energy has gone into getting this right, something Ben Newmark explores more here. The ‘thrill of the chase’ – coming up with the ideas, reading, researching, discussing and even writing and presenting proposals to various groups – this is exciting. I suppose at the back of my mind was always the possibility that this simply wouldn’t happen, that I’d be told no. The far harder job is actually delivering what you’ve promised, with fidelity and commitment. It’s felt like a long, challenging and rewarding journey already, and we’ve still got a long way to go.

2 thoughts on “CPD: A long and winding road…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: