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Teacher CPD – Why use it for modest gains when it can do so much more?

Illustration of teacher soaring with wings attached, symbolising professional development

Too much CPD amounts to little more than tinkering with routines, says Ed Carlin – when it should be a tool for further uncovering a teacher’s professional gifts…

Ed Carlin
by Ed Carlin
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Big Ed? He’s fine. He does the football and he’s on a couple of the school development groups. I’ll meet with him tomorrow and we can quickly sign off his CPD sheets…

Imagine a school culture so lacklustre that CPD meetings are annual events, wherein a faculty head lists some examples of extracurricular contributions by a member of staff, before making reference to a few generic targets for the year ahead. Targets which, more often than not, involve improvements to lesson planning, getting involved in school development groups and organising resources for Y11 assessments.

Reigniting the passion

Surely, we can do better than this? We need to address the reality that for many schools, CPD remains a tickbox exercise – something to get out of the way so we can ‘get back to the real work’.

Too often, when I speak with teachers about their experiences of CPD, I’m told that it’s fairly one-sided. They may have once felt committed to the idea of developing their practice, but over the years, seen it became a meaningless, rushed process they’ve had to complete just to evidence that they’ve fulfilled whatever their contractual hours demanded of them at the time.

CPD should be so much more. It ought to be the means by which we reignite our passion for the job. Teachers up and down the country should be supported and encouraged to access whatever opportunities are out there to become the best they can be. How then, might we improve the culture of schools where CPD has become a mandatory, yet lifeless exercise?

Genuine interest

I’d suggest it’s all about relationships. In order to bring about excellent CPD, we must look to develop healthy CPD relationships between teachers and their associated leaders. Faculty heads must commit to taking a genuine interest in the development of their staff– one that goes beyond the needs of the faculty improvement plan, or even the school improvement plan.

Healthy CPD relationships can be identified by the level of passion and purpose shown by a teacher when embarking on a particular aspect of development, and the level of support and challenge offered by said teacher’s faculty head.

To define what ‘meaningful’ CPD is, let’s first look at what it isn’t:

  • Reading but not reflecting in a professional context
  • Reading but not implementing any of the learning/ideas
  • Marking pupil work
  • A revising of procedures, such as photocopying, tidying, filing, etc.
  • Having discussions with colleagues that produce no meaningful outcomes, or opportunities to evaluate impact
  • ‘Learning for learning’s sake’

The above may, at first, seem like attempts to engage with some form of professional development, but scratch below the surface and you’ll find that at best, they’re just ‘add-ons’ to the standards and expectations of the job spec. Too often, however, this is what you’ll discover when going through the records of annual CPD meetings that have actually taken place.

A purposeful process

To truly claim that it has a meaningful and purposeful approach to CPD, a school should offer something more along the following lines:

  • Collaborative planning and impact
  • Strategies for improving performance in assessments
  • Development training / courses to improve teaching, learning and understanding of assessment standards
  • Professional engagement with learning theory, with evidence of implementation
  • Development in terms of both departmental and school-wide priorities
  • Wider development with respect to national priorities

Start to unpack any of these, and you’ll be closer to a culture where CPD is an ongoing, organic and purposeful process; a culture where every teacher has opportunities to mould their ambitions and passions into better learning, better experiences and better outcomes.

Our approach to CPD should include forms of coaching and mentoring that actively support and contribute to the development of additional skills. Then – and only then – can teachers continue to develop as creative, innovative, resourceful, confident and reflective practitioners, able to respond and adapt to our students’ wide-ranging and ever-increasing learning and development needs.

Ed Carlin is a deputy headteacher at a Scottish secondary school, having worked in education for 15 years and held teaching roles at schools in Northern Ireland and England

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