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Teacher training – What to learn and when… the art of timetabling your CPD

Adam Riches looks at how pacing, time management and content considerations should inform the scheduling of your staff CPD across the academic year

  • Teacher training – What to learn and when… the art of timetabling your CPD

It’s no secret that being a teacher is a non-stop experience. With so much needing to be done, any additional burdens are rarely welcomed.

As such, there’s a fine balance to be struck when it comes to CPD – between that which is helpful and necessary, and that which is tiresome – as well as a number of other considerations to bear in mind when deciding what your school’s CPD offer should be. Compared to the timetabling of student lessons, the timetabling of CPD needs to be much more fluid, albeit with some constants in place.

For CPD to be effective, leaders must be clear as to when staff training is expected to take place, and ensure that sufficient time is allowed for it to be implemented. If your CPD offer is to be relevant, allowances must be made for the participants and style of delivery to vary.

How much teacher CPD is ‘enough’?

Regular, relevant CPD will keep teachers engaged in improving their practice and ensure that the quality of teaching in school remains a priority.

When deciding on the timing of CPD sessions, leaders ought to consider what the aim of those sessions will be. There needs to be a good balance between individual, departmental and whole school CPD if your teachers are to continue their professional development in a sustainable way.

Not every teacher will be interested in all the different elements on offer, but by spreading your content across those three areas, you should be able to deliver meaningful progress and support at both a whole staff and individual level as needed.

When setting the frequency of your CPD, wider factors will need to be considered. Basing your CPD on a regular cycle can be helpful for achieving that crucial balance across different areas. Setting whole school CPD every week will quickly become overwhelming for staff, but there’s also the risk that time set aside each week for individual development may end up going to waste.

Dedicating one night per week to CPD would be a good approach to take. Of course, just as important as the CPD’s frequency is your communication. Staff will need to know what’s happening and when, but they’ll also need to know your expectations of them during dedicated CPD time (if indeed there are any).

The clearer your instructions, the higher the chances of success. That doesn’t mean having to be totalitarian when it comes to the format of your CPD; just that staff have to know what they need to do.

Teacher training – What to offer

Making CPD relevant is the most effective way of increasing its impact, which will in turn heighten the quality of teaching and motivation of teachers at your school.

To ensure that CPD is relevant, leaders must be both aware and responsive. Outside of compulsory training, avoid planning CPD session topics and specifics across the whole year in advance – leaders should instead use their observations of teaching, listen to the needs of those in the school and provide CPD that will support development accordingly.

Communicating the thought processes behind the selection of your school’s CPD focuses is crucially important. Staff need to be clearly informed as to why they’ll be looking at a specific area – there’s no reason for leaders to be secretive regarding their reasons for covering a particular topic.

Effective QA and high value discussions with middle leaders will yield exceptional results when it comes to ascertaining what your whole school priorities are. Demonstrating a keen awareness of issues affecting the school and being present will build staff trust in the decisions being made about their CPD, but whole school focuses are just one part of the puzzle.

Departments need the time and freedom to explore pedagogy in their own subject-specific areas. This can play a hugely important part in translating whole school incentives into department-level approaches, but it’s important to remember that departmental CPD time is exactly that – CPD time.

It’s easy for supposed CPD meetings to get bogged down in discussion of administrative matters if they’re not effectively run. Whether they are or not will come down to that clarity (or otherwise) of instruction and expectation.

It’s also important that people are given some freedom to explore their own interests. Some schools may facilitate this through setting up cross-curricular pedagogy groups, allowing staff to take personal research time or by offering an online course. Regardless of the approach used, the individuals in question will benefit from being given time to explore what’s important to them. This is what makes us all individuals, after all; you certainly don’t want your CPD to produce robots who all teach the same.

Who should deliver CPD?

The responsiveness of your CPD is important, but so too is the person who’ll actually be delivering it. Using specialists in certain areas who can talk staff through best practice is a great way of getting buy-in.

I’m personally a great believer in a transaction model, in which numerous individuals contribute something to your CPD from different areas. By themselves, these individual contributors may not necessarily be the most experienced members of the school or even their own department – but they should absolutely be experts at what they’re delivering in class.

There’s a lot to be learnt here, and the opportunity itself can serve as a great avenue of development (and confidence booster) for different members of staff. Pursuing this type of approach will rapidly build your collective efficacy and immediately make your CPD offering seem much more inclusive in nature.

There will, of course, be times when an instructionalist approach is more effective and therefore necessary. When it comes to improving schools collectively, or addressing issues around some difficult topics, it might not be possible for training to be facilitated by others outside of a small group. This doesn’t mean that a sense of community can’t be forged – just that the way in which staff are engaged will need to be different.

How much CPD is ‘too much’?

There can be a fear of ‘overdoing it’ when it comes to CPD. There will always be those who actively and endlessly seek opportunities for self-improvement, versus those who only turn up to sessions because they have to.

CPD becomes burdensome when staff can’t correlate the purpose of the sessions with what they’re doing day-to-day. CPD providers must always consider the end user – classroom teachers – and their daily practice if the CPD in question is to ever become a part of a school’s ethos.

If the sessions laid on aren’t helping in any way at all, then they’ll simply add to your staff’s workload and subsequently turn them off completely. Your CPD attendance may even be good, but bums on seats doesn’t necessarily equate to learning by themselves.

Striking that balance and ensuring your CPD is relevant for as many staff as possible is a tough task, but it’s vitally important to communicate where the school CPD offer fits in with the ethos of the school.

CPD should form a part of your culture, and if planned effectively, become a seamless part of what the school does.


Adam Riches is a senior leader for teaching and learning and author of the book Teach Smarter: Efficient and Effective Strategies for Early Career Teachers (£16.99, Routledge); follow him at @teachmrriches.

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