A CPD plan for the new year

Written by: Maria Cunningham | Published:
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As 2018 gets underway, Maria Cunningham offers school leaders some new year’s resolutions to help you ensure that your staff’s CPD is effective and high-impact for the months ahead

January is the perfect time to take stock and reflect not just on your pupils’ progress and your teachers’ professional journeys, but also on your own on-going learning.

Now that you have hopefully had some downtime over the Christmas break and now that you understand your students’ and your staff’s needs much better than you did in September, how can you build on this in order to secure great outcomes by furthering your school’s CPD practice.

The Teacher Development Trust has suggested six small but powerful tweaks that you can adopt straight away in order to make 2018 your school’s best CPD year yet.

Model your own professional learning

How much do you talk about what you are working on in your practice, individually, or in your classroom if you are still teaching? For professional learning to be a priority, it needs to be visible at all levels of any organisation and is particularly powerful when you lead in a potentially vulnerable process. For example, by volunteering for your own lesson to be observed or videoed for sharing with colleagues in your department, or by enrolling yourself in a course.

“I’m always learning,” says Jennifer Richards, headteacher of St Mark’s Primary School in Bromley. “I talk about that all the time. It’s important that my staff trust me, but know that I’m still improving.”

Make CPD a priority for support staff

It is not uncommon for professional learning in schools to be particularly focused on teaching staff, especially when different contracts and timings are taken into account. How often do your support staff have appraisal conversations? How often are they able to meet to share practice and collaborate? All staff should have access to external input and challenge, including opportunities to visit other schools, access to evidence-informed input, and the opportunity to seek out different approaches and strategies.

The National Association of Professional Teaching Assistants, the Teaching Assistant Standards, subject associations, nasen, and the Teaching Assistant Guidance from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) can all be helpful sources for this.

Cultivate a culture of research engagement

Academic research and evidence might seem daunting to those that haven’t engaged with higher level reading since university or NQT year, but there are many ways to ease into the habit and access support in challenging either your own, or your colleagues’ thinking.

You might choose to appoint a particularly enthusiastic or engaged teacher as “research champion” in your school to draw upon syntheses such as the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit and look online for recommendations.

Or perhaps you could consider investing in teachers’ access to educational databases such as EBSCO (provided through Teacher Development Trust Network membership). When you find a particularly interesting study or research summary, why not see if you can share and discuss it with colleagues.

Ditch the graded lesson observations

We are so attuned to entering classrooms and watching what the teacher does, but rather than focusing your judgements on how the adults in the room are approaching the lesson, try instead observing how the pupils are responding to different approaches.

In 2014, Professor Rob Coe of Durham University collated the findings of a number of studies examining the reliability of classroom observation ratings, and famously challenged the idea that we can judge a teacher’s overall performance based on a 20 or 30-minute snapshot of a single lesson, as well as our ability as observers to actually accurately identify “good teaching”.

There’s undoubtedly been a turn in the tide since then, and the rise in popularity of teacher enquiry models such as Lesson Study demonstrates the gradual shift in focusing lesson observations away from teacher practice and towards pupil outcomes.

If possible, encourage or facilitate your teachers to observe their classes in another context, e.g. in a PE lesson, or ask them to investigate how certain pupils learn differently when in smaller or bigger groups. This pupil focus will help the teacher to identify how pupils respond to different strategies and invite them to consider how they then might adapt their own practice.

Redesign your performance management system

Appraisal can enhance CPD, but it is the design that determines whether it is helpful or harmful to staff and pupil outcomes. Judging, evaluating and rewarding teacher effectiveness in a fair and transparent way can seem challenging, but it is so important if your staff CPD programme is to have the desired impact.

Generic tick-box monitoring can kill it stone-dead, and we know that teachers working in more supportive professional environments (with more opportunities for meaningful feedback, conducted in an objective and consistent manner) improve their effectiveness by 38 per cent more over time than those working in less supportive contexts (Kraft & Papay, 2014).

Teachers should always have a level of agency when it comes to their development – and that’s not just in selecting the particular targets to which they are held accountable. According to Science for Work, “active participation in the performance review process may positively affect employees’ acceptance of the overall system” (Wietrak 2017), so involve staff in their appraisal. As much as possible, allow your teachers to choose which measures are used to evaluate their performance. Feeling a sense of trust and that one’s voice is heard is necessary for people to perceive the overall performance management system as fair, useful and a motivation to improve.

Gather feedback

Many schools collect feedback and data from staff to plan for their CPD, but take caution – you need to be clear and decisive about how this data will be used. As schools, we must achieve a greater clarity between conversations that measure performance (appraisal), and conversations that develop performance (goal-setting).

What’s more, don’t be afraid to question the validity of any data you collect. In all professions, “multiple observers of performance should be trained in rating employees using valid and reliable scales” (Marenco, 2017). All data should be checked and ideally be the result of multiple people coming to a consensus.

The best schools include some focus group discussions alongside whole-staff surveys and they also focus on the pupil needs that staff feel are most urgent. Alongside staff career development and interests, and perhaps any external changes, it is important that CPD plans are driven by pupil needs, to enable powerful professional learning that helps children succeed and teachers thrive.

Conclusion

Staff development can be one of the most effective school improvement approaches. Great CPD and a supportive environment can reduce staff turnover, improve morale and reduce stress. By seizing the new year as a time to invest in support and development, you can reduce long-term costs and the headache and stress of the annual recruitment challenge. At the Teacher Development Trust, we have seen first-hand how schools that offer a more supportive, developmental environment will not only find it easier to retain their best staff but can recruit the top talent in the long run. 

  • Maria Cunningham is a former primary school teacher and programme officer for Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for effective professional development in schools and colleges around the UK. Find out more about how TDT supports schools and teachers at http://tdtrust.org/

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