A responsive, research-informed CPD cycle

Written by: Alex Beauchamp | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Designing and implementing an effective, research-informed CPD cycle for your school requires five steps. Alex Beauchamp explains

I love educational podcasts. They turn perfunctory “dad tasks” (that take up 99.9 per cent of my life) into covert opportunities to learn and soak up wisdom from educational experts.

There is one podcast in particular that I have had the pleasure of being signposted to recently that has made me sit up and think. It is Phil Naylor’s “Naylor’s Natter”. Phil is assistant director of Blackpool Research School and, like me, an expert advisor with the Teacher Development Trust (TDT).

On this show, he interviews teachers and education experts, asking them to share and discuss a piece of research that has had an impact on their thinking about education.

If interviewed, I know the research pieces I would choose straight off the bat. There are two inspirational publications at the centre of all CPD decisions made in my school and which inform the way I work with other schools in the TDT’s Sheffield CPD Excellence Hub as they too improve the way they plan and implement professional learning.

The first is Developing great teaching (Cordingley et al, 2015) which is based on findings from the TDT’s review of the international research into what constitutes effective professional development for teachers – the key finding being that professional development opportunities that are carefully designed and are targeted on pupil outcomes have a significant impact on student achievement.

The second is the Standard for teachers’ professional development (DfE, 2016), which offers guidance as to what constitutes effective professional development for teachers. It states that:

  1. Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.
  2. Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.
  3. Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.
  4. Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.
  5. This is underpinned by, and requires that, professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.

It has therefore been the marriage of these two enlightened publications that has led me to make some concrete decisions around CPD processes. The result for my school – and the schools I support through our CPD Excellence Hub – has been the development and implementation of a rigorous evidence-informed CPD cycle.

In essence, this is a model that helps schools to plan, deliver and evaluate key professional learning programmes. It is reinforced by checks, balances and support to make sure that any implemented approaches are given the best chance of improving pupil outcomes. The cycle (see diagram) is not ground-breaking, or even particularly original. However, it is consistent, it is robust, and it is built on sound research.

Step 1: Planning a CPD programme

The start of the cycle begins with identifying an authentic academic, behavioural or attitudinal focus and using expertise (internal and external) to help challenge bias and carve-out a clear plan. In reality, this could take months, but “fertilising the soil” early on with rigorous analysis increases the likelihood of achieving real improvement and growth in the future.

There are some tools that can be highly useful to help plan. For instance, the Education Endowment Foundation’s Putting evidence to work implementation guidance is instrumental to helping schools map-out the long-term plan, covering exploration, preparation, delivering and sustaining an intended programme.

However, take caution not to see this as a “quick fix” – it may first slow down your thinking in order to help you consider the nuances of your actions. This will give you confidence that your chosen approach is suited to the school’s context and has a strong chance of leading to improvement in outcomes.

“Pre-mortems” can also be used to help pre-empt potential problems and challenge biases by asking you to imagine what could have gone wrong with your programme before it has even been delivered. Planning for evaluation using Guskey’s five levels of CPD evaluation will help you map-out how you intend to measure the success of the CPD processes that the programme will entail (Guskey, 2000 & Headteacher Update, 2016).

Finally, ascertaining existing values and perspectives from staff about the problem to be addressed may help to unlock historical blockages in teacher learning. You might want to do this through a staff-wide CPD audit process. Once planned it is time to consider how you want to introduce or deliver your evidence-based approach to staff more widely.

Step 2: Session delivery – the ‘it’ model

Much has been written about how best to deliver CPD and it is important that a clear set of principles and practices are employed in the session so that teachers receive high-quality learning experiences that are memorable and can be transferred successfully to their practice. The first professional development meeting of the cycle will share the vision, skills and knowledge of the CPD approach, so it is crucial to get it right. To help structure the session, the CPD lead could employ what I have termed the “it” model, (shamelessly based on the writings of Weston, Clay, Fletcher-Wood and Lemov).

  • Frame it: Communicate the learning issue to the participants in clear terms and carefully frame it within the realistic context of their day-to-day experiences.
  • Stick it: Make teachers “feel” the problem by relating it to individual children in their classrooms. If the participants can feel its relevance they will be more likely to develop an emotional pull towards implementing the CPD.
  • Evidence it: Give staff the opportunity to engage with school data and external expertise (research, blogs and excerpts from edu-books). What evidence is there that this approach has worked in contexts similar to this one?
  • Name it: Give the CPD approaches memorable names. You might be inspired by Doug Lemov’s use of labelling techniques such as “Cold call” and “No opt out”.
  • Model it: Teachers should be shown first-hand how to deliver the approach and know what it feels like to experience it as a learner. The impact of trainers live-modelling best practice will always go further than a video or an abstract explanation.
  • Practise it: Staff should always be given the chance within the session to practise and experiment with the approach alongside colleagues.
  • Own it: Staff should walk out of this meeting with motivation in their minds and a clear action plan in their pocket. This will only be effective if staff are willing to invest time and effort into embedding their new learning.

At the end of this session, a smart evaluation exit-ticket question to pose to the participants might be: how will learning for your most vulnerable students be different if this CPD is successful?

Step 3: Deliberate practice

Here, participants are given the time, tools and trust to implement the new approach within their classrooms and to consciously build new habits. This is where the professional learning can really take root: behind closed doors within the interaction between teacher and pupils. Ideally, each staff member will be allocated a critical friend who can support them by watching and giving some structured feedback on the impact on predetermined targeted pupils. Using a Lesson Study approach here – observing through a pupil lens – can help the impact to be observed more objectively. This fosters a trusting, non-judgemental way to support growth and improvement for teaching staff.

Step 4: Evaluation

Let’s say six weeks of deliberate practice and peer support have taken place. It is now time to try and gauge the current impact of the approach. Has the CPD been implemented with fidelity? Are there any bright spots who can be used to support and inspire others? What innovations have naturally occurred that can be shared at the next CPD meeting?

Evaluation should be planned for in the design stage and can be achieved in multiple ways, such as using surveys, interviews, fidelity profiles, pupil voice, drop-ins, and so on. Guskey’s five levels of CPD evaluation can provide a robust and consistent guide to support here.

Evaluations will ensure that participants who have not implemented the approach successfully are identified and given an additional layer of support. A CPD leader, now armed with an unbiased range of impact data, will have clarity about the degree to which the programme has been faithfully installed across the school and how future CPD might need to be reshaped to allow continued improvement of teacher learning and pupil outcomes.

Step 5: Reflection and review session

Here, in the final stage of the cycle, participants are given time within a professional development meeting to bring work and evidence from their classes (ideally from targeted children) to discuss the impact of the approach and to compare their experiences with colleagues. Guided and structured dialogue prompts are useful here so that conversations are focused on student impact and not on self-judgement which can heavily distort reflection.

Here, the CPD leader can share the macro findings from across the school and explain how the school will move forward together working towards improving pupil outcomes. The shared vision is updated and renewed with clear next steps for individuals.

What are the possible gains of such a CPD cycle?

If implemented with rigour, the model can foster a culture of growth and improvement for all participants. Feedback shows that staff appreciate the clear focus on pupil outcomes; many can benefit from the cyclical and familiar structure of the model which reduces worry about ever-changing expectations.

Furthermore, it can help middle leaders and subject leaders develop their own CPD skill-set by following an iterative structure when designing their own programmes.It fosters a culture of evaluation and responsiveness from teaching staff and it allows the school to mobilise evidence and embed it into classroom practice.

  • Alex Beauchamp is the lead practitioner at Hunter’s Bar Junior School in Sheffield and an expert advisor for Teacher Development Trust, leading the charity’s CPD Excellence Hub for Sheffield. The TDT is a national charity for effective professional development in schools and colleges around the UK. Visit http://tdtrust.org/

Further information & resources

  • Naylor’s Natter podcast, Phil Naylor: https://anchor.fm/naylorsnattering
  • Developing great teaching, Cordingley et al, Teacher Development Trust, September 2014: http://TDTrust.org/dgt
  • Standard for teachers’ professional development, Department for Education, July 2016: http://bit.ly/2Pj4Vys
  • Putting evidence to work: A school’s guide to implementation, Education Endowment Foundation: http://bit.ly/2EzO0Cz
  • Evaluating Professional Development, Guskey, Corwin Press, 2000.
  • Evaluating CPD provision using Guskey’s five levels, Headteacher Update, November 2016: http://bit.ly/2ov7MCf
  • Responsive Teaching, Harry Fletcher-Wood, Routledge, 2018.
  • Unleashing Great Teaching, Weston and Clay, Routledge, 2018.
  • Teach Like a Champion 2.0, Doug Lemov, Jossey-Bass, 2015: http://teachlikeachampion.com/blog/
  • EAST: Four simple ways to apply behavioural insights, The Behavioural Insights Team, 2010: http://bit.ly/2Gq268H

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up Headteacher update Bulletin
About Us

Headteacher Update is a magazine, website, podcast and regular ebulletin dedicated to the primary school leadership team. We tackle a wide range of leadership issues, offering best practice, case studies and in-depth information, advice and guidance. Headteacher Update magazine is distributed free to approximately 20,000 primary school headteachers.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.