Using CPD to support effective remote teaching

Written by: Maria Cunningham | Published:
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CPD to support remote teaching & the use of ed-tech has become commonplace during the pandemic. Maria Cunningham advises on how schools should approach using CPD programmes to develop effective remote teaching practice


It cannot be said enough that schools have been incredible at recently adapting so rapidly to learning in a remote context, amid huge uncertainty, change and unsettling circumstances. The past year has created enormous new challenges for leaders.

One small silver lining is that the dramatic uptake in ed-tech tools and online learning platforms offers us a powerful opportunity to sustain the newly elevated role of technology in education.

However, we must be careful to ensure that demand for quick wins and rapid transition does not create an overemphasis on products, platforms and policies, as opposed to supporting teachers to develop and to sustainably embed what might be new and unfamiliar strategies.

A successful ed-tech approach should first and foremost develop staff’s capacity and expertise in implementing digital tools that support high-quality teaching and learning. Ideally, it should fuel a culture in which teachers are embracing remote learning as far more than just a means to increase efficiency or a “second-best” alternative when face-to-face teaching is impossible.

Many staff are only scratching the surface of what can be fully achieved with the digital tools schools have already bought, and often this is down to a lack of high-quality or sustained CPD.

When we work with schools to carry out the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) diagnostic audit process, which reviews the quality and culture of a school’s professional learning programme, we frequently encounter the reasons why only a handful of staff are using technology to its full potential, while the majority stick to tools they know or features they understand.

We also find that the most common organisational weakness is around needs-analysis and evaluation, particularly designing CPD to deliberately target teachers’ needs and then measuring the impact of this on pupils.


Building on pedagogy and technology expertise

As with all teacher development, the process of creating outstanding remote learning should build on teachers’ existing areas of expertise in both pedagogy and technology, involving colleagues rather than being seen as something “done to” teachers, or a burdensome bolt-on.

High-quality teacher development draws upon what staff know about their students, while also providing meaningful opportunities to collaborate, trial and adapt evidence-informed strategies about what actually helps specific pupils to learn better.

Crucially, it should be underpinned by strong support from senior leaders, with tight links to the wider organisational development plan. In this climate we are seeing lots of newly appointed “e-learning” or remote learning leaders, and it is important that they have close ties to the senior leadership team or CPD leader and the influence that is necessary to enact organisational change.


Four key principles

As a leader, you naturally want to ensure that your school’s professional development for teachers is supporting them to consistently create outstanding remote learning, so that all pupils can succeed. Here are four key principles to consider in your planning:

Learning objectives: Any CPD aimed at improving remote learning must be adopted with the end learning objective in mind, with individual staff able to explicitly define what success will look like for different “case” students. This could be, for example, a target group of disadvantaged learners, such as Pupil Premium students in year 7, but the golden rule is that the narrower the focus, the easier it will be to evaluate. Encourage colleagues to ask themselves: “What will success look like for (pupil X) if I have developed my skills in (remote learning strategy Y)?”

Time: Think carefully about providing time for professional development in remote learning – and not just at the point of need. For example, not just a twilight session or briefing upon introducing a new platform or piece of software, but building in rich opportunities to constantly revisit the use of digital strategies, to collaborate and to share expertise (as teachers’ levels of confidence and competence vary).

Differentiation: Fundamental to the success of effective teacher development for remote learning is understanding that teachers will be at different levels of maturity in their ed-tech development, and for individuals this will not always match up to their level of expertise as a classroom practitioner. As ever, one-size-fits-all models of CPD won’t fit here. Many schools have been conducting remote learning skills audits or staff surveys which help colleagues diagnose and respond to their unique starting points. Savvy commissioning can also help here – working only with ed-tech providers who can help teachers tailor their offer and provide sustained, on-going support, e.g. through accessing models of excellent practice, accompanied by rich underlying thinking and research.

Evaluation: Approach evaluation as a process and a means of change – not just something that comes at the end. The most effective evaluation of teacher professional development uses a range of measures and is crystal clear about purpose from the outset. Your remote learning strategy should build in on-going formative assessment in order to support adaptation and refinement, help in securing teacher buy-in and maintain colleagues’ focus on the intended outcome of the CPD. It should also build in summative assessment to evaluate ultimate impact against intended outcomes, ascertain value for money/time/resource and inform future design.


We’re all in the same boat

It is important to remember that the vast majority of colleagues working in schools at the moment are in the same boat; getting to grips with very new professional demands and working with both students and peers at a distance. For this reason, we have been hearing from leaders that regular virtual collaborative sessions and opportunities to meet have been vital to ensure that all staff are able to share, reflect and contribute what is or isn’t working around remote teaching and learning.

The Education Endowment Foundation’s rapid evidence assessment of remote professional development (2020) concluded that teachers engaging with online or virtual CPD can ultimately lead to gains in pupil outcomes and emphasised that “there is not strong evidence that school-based CPD should be delayed until it can be delivered face-to-face”.

Sensitivity to teacher wellbeing is more crucial than ever; and it is likely that colleagues might have less mental “bandwidth” after a full day of live online teaching or remote education to deeply engage with professional development.

But you as a leader can be a critical enabler of the supportive conditions that means people development is embedded in school culture; ensuring that, for instance, coaching and mentoring relationships can still be successful when done remotely. You can support staff to prioritise their CPD by carving out protected time within the working day for staff to engage with professional learning sessions or materials, and ensure that staff have access to the technology required as well as the competencies to do this safely, efficiently and appropriately.

Many schools have told us that staff needs-analysis surveys or ed-tech audits have been useful to gain greater awareness of the very different starting points from which teachers are approaching remote teaching and learning.


Communication matters

Finally, as ever, communication matters. As the EEF report makes clear, “CPD outcomes are strengthened where clarifying the purpose of the CPD, roles and expectations are clear”, which requires careful coordination from any providers of CPD or expertise you are working with, staff involved (including technicians or those responsible for technological infrastructure), and the school leadership team.

  • Maria Cunningham is a former teacher, a school governor and head of education at the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for effective professional learning in schools. She is currently leading TDT’s provision of remote learning support and CPD to partner schools involved in Nesta’s EdTech R&D Programme, run in partnership with the Department for Education. She tweets at @mcunners. Visit www.tdtrust.org and read Maria’s previous articles for Headteacher Update via https://bit.ly/375urwZ


Further information & resources

  • EEF: Rapid Evidence Assessment:Remote Professional Development, September 2020: http://bit.ly/2MmQskE
  • TDT: In response to schools moving to remote learning for spring 2021, the Teacher Development Trust has released some of its member-only content for the duration of this period. To access this for free, visit https://tdtrust.org/cpdconnectup/.


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