All the evidence indicates that teachers develop intensively in their first couple of years of teaching and that they then plateau in their development, regardless of the intricate plans for continuous professional development (CPD) that schools construct.
This was my personal experience. You conquer the struggles of simply managing your class and then you simply get on. You have subject content to learn; exams to grapple with; students to chase up, reports to write, plans to hastily cobble together and much more. There are so many pressures, and so little time, that genuine self-improvement is a struggle. In these conditions CPD can’t hope to make much difference.
With the Sword of Damocles that is OFSTED always looming, and changing diktats being recycled from Whitehall just have you have understood the last one, you may be slumping with pessimism for the future of our great profession. Gladly, I do think there is cause for optimism and you can sense it when people come together to discuss CPD and shares their successes and seek out improvements.
I think there is a simple formula for CPD that can help us hope to make a small, but significant difference. It is the three Ts: Trust, Time and finding the right Tools:
You need to create the conditions to grow and develop teachers. You need to fend off the unreliable nonsense of OFSTED lesson gradings; Mocksteds; submitting lesson plans; arbitrary attempts to alongside some of the crazy practices that now attend performance related pay.
To create trust, you need to allow teachers to take risks. You need to openly reject an imposed teaching formula or some external notion of ‘outstandingness’. You need to help them to work together in the comfort of their subject teams. Collaboration breeds confidence.
At Huntington we have fortnightly CPD training. You need to change your school structure if you are to put the ‘continuous’ into CPD. If we know that teacher quality is the chief factor that drives school improvement, then we need to divert as much of our energies (and our finances) as possible into improving teacher quality. The government could help a great deal, but we need to ensure we help ourselves.
Our CPD training is predominantly given over to department time. Subject leaders are trusted and supported to lead their teams with the essentials of developing subject specific pedagogy. We do have some whole school sessions too, to share best practice across our staff, led by our excellent teacher coaches, that focus on key tenets of pedagogy, like memory for learning. Crucially, teachers are free to select which session best attends their professional needs. Flexibility and the autonomy of choice should be watch words for the time we give over to teachers for CPD.
The best ‘tool’ for school improvement is busy teaching in the classrooms all across our school. Finding systems to open the door on our craft knowledge and expertise is crucial. Whether it is teacher coaches supporting colleagues, finding time for enquiry and lesson study for interested colleagues, or simply giving a day for subject leaders to get themselves back above water, so that they can plan great CPD sessions, time and expertise become the tools to leverage better CPD.
At Huntington, we have our Huntington Learning Hub, our collaborative website, to share our best resources, ideas and CPD sessions. We also use IRIS Connect video technology. By having these flexible technological tools, we can better create the means to see inside our classrooms. We can unveil the nuances of our craft that would otherwise be missed in the mire of the busy working week.
Is there much to do and learn? Yes, of course. Is there a CPD silver bullet? Sadly, no – I’ve checked. There is the chance, by relentlessly keep the main thing of teaching and continuous professional development the main thing, that we can help teachers break through their professional plateaus and improve their craft.
It will take trust, time and the right tools to do it better.
This blog is my attempt to cohere my ideas for giving a short talk at the IRIS Connect #ShapingCPD event.