CPD re-visited (avoiding egg sucking)

Robert Coe posed the question ‘how will your students learning be different if your learning has been successful’ when talking about effective school CPD. I think that this is a great way to think about CPD and a sentiment that’s echoed in the research literature. I wrote a blog here last year about my experiences of PD – I did this having sat through one too many illuminated brain scans and the ‘sweet shop’ mentality that I encountered when coordinating PD. Quite a few of the points emerging from the research align well with common sense and seem to echo some of the points I made in my earlier blog post.

The Teacher Development Trust report (2015) set out to ‘capture and distill the approaches to and characteristics of effective PD from over a thousand studies internationally’. The report notes that the most effective PD (providing that the quality and support are right) is long term, lasting at least 2 terms and often longer. So definitely moving away from one-off inputs and providing sustained time and commitment to trial and embed strategies into practice. The idea that follow-up and consolidation are offered are key as is time to engage properly. I really like Doug Lemov’s idea here of departments creating practice drills as a follow up to embed a particular strategy within a subject area. The TDA report goes on to note that teachers have their own views on education and allowing these to be surfaced and discussed was identified as essential. This seems to be best done within the context of an evidence base, and actually equipping staff to engage critically with evidence was also identified as important. A lack of personalization was also an issue, in that the different starting points of those undertaking PD aren’t often acknowledged or planned for- we should be equipping staff to be both reflective of, and self aware of, their own expertise and understanding. The report also highlights the need to include subject specific content or approaches as well as more general teaching and learning strategies. It was also noted that as leaders, we should broker and expect higher standards from external providers- that is, ensuring that participants have the chance to engage with the evidence presented and to air their own views (as mentioned above). Also, those external providers should be required to offer sustained inputs over time and plan into the day the chance to discuss how initiatives can be applied back to particular student groups in the classroom in our school context. This links well into the evidence on facilitation, which indicates that it works best with an external facilitator but supported with an internal person (they know the context best). Being clear on the expectation prior to PD in that Rob Coe’s question is the driver and that what we are looking for is a commitment to practice change or a re-alignment to impact on outcomes for students.

The CURREE study (2015) is very similar to the TDA study (hardly surprising as some of the same people were on each group). This reports differ in the CUREE reports emphasis of the benefits of coaching and mentoring as a vehicle for contextualizing CPD and for embedding learning in day-to-day practice. They note that co-coaching, in particular, empowered practitioners to try out new things by providing a context of ‘reciprocal vulnerability’, which speeded up the development of trust. Specialist coaches were able to provide structured dialogue and group work – practiced in pairs and small groups, providing multiple opportunities for exploring beliefs and assumptions, trying out new approaches and giving and receiving structured feedback.

In my current school, our latest stakeholder survey (May 2016) gave a staff response of 78% agree/ strongly to the statement ‘PD meets my needs entirely’ and represents a good step towards establishing an effective CPD culture. Our model isn’t perfect and people still complain, but I think it’s much better than when I wrote this blog post last year and definitely addresses quite a few of the recommendations identified in the good practice research base. The groundwork was both structural (re-designing the timetable to build in time) and theoretical in exploring the notion of PD, learning and teaching and coming to a shared understanding of what this was like when it was effective. I represented our thinking on learning and teaching in a diagram called the Learning Model.

To differentiate our CPD, we articulated each aspect of pedagogy along a continuum of ‘emerging, embedding and mastering’ and then asked staff to audit where they felt they were. This gave a snapshot across the school and allowed us to design CPD opportunities accordingly. To take away a hierarchy, each staff member (including all of the LT) belongs to a learning group under one of the pedagogical strands, in which we discuss and share practice. Each group takes part in 3-way observations in term 3 (along the lines of Teacher Rounds) and has some protected Tuesday morning time to get together.

UntitledIn terms of providing extra time for quality CPD to happen, we have created the two yellow blocks in the timetable each week for collaborative planning, meetings and CPD to take place. On Tuesdays, our students start school at 10.05 rather than the usual 07.55 that they do on every other day. They also leave at 12.55 on Friday, with Staff staying on-site until 14.30. This gives us a taught week of 26 hours of lessons, 90 minutes of Tutor time and 130 minutes of collaborative/ PD time each week. We publish a calendar at the start of the year for the sessions identified in yellow, showing what will take place in each session. I think that this has been key in providing ring-fenced time at a productive time of the day that allows for follow up, embedding and a sustained focus.

To make these PD groups work, I used our department heads to facilitate the meetings so that they were effective and driven- this was only partially successful with some more confident than others. We do still have staff who would prefer to go ‘on a course’, which is fine but I have tried very hard to emphasize the point about deliberate and sustained practice to make things stick.

pathbrite_product_1Our staff use a free e-portfolio product called PathBrite (fig. 3) to host their professional learning– reviewing and discussing this is a feature of our appraisal process. Nearly all formats of media can be added to the portfolio and tagged against categories. As the portfolio belongs to the teacher rather than to the school, they move with the teacher if they move to another employer.

I have also worked with out librarian to curate a quite extensive professional learning library with dedicated teacher space to work (figure 4).

library

Conclusions

  1. Those attending PD should do so with the expectation that a deliberate and sustained change in practice, which impacts positively on student outcomes, is the aim.
  2. Effective PD (providing that the quality and support are right) is long term, lasting at least 2 terms and often longer.
  3. Focus the PD offer on the evidence for what works in improving learning and teaching.
  4. Follow-up and consolidation are offered through departmental deliberate practice drills, further input, coaching and feedback.
  5. Creating time within PD sessions to allow individuals to express their views within the context of the evidence base.
  6. Personalizing the offer to acknowledge the different starting points of those taking part.
  7. Include subject specific as well as more general approaches.

References

Higgins, P Cordingley, T Greany and R Coe. Developing great teaching: lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development” (Teachers Development Trust, 2015)

Cordingley, M. Bell, K. Holdich and M. Hawkins. Understanding What Enables High Quality Professional Learning, A Report on the Research Evidence” (Centre for the Use of Research Evidence in Education- CUREE, 2013)

Lemov. “From professional development to practice: getting better at getting better” (Article 50, Pathways To Success, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute)

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