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Reimagining CPD: Fostering Personal Development in Schools

The role of CPD in schools is being rethought, and giving staff the power to shape their own professional development is at the heart of the changes.

A one-size fits all approach to CPD in schools was never effective. Too often, what began as a good intention to develop staff skills and knowledge based on a pre-determined set of needs, was reduced to little more than a tick-box exercise with only a vague impact on teaching quality or educational outcomes for young people.

Today, schools are recognising that, in order for continuous professional development to be effective in improving the quality of teaching and driving improvement across the school, the focus needs to be on individual staff: meeting their specific development needs, whether that is competencies, experience or skills, and then linking that development activity to the school’s own improvement goals. Giving staff a degree of autonomy to decide what form that development should take is at the heart of the change.

Within this more personalised approach, the challenge for the member of the senior leadership team responsible for professional development and standards also changes. Primarily, they need to understand and be able to articulate what excellent practice is. How is the quality of teaching – setting high expectations, demonstrating good subject knowledge, teaching well-structured lessons, managing behaviour – being fulfilled in the classroom? What are the benchmarks? What is the evidence?

What this looks like will vary according to the individual context of the school. Setting high expectations is a priority in every school, but in practice, the nuances will look different in a coastal town primary, a suburban leafy-lane secondary or a city-based academy. Thus, finding the right approach for the organisation is critical. Our guidance paper, produced with ASCL[i], exploring the policies, procedures and processes involved in changing approaches to performance management, goes into more detail on these points.

CPD in schools, continued professional development, Continuous Professional Development

Watford Grammar School for Girls has a long track record of high achievement. Nevertheless, its leaders felt professional development could be a more meaningful element of the school’s improvement strategy. They revised the appraisal process, shifting the focus from ‘prove’ – where teachers were filling in huge documents to evidence their achievements – to ‘improve’ and rewriting the process to give staff more choice and control over how they approach professional development and align it to the school’s improvement goals.

“Staff don’t want high levels of scrutiny,” says Chris Wilshaw, the school’s Deputy Head. “We aim to treat them as professionals because we know they are performing well – getting high GCSE and A-level results. We needed to design a system for our appraisal process that allowed for more autonomy than you might have in other schools.”

Newton International School, a British International School in Doha, Qatar, has switched to a more developmental approach to CPD. This is designed to help improve teaching standards across the staff body, helping them to meet British standards for the curriculum and to compete in the highly competitive international school market.

Staff have the flexibility to design their own professional development programme, selecting existing school resources and external content (including BlueSky Learning) to achieve their career goals.

“Instead of having a one-size-fits-all approach to CPD, staff can choose their own development path to improve skills in particular areas that they need,” says Sónia Santos, Year 6 Team Leader and Appraisal Coordinator. “Staff are now actively engaged with their own performance appraisal and professional development on an ongoing basis, which previously only concerned the senior leadership team.”

How do you know what your staff needs are?

In our latest client survey, most schools said that they identified teachers’ learning needs through appraisals, with a high proportion also using the quality assurance process as a way of pinpointing areas to address. For some, coaching conversations with specific staff and ad hoc conversations might also play a part.

CPD in schools, continued professional development, Continuous Professional Development

The role of QA, in particular, in identifying staff professional development needs has expanded in recent years, marking a significant shift. Classroom observations, for example, have evolved for some schools from a monitoring process to a developmental and supportive one, used less to judge and more to identify the skills, knowledge and behaviours that a teacher might benefit from focusing on in more depth. And although observations are still led predominantly by senior and middle leaders, some schools have introduced peer-to-peer observations to create dialogue and provide professional support.

Other ways to identify staff capabilities and areas for development include:

  • Self-review – staff assess themselves against both the national Teachers’ Standards and their school’s own priorities
  • Peer review – for example, peer observation with focus identified by the person being observed, or peer coaching
  • 360 feedback review – to gather insights into skills and behaviours relevant to a role with the outcomes used to identify the individual’s development needs but also, potentially, to feed into talent management and succession planning

These can be used as a basis for appraisal conversations about professional development goals and objectives.

Using a strengths-based model

A strengths-based model takes as its starting point staff’s existing areas of expertise and competence and considers how they might be expanded as part of that teacher’s development and how that expansion could help the school to meet its goals for improvement. Inspired by the method of ‘appreciative inquiry’, as applied to organisations, (Cooperrider and Srivastva 1987), it is based on an understanding that people can most effectively improve their own performance if they build on these strengths, rather than focusing on resolving their weaknesses.

A study by CIPD[ii] in the UK, focused on the wider public sector, indicated that “interventions promoting strengths-based performance conversations can have a measurable impact on what conversations take place between managers and their staff, and on the usefulness of one-to-one meetings for employees’ learning and development and performance.”

Schools such as Dulwich College, Singapore, have employed this model with teachers identifying one aspect of their teaching practice and setting an ‘inquiry question’ as a focus for professional development.

As staff grow in competence in a key area or areas, they can then help to train others who need support, though there’s an important point to recognise here: even good classroom teachers are not automatically good at passing on their skills to other teachers, for any number of reasons, so they may need coaching in how to do it. Such training in itself can also support retention and succession planning.

Potentially, this can be the first step in developing frameworks for what collaborative professional development across teams, departments and hierarchies could look like in schools.

Meanwhile, ensuring that professional learning targets are relevant to the individual’s practice helps to keep them engaged in the process and in their role because it allows them to take ownership of their learning pathway and define their career path. The influence that such empowerment can have on job satisfaction has been highlighted in research by NFER[iii], among others. Job satisfaction is one of the key factors in retention, persuading people to stay in the profession even when there are other pressures to contend with.

Finally . . .

While enabling staff to design their own development routes and goals for learning, it’s still crucial to link that development to school priorities. We will be exploring this further in our next blog which examines the importance of tying school priorities to professional learning to maximise the return on investment in CPD in schools.

How do you build a school CPD programme with impact?

How do you build a school CPD
programme with impact?

Get our latest guide to ensuring professional development is effective for achieving school priorities.

How do you build a school CPD programme with impact?

What’s coming next for CPD And Training

Many schools have significantly shifted their improvement strategy over recent years, recognising that professional development is crucial to improving quality of teaching and student outcomes, not to mention job satisfaction and staff retention in schools.
Feedback from our clients, alongside extensive market research, have given us a real opportunity to review some aspects of the CPD and Training modules in BlueSky. We are aiming to release the updates for these modules by the end of the summer term – watch this space for further details.

Tamsin Denley

Author: Denise Inwood
CEO & Founder, BlueSky

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