Evaluating your CPD: Am I making a difference yet?

Written by: Maria Cunningham | Published:
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What are the key questions that you should be asking yourself when it comes to designing and evaluating CPD with measurable impact? Maria Cunningham advises

Since forming in 2012, the Teacher Development Trust has visited hundreds of schools around the country to review their CPD practices.

We have seen first-hand how the most effective professional learning can transform teacher practice and improve pupil outcomes. But we appreciate that it can also be a particularly challenging area in which to show measurable progression.

It is crucial for school leaders to justify all areas of spending and CPD is no exception. But we should not just see measuring impact as a means of demonstrating external accountability or value for money. It is also a powerful learning tool in itself.

The more that all staff in your school are supported to formatively evaluate the effect of a change of practice in their classroom, the more they will be active players in the process of meeting the CPD’s intended outcomes responsively according to their students’ needs.

Don’t fall at the very first hurdle by creating or providing the opportunities, and then trying to evaluate the impact afterwards as a separate activity.

Evaluation of CPD is absolutely not something that just comes at the end – traditionally seen at one-off training sessions in the form of feedback forms or “happy sheets”. At its very worst, this type of feedback tells you that the room where training took place was too cold or that staff enjoyed the biscuits. At best, it will give you an idea of the perceived “learning” experience of the participants, but crucially in isolation it fails to ascertain where an actual development in practice has taken place, let alone the change to pupil outcomes. Evaluation and professional learning should be inextricably linked.

So how can you ensure that you’re able to accurately evaluate the impact of staff development? We have listed the key questions that you should be asking yourself when it comes to designing and evaluating CPD with measurable impact:

What do we mean by evaluation?

Studies have found that in schools, participants of CPD often confuse “evaluation” of professional learning with “dissemination”. In these cases, senior leaders and teachers tend to make the mistake of viewing the process of sharing new knowledge and skills, e.g. acquired on a training course, as evaluation in and of itself.

While the transference of new materials or techniques to colleagues can indeed be a worthwhile exercise in embedding professional learning, both for the individual and across school, evaluation goes beyond this. It involves measuring (not necessarily in a quantitative or in-depth way) the changes that occur as a result of this new knowledge and skills.

This impact can be both direct or indirect, but that distinction should be considered and clarified from the outset. Direct impact aims to specifically benefit learners, while CPD with an indirect impact aims to improve the overall environment and context in which teaching and learning occurs – e.g. changes to policy, leadership and management activities.

What are you trying to achieve?

It sounds obvious, but a common pitfall of evaluating whole-school CPD programmes is a lack of clarity around knowing what needs your training is addressing. There are a whole host of strategies upon which you can draw in order to diagnose needs – including assessment outcomes, teacher surveys, lesson observations, video technology, pupil behaviours, and appraisal meetings. Take a range of these and ask yourself “what will look different if we are successful?”

Who should be involved?

On an all too frequent basis we see professional learning processes where priorities are only set by senior leaders based on small snapshots of performance and test data. Yet it’s always important to take caution about any performance data being collected and to not be afraid to question its validity – more often than not, findings from judgemental lesson grading or “book looks” are much less reliable than you think.

Bear in mind that both teachers and support staff who spend the most time with students will have the deepest insights into why and how classroom learning happens. Further to this, staff should have a level of agency when it comes to their development, so as much as possible allow them to choose which measures are used to evaluate their performance, as well as the activities that will help them improve.

Feeling a sense of trust and that one’s voice is heard is necessary for people to perceive that CPD is fairly planned, useful and a motivation to improve.

What tools will you use?

Once your teachers know what specific pupil needs they are trying to address, we recommend using Thomas Guskey’s Evaluating Professional Development (2000) to structure your approach to evaluating a specific programme of professional learning.

Guskey’s five levels build on the traditional view of evaluation as measuring participants’ reaction – i.e. their satisfaction – and delve deeper into the knowledge, skills and attitudes acquired through training, as well as the organisational support in place, the changes in teachers’ behaviour as a result of their CPD, and finally the impact on students – be it their attainment, behaviour or attitude.

For more on using Guskey’s five levels as an evaluative tool, see our previous article for SecEd on this topic (SecEd, April 2016).

What barriers need to be overcome?

A fundamental aspect of Guskey’s five levels is that they all depend on one another and build on the level before. If there are organisational barriers to staff actually applying what they have learnt, then CPD by default becomes unsuccessful, because the “D” for development will not occur.

Examine whether your school programme is allowing the adequate resources and time for participants’ planning and evaluation of CPD. If not, there will be no change in classroom practice and most likely little impact on student learning.

For leaders and CPD facilitators, a small but powerful tweak you can make immediately is to specifically carve out a time slot for collaborative needs diagnosis at the start of your professional learning programme.
Your school culture and ethos is important too. Poor organisational support or a lack of shared vision can be a

stifling force on even the best improvement and evaluative CPD strategies. A culture of development encourages staff to take risks, allows staff to learn from mistakes and strikes a suitable balance of challenge and support. This means that if your evaluation of CPD involves measuring teacher performance, feedback needs to be meaningful and forward-facing, with emphasis on building on existing strengths.

Are we making an impact yet?

If this is a question that staff in schools constantly revisit in collaboration, as well as continuously checking in their individual practice, then evaluation will become implicit in the very doing of CPD.

Leaders have the potential to cause a small but powerful cultural shift simply by achieving greater clarity between conversations that measure performance (appraisal), and conversations that evaluate and develop teacher practice (goal-setting). These are two very separate objectives and therefore the targets themselves should look different too.

During these conversations, we recommend that for more complex targets where multiple factors are at play, such as changes to pupils’ learning, leaders and managers should adopt a more holistic approach to individual learning goals so that the teacher can take ownership of evaluation and fully engage with their own professional learning journey.

There’s no doubt that measuring the impact of your CPD can be challenging, with some aspects more straightforward to evaluate than others. Given how important it is to adopt a range of evaluative processes, strike a balance between providing formative and summative feedback and adapt all this to student, teacher and school-wide needs, there’s no wonder that it is one of the most common areas where schools seek our support.

Despite this, if you start by using Guskey’s five levels to break down the needs that your CPD is meeting and the change you seek to achieve, it is possible to create a self-fulfilling system where CPD and evaluation happen simultaneously and the learning experience is even further enhanced.

  • Maria Cunningham, a former primary school teacher, is membership and engagement officer for the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for effective professional development in schools and colleges around the UK. Visit http://tdtrust.org/

Further information

  • Evaluating Professional Development, TR Guskey, 2000, Corwin Press.
  • Five principles to help you evaluate your CPD, Bridget Clay, SecEd, April 2016: http://bit.ly/2DzDCKl
  • On February 20, the Teacher Development Trust is exploring “Measuring the Impact of your CPD” during a one-day event in London. For details, visit http://teacherdevelopmenttrust.eventbrite.co.uk


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