With increasing pressure on schools to ensure that they get the best pupil outcomes, as well as value for money, challenging decisions are required in all areas of their work.
Evidence shows that powerful professional development helps children succeed and teachers thrive. To ensure that the “ingredients” for improvement exist, leaders need to be diligent in guaranteeing staff CPD that focuses on high-quality programmes with maximum impact, while also reinforcing an ethos of ongoing learning.
To evaluate the impact of CPD in the classroom, we must make sure that each CPD activity is aimed at a particular challenge that has been identified in the classroom.
The first question must therefore be: “What specific need am I addressing and which pupils and staff members are being focused on?” The second question should be: “Does the evidence behind this approach suggest it will have an impact and how will we know?”
What is the problem?
Breaking down the problems is more likely to deliver better solutions than trying to deal with several complex issues in their entirety.
Frequently, CPD is designed to address challenges that are either not well-defined or are trying to focus on too many things.
Here, it is important to clearly outline the problem or area for development. Only once this has been established is it possible to identify how the impact on students might be measured. It is often sensible to break a focus down so that its many parts can be identified and then potentially tackled individually.
This can be achieved well where there are small groups of individuals exploring a problem together and finding solutions that are implemented, evaluated and refined.
However, too often these problems are addressed through whole-staff congregations that take place at the end of the school day. Here CPD is misrepresented where a starter task is followed by a “death by PowerPoint” presentation, where text-heavy slides are read aloud to the group, without much discussion or group participation. In a classroom environment, this would be deemed as poor practice, but too often remains a status-quo for “staff development”.
While it is easy to understand that embedding good learning for large numbers of staff provides a challenge, its effectiveness must not be ignored. Time, energy and resource should be evaluated appropriately. Frequently, leadership teams are challenged by resources and time and while they acknowledge the importance of this thought process, they may not have the tools or resources that enable them to make efficient decisions that have sufficient evidence of impact.
To ensure that there is efficiency and a measurable impact of CPD, targeted intervention, planning and effective execution are required.
Importance of impact
Choosing CPD opportunities that have an impact is a really good place to start. Teachers should have the tools that they need to make informed decisions about their own professional development. In choosing an intervention, it is crucial to consider evidence of impact elsewhere.
Every intervention will need to be contextualised to your own school, but there is plenty of research and evidence to help you choose an intervention that has a high chance of having an effect.
One such tool to assist in choosing resources and providers is the GoodCPDGuide. This provides the largest listing of CPD providers in the UK with information about their work. Courses and professional development resources are evaluated by teachers, as well as listing evidence and research supporting their approach, allowing schools to make informed decisions. Through making decisions based on the impact that professional development has had elsewhere, professionals can make better-informed choices which is a useful alternative to an often less ad-hoc approach. Such tools support improvements in quality.
Programmes need to be assessed over-time and not in isolation. Following the choices that are made in relation to CPD provision, it is appropriate for individuals to reflect upon the consequences that this has upon their own practice.
Evaluating CPD should move beyond the feedback questionnaires that are often collected as evidence of staff attendance. While these “happy sheets” provide a perception at a point in time, what has happened as a result of this activity a number of months later?
One simple tool to evidence impact further, is to measure what the impact of a CPD has had on a small sample of staff three months later and then to share these findings with others. This helps to ensure that the learning is not lost and to encourage staff to think about the relationship between CPD and its impact.
Learn about your own school and benchmark this against the best practice. Considered auditing the CPD provision that is in place on a wider level throughout the school, and to benchmark this against others. The National Teacher Enquiry Network (NTEN) CPD Audit encourages such reflection and helps to embed a more evaluative process to assess the impact of CPD.
Through a whole-school audit, the impact of CPD can be assessed and both strengths and areas for development can be understood and acted upon. This process ensures that the benefits associated with staff time and financial resource are maximised for the benefit of all.
In addition to learning about whole-school CPD, it is important that teachers are also encouraged to recognise the importance of their own professional development. By their nature, teachers are generally selfless and may put a lower priority upon their own needs above that of their students.
It is key that leaders model and highlight the clear benefits that can be sought for all through professional development. Leaders must also ensure that sufficient time is provided for teachers to reflect and collaborate, in order to ensure their CPD has the optimum impact for the students and pupils that they support.
The right tools
Teachers who engage in lesson study work collectively to learn about a problem and then work to solve this together. As a tool for professional development, teachers are supported through a 360 degree process that embeds practice, extends learning and encourages collegiality between day-to-day activities and academic rigour.
Teachers who engage in the NTEN process find that the benefits of lesson study combined with the collaborative network of support provided by NTEN, ensures that their skills and knowledge are evolved through developing their own practice.
Therefore prior to evaluating impact of CPD in the classroom, it is important that leaders at all levels make decisions about professional development with a clear understanding of the intended result.
To ensure that practice is effective and scalable, it is important that leaders assess the provision not only internally but benchmark their practice so that they can determine the future aims of their professional development.
Finally, for impact to become a core component of professional development, it is essential that this is lead by leaders at all levels.
Excellent leaders need to empower teachers and foster a culture that learning is an ongoing process that requires all to be involved. As practice evolves so that teachers take greater responsibility for themselves we may be able to abandon “happy sheets” and traditional “death by PowerPoint” professional development, as the results will speak for themselves.
Further informationThe Teacher Development Trust is a non-profit organisation promoting world-leading approaches to teacher learning. Visit www.tdtrust.org Relevant links
Phil Bourne is development director at the Teacher Development Trust.