Leading CPD as a middle leader

Written by: Maria Cunningham | Published:
Image: iStock

With middle leaders having a clear and increasing role in driving CPD, Maria Cunningham outlines eight ways to be a more developmental middle leader

Middle leaders often now have an explicit role around professional learning and take on increasing responsibility for the CPD of their department or teams.
At the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for effective professional development in schools, we’re in a fortunate position to visit schools and colleges across the UK that are carrying out great practice when it comes to CPD.

We’ve been able to see first-hand that where senior leadership evenly distributes the oversight of professional learning, a greater number of staff feel supported to give input into CPD and the quality and culture for this is more likely to flourish.

As a middle leader, what are the key things you can do to help yourself and your colleagues to thrive in their practice? We’ve listed eight steps you can take to support the most effective professional teacher learning and, in turn, help pupils in your school succeed.

1 Create the right culture

An analogy that we hear a lot in relation to CPD is that “you can’t build on sand”. Before great plans are laid for your department’s CPD, it is crucial to build up a culture of trust and engagement among colleagues. Developing a shared vision involves helping teachers believe that alternative outcomes are possible and creates coherence so that your whole team understands the relevance of the CPD to wider priorities. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What difference do you/your team want to make?
  • How will you achieve this and how will you evaluate your impact?

If you’re not absolutely sure that your colleagues’ answers to these questions would match up to your own, consider dedicating some time and space to exploring your team’s motivations and establish a clear culture of trust and professional engagement that will underpin all CPD and professional learning that takes place.

2 Make high-quality CPD a priority

It is no secret that time is a school’s most valuable currency, so make the very most of your team meetings and don’t waste the opportunity to collaborate or share best practice by slipping into more administrative tasks. The best middle leaders safeguard their department time for high-quality conversations about curriculum, assessment, teaching and learning. Administrative briefings or information about systems and monitoring can always be pushed into high priority emails, notices or circulated online.

3 Ensure conversations are sustained

Annual appraisal conversations with your team can easily become removed from day-to-day practice and may not strike the right focus on specific practice or pupils. As well as your formal reviews, try to build in more regular discussions about how things are going, the pupil progress of the teachers you line manage, and any more holistic support that your colleagues might need. CPD should be sustained over time, rather than an occasional add-on.

4 Be sufficiently challenging

Approach your department meetings or one-to-one catch ups in the same way you would a lesson – make sure you have some challenging questions or tasks up your sleeve. Explore best answers, discuss prerequisite knowledge and address misconceptions or mistakes together. Effective professional learning includes a certain level of constructive challenge and this applies to long-term habits too. When reviewing your plan for the year, reflect on how many of your staff will learn something new and be removed from their comfort zones. It is, of course, important that this challenge takes place within a safe and trusting culture.

5 Consult the research

It is important as a middle leader to consider how research can underpin evidence-informed practice. Make sure your team is making carefully reasoned decisions around teaching and learning, perhaps by bringing an article or research report as stimulus for discussion to each meeting, even encouraging colleagues to offer their own contributions.

The more that new or cutting-edge ideas are brought to the table, the more likely it is that your colleagues will feel empowered to take informed risks and innovate in their practice, rather than reverting to what’s been done before. For a useful collation of “good places to start” with research, we’d recommend this recent blog from TDT Network member, Huntington Research School (http://bit.ly/2slq76A).

Social media can also be a great resource with a wealth of shared expertise and research – however, exercise caution and be a discerning customer. There are often resources without a strong evidence-base shared on social media too, so make sure you identify where the evidence has come from.

6 Join a subject association

Despite restricted budgets in schools, it is important to ensure that there is still expert input and engagement with expertise around professional learning. If you can secure investment from senior leadership, one of the most useful things you can do as a middle leader is engage with a subject association, in order for you and your team to access useful resources, updates, articles and ideas dedicated to your specific subject.

7 Match CPD to pupil needs

Teachers enter the profession because they want to make a difference, and your team wants to make an impact on the learners in their classrooms. Supporting them to do this is the best way to ensure a thriving staff team. We see that in the schools carrying out the highest quality CPD, processes are very much driven by pupil needs, with individual teachers able to link their professional development to benefits for specific pupils in their classrooms.

One way of facilitating this within departments could be to bring student work or data to every meeting and explore it together, opening up a rich dialogue and opportunity to reflect on shared teacher impact.

8 Don’t forget your own learning!

As a middle leader, your own development is just as important as that of your peers, both in terms of career path and pedagogical or subject-specific expertise. In order to foster a culture of effective professional learning, it is important for leaders to engage in their own CPD to model best practice, as well as to emphasise that this is valued and a priority in your school or context.

For example, it can particularly powerful when you lead in a potentially vulnerable process, perhaps by volunteering for your own lesson to be observed or videoed for sharing with more junior colleagues in your department.

Lesson Study, a Japanese model of collaborative enquiry is a great way to achieve this, and you can find out more about embedding the practice in your school as well as gain professional recognition by enrolling on TDT’s upcoming courses, co-developed with Sheffield Hallam University (see further information).

  • Maria Cunningham is network support officer at the Teacher Development Trust, the national charity for professional learning in schools. She is a former primary school teacher and supports schools across the TDT Network with developing their CPD processes.

Further information

  • To find out more about how the Teacher Development Trust could support your school, or to review the quality and culture of your current CPD provision, visit www.tdtrust.org/network
  • For more information on the upcoming Lesson Study courses, visit http://bit.ly/2tWZ43A
  • If you are an aspiring or existing CPD Leader, in 2017/18 you can become accredited as a TDT Associate in CPD Leadership with David Weston and Bridget Clay. Find out more at cpdleadership.tdtrust.org or contact enquiries@tdtrust.org


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