Secrets to science CPD success

Written by: Yvonne Baker | Published:
Photo: MA Education

Effective CPD is vital to the effectiveness of all teachers. With an eye on the STEM subjects, Yvonne Baker from the National Science Learning Network offers five steps to successful whole-school CPD strategies

So often, taking part in professional development can feel like starting a new diet. You feel inspired and the immediate results are amazing. But slowly, you begin to slip back into your old ways – the new techniques you have learnt just don’t work as part of your routine. It hasn’t had a real impact on your teaching.

Impact. It is a word that gets bandied about a fair bit – but what does it mean? Teachers are pushed for time and resources, so every moment away from the classroom has to be worth it. That means teachers really need professional development experiences that have a truly lasting effect, with cutting-edge subject and pedagogical knowledge embedded throughout. CPD with real impact – that is the standard the National Science Learning Network sets.

So we have come up with our very own “five a day”. They say small changes add to up to a big difference – so perhaps if all CPD contained these key ingredients, teachers would truly be getting the professional support they deserve.

Lesson 1: Sustained engagement

The Teacher Development Trust’s report Developing Great Teaching points out that effective professional development is sustained over time, giving teachers the opportunity to take what they have learnt and apply it in their classrooms. We agree.

We believe that good CPD should be designed to provide individual teachers and schools with a coherent and on-going menu of support, meeting their needs in a variety of ways, including residential experiences, local sessions, in-school support and online offers.

Advice on techniques for implementing changes back in the classroom and identifying that impact on teaching and students should be embedded throughout.

And once back in the classroom, you should not be left stranded – instead, you should receive continuing support. We offer this through online community groups and plenty of opportunities to get involved in networks, conferences and other events. This helps us to ensure that teachers continue to feel supported, sustaining the change for them, their schools and their students.

Lesson 2: Boost confidence

Teacher confidence, alongside up-to-date and secure subject and pedagogical knowledge, is key in inspiring young minds in science. We all remember those teachers who excited us with their passion and enthusiasm for a subject – it’s infectious, and that’s what we want for every young person now.

With STEM skills constantly in demand from employers – almost irrespective of sector – and lots of talk about practical and transferable skills too, this kind of professional development is surely something that every teacher should have regular opportunities to do?

Lesson 3: Develop strong leadership

Every teacher is a leader. Whether that is as a classroom teacher, a subject leader or as a member of a management team. Ensuring great science teaching in a school relies on strong subject leadership.

All leaders of science – be they aspiring, newly in post or more experienced – deserve regular opportunities to refresh their own knowledge, develop their leadership skills and reinvigorate their own science passions.

Lesson 4: Staying power

Evidence shows that when teachers feel valued and have opportunities for professional development throughout their career, they are more likely to stay in the profession as well as be more effective – something which is vital if we are to give every young person the world-leading science education we believe they deserve. As a headteacher we work with put it: “Our science department is fully staffed. Teachers looking for their next placement see that our school demonstrates the value it places in its science teachers by investing in subject-specific CPD.”

Lesson 5: Bring careers to life

Science is all around us – that’s what makes it so important to every young person, whether or not they are going to become a scientist, technologist or engineer.

Teachers can help cement science skills in their students by making their teaching exciting and bringing the subject to life. This includes embedding examples of cutting-edge science, bringing in practising scientists and engineers to share their passion as well as their knowledge, and drawing on a whole host of quality-assured resources.

We should also not underestimate the influence subject teachers and school leaders have on young people’s career aspirations. I am speaking from experience here – it was a conversation with my headteacher that led me into the wonderful world of engineering and an amazing career journey. A priority for us therefore is to help teachers develop their understanding of “where STEM can take you” in the modern world.

We have recently created a new project – the Teacher Industry Partners’ Scheme (TIPs) – which gives teachers the opportunity to spend two weeks with a STEM employer, understanding not only the science and technology, but also getting a much deeper awareness of the careers and career routes involved.

The teachers who have done it tell us they feel able to speak much more confidently to students, colleagues and, importantly, parents about opportunities and careers.

Conclusion

Over the 10 years that we have been working with schools and colleges, significant progress has been made in science education. Not only are more young people pursuing science subjects post-16, but we also have seen a real change in awareness of science and other STEM subjects as key to individual as well as economic wellbeing.

At the same time, significant challenges remain. That is why we are more committed than ever to supporting schools and colleges with high-impact, subject-specific professional development.

  • Yvonne Baker is chief executive of the National Science Learning Network and National STEM Centre. She is also this year’s winner of the First Women Award for Science and Technology.

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