Teacher-led, in-school CPD programmes

Written by: Helen Webb | Published:

Teachers working together in-school to improve their classroom practice is an effective and inexpensive form of CPD. With a focus
on the curriculum reforms, Helen Webb discusses her school’s approach

Most schools are facing financial challenges; for many the budget for CPD is limited, yet the expectation to achieve high standards remains.
And with the introduction of the new specifications there has been a greater need for CPD to focus on curriculum content and the assessment changes.

This article discusses inexpensive ideas to support colleagues through these changes in order to maintain high-quality teaching and learning.

Subject knowledge

In my experience of working closely with staff over the years, I have found that teachers are fairly comfortable in asking for help with particular pedagogical aspects of their practice. However, I have noticed that staff are generally more reluctant to admit that aspects of their own subject knowledge is weak.

According to the Sutton Trust’s report, What Makes Great Teaching? (2014): “The most effective teachers have a deep knowledge of the subjects they teach, and when teachers’ knowledge falls below a certain level this is a significant impediment to students’ learning.”

A key challenge for any faculty leader is engaging staff in identifying and reducing the gaps in their subject knowledge. In order to achieve this, I feel that it is essential to create a strong, supportive learning culture, where asking for help is okay.

Creating a learning culture

Why is this important?

  • It improves the quality of teaching and learning.
  • It improves staff wellbeing and morale.
  • It models learning behaviours to students.

And how can we create this culture?

  • By recognising and praising strengths.
  • By providing opportunities and resources to learn.
  • With regular feedback.
  • By developing through coaching.
  • By promote and facilitating research-informed practice.

A shift in culture requires an emphasis on looking for and identifying teachers’ strengths as opposed to faults. People are generally more open to support if they feel they have ownership over the process and that their already good practice is recognised.

I am an experienced teacher, but I continually reiterate the message in our department that we all have our strengths and areas that we could develop further. I model this by personally asking other staff at all levels for help when I need it, and also sharing with others something that has worked for me. Is it clear to who the experts are in your faculty if you need help with specific aspects of the curriculum?

I work in a supportive faculty and the sharing of lesson plans, resources and ideas are commonplace. However, we are now encouraging staff to share when they also need support on a particular aspect of the curriculum or perhaps need a collaborative team effort to deal with a particular student or group of students in terms of behaviour or progress.

We use our performance management cycle as an opportunity to identify the training needs of individual staff. Appraisal targets are also linked with high student achievement and improving the quality of teaching and learning. However, these conversations need to be prioritised on a regular basis, so that gaps in knowledge can be addressed as they arise.

Rather than asking staff to reluctantly admit weaknesses in their knowledge and skills, a question that may be useful to drive faculty meetings could be: “What aspects of the curriculum do you consider to be the most challenging to deliver?”

Improving teachers’ subject knowledge and skills

One solution after identifying areas for development is that you organise master classes led by teachers with greater expertise in this area or external professionals if you have the funding.

Another longer-term strategy would be to encourage members of your team to become an examiner for your chosen specification. The knowledge and insight gained from working as an examiner can have a tremendous impact on improving the quality of teaching and learning.

Following the assessment period provide time for examiners to share their expertise with the rest of the department. The challenge here is managing workload and work/life balance for those teachers wishing to take on the role.

Jason Wing, the executive principal from Neale-Wade Academy in Cambridgeshire, also discusses effective CPD ideas in his article Recruitment, retention and CPD (SecEd, November 2017).

He describes how his school actively encourages staff to become lead practitioners. As part of staff developing their lead practitioner role and gaining accreditation, they are encouraged to do daily learning walks. Lead practitioners are then encouraged to collaborate and develop bespoke CPD for other members of staff. The aim here is to improve the quality of teaching and learning across the school (for more from Jason Wing, see also his latest article on developing staff leadership skills on page 12 of this edition).

A further strategy I have used to improve my own subject knowledge was to do my marking in the back of another teacher’s classroom. For example, a teacher I work with is absolutely brilliant at explaining tricky A level biology concepts. By sitting at the back of his lesson, I got my marking done and I simply paid close attention to the specific part of the lesson that I was interested in.

For a more formal approach to supporting the individual needs of a teacher you can also use the personalised CPD cycle below.

  1. Observation of staff member.
  2. EBI (Even Better If) identified.
  3. A focused observation of good practice in the classroom of another teacher.
  4. Identify strengths and how this will impact on own practice.
  5. Higher quality teaching and learning.

Linked to this, I recently came across a useful idea called “Happy Hour”. This is where lead teachers advertise lessons showcasing particular aspects of good practice that they are happy for anyone to drop into.

I have a particular passion for pedagogy and research-informed classroom practice. As such, I regularly share and discuss with my colleagues interesting articles or posts that I have read and strategies that I have tried. On reflection though, what our department was not debating was the latest advances in scientific research. We rarely share subject-specific news articles, and we certainly aren’t in the habit of recommending or swapping interesting best-seller science books.

One strategy you can use is to encourage staff to subscribe to subject-specific A level and GCSE magazines, such as the Review magazines published by Hodder Education, or even better order copies for your staffroom.

I have also proposed sharing a misconception of the week in our weekly faculty bulletin – partly aimed at some of our non-specialist staff and also at those who don’t know that they don’t know their stuff.

According to David Dunning in his TED talk video Why incompetent people think they’re amazing, “to find out how good you are at various things, you must ask for feedback and consider it – even if it’s difficult to hear – and more importantly, keep learning; the more knowledgeable we become the less likely we are to have invisible holes in our performance”.

It falls to leaders to ensure that high-quality appropriate CPD is available and that they create an environment where teachers feel safe to ask for regular feedback.

Delivering high levels of attainment in the new specifications

For us, a key focus for the move towards the new 9 to 1 grading system was challenging at the top end. As a faculty we brainstormed a variety of effective teaching and learning strategies that focused on supporting and challenging the higher achieving students aiming for the top grades. A particular emphasis was placed on preparing students for extended writing questions that will be a more significant part of the final science examinations.

I put these ideas in writing and shared them with our faculty. This was not only to provide clarity to all staff about appropriate stretch and challenge strategies, but also to signpost to staff good practice that already existed and to help staff inform their planning.

Providing high-quality written documentation for staff is important, whether it is on strategies to stretch and challenge, strategies to support lower achieving students, or strategies for numeracy, literacy, SEN, Pupil Premium etc. Most staff are struggling with high workloads and don’t have the time to do extensive reading and research so tell them what works and what the school’s expectations are.

Effective study strategies

Ultimately, I believe that to raise attainment, the most important thing to do is to teach students how to study. The Learning Scientists are American cognitive psychological scientists who are aiming to increase the awareness and use of effective study and teaching strategies.

Their website has a wealth of free resources, links to research and teacher support packages designed to help you embed these research-informed strategies into your own classroom practice or to help you to develop CPD workshops for your school.

One challenge that many schools face is that some teachers are reluctant to change how they teach or try new things. For me, if you wish to inspire change with staff or students, don’t just add another thing on their very long list of things to do, trim the fat:

  • Provide absolute clarity on expectations.
  • Promote staff wellbeing and morale by being supportive and recognising and praising good practice.
  • Explain the rationale behind what you are doing – the why as well as the what.
  • Provide headlines and easily accessible links to research for further background reading.
  • Provide time for staff to collaborate and embed new ideas.

And finally prioritise CPD for staff at every level – this will have the biggest impact on the quality of teaching and learning and attainment outcomes.

  • Helen Webb is an experienced science and biology teacher and lead practitioner with a professional interest in developing CPD for teachers. Her CPD packages are available on TES. Helen works at Lutterworth College in Leicestershire. Visit https://helenfwebb.wordpress.com or follow her @helenfwebb. To read Helen’s previous articles for SecEd, visit http://bit.ly/2cLa6UZ

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