Is your CPD working?

Written by: Peter Goodman & Stuart Trutch | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock
Interesting read. I don't agree with all of it. Teachers do need to talk together about learning ...

Posted by: ,

We’d like teachers to improve. That’s why we don’t like CPD. Peter Goodman and Stuart Trutch argue why CPD can often fail and consider an alternative approach

The traditional model of CPD in schools is failing us. There are three main reasons: it is not normally a “continuing” experience, it is largely “professional” not personal, and teachers (unlike technology) are not generally amenable to being “developed” by someone else.

In short, each of the three letters of the acronym ignores the weight of evidence about effective adult learning and our personal experience of growing alongside other teachers. It is fast becoming another game we unwittingly play. Here’s how...

First, CPD has come to mean a session or course with an expert presenter, informative PowerPoint slides, succinct hand-outs, lots of “best-practice” and a feedback survey at the end. Many teachers would admit there is nothing “continuing” about it. The feedback survey even asks: “How useful was this CPD?” – i.e. it is over now.

Moreover, as any teacher knows, a neat and tidy correct answer is the best way to ensure no further learning occurs in that direction.

Having been spoon-fed lots of best practice without the opportunity to really question, discuss or digest it, many teachers just carry on as before: working really hard to teach even better lessons than yesterday.

Yet all of the significant developments to our own teaching have come in on-going conversation with brilliant teachers. Take this experience as an example: “The best teacher I’ve ever seen was on my second teaching practice. I’ve asked myself what makes him the best, and I still haven’t found a satisfactory answer.

“I think it was a sense of proportion; never thinking a lesson was great when it was obviously brilliant, and never feeling too low after a bad lesson. Treating the whole thing like a big science experiment. Trying different things, like a comedian trying out new jokes; you want them all to be a hit, but it’s not a blow to the ego if it’s rubbish.

“He would make a point that he was ‘discovering’ a topic alongside the students, not merely ‘covering’ a topic. I wanted to be genuinely good at the job like he was, not just someone pretending to look good. I want to be good because I think it’s the right thing to do, not because someone might tell me I’m good one day. His skills couldn’t really be distilled into a neat PowerPoint, you had to watch it, think about it, and chat about it. Then keep doing cycles of that until you weren’t terrible anymore.”

And so, second, this kind of learning is necessarily deeply personal to us. In her book Changing Conversations in Organisations, Patricia Shaw tells us the organisational hierarchy is “occupied idiosyncratically by individual people who put their own personality into getting the job done and who relate to others in their own unique way”.

Nowhere is this truer than in teaching. Teachers often have a sneaking suspicion that the blueprint does not work in every setting. Even if I follow it to the letter, the result will be different to when you follow it. Shaw tells us there can be no generic, model answer because we are peculiar individuals and we teach very particular groups of young people. What works for you might not work for me, and what is required to make it work might be different. There are many things teachers are told to do that sound great in theory, but they know deep down the person telling them has never tried to make it all work with their year 9s.

As adult learners, our experience counts like-for-like with the presenter’s expertise. So many teachers have already become deeply sceptical of CPD, which apart from anything else is the third major reason it often does not work that well.

Most teachers are deeply passionate about their own learning. Why else would anyone teach? CPD commonly does not work because people are not technology. In education we have borrowed a set of assumptions from industry about the way schools work, using language like “driving results” and “engineering change” without really reflecting on the implications.

The logic runs something like, “because they make a lot of money they must know what they are talking about” (hence the current fad for pop-management like Good to Great and pop-psychology à la The Chimp Paradox). While possibly relevant to running a production line or managing egos in a boardroom, it is not fit-for-purpose in the work of educating children.

Because we teachers are human beings not robots, it is the way we talk to each other and not just what we say that shapes us.

Teachers might be encouraged to “mark students’ exercise books with formative comments and get them to respond” because that is what helps learners improve most. But in the current environment teachers might easily hear: “Ofsted might turn up at any moment so all your books need to be marked.”

Only the most compliant people would genuinely be motivated to mark their books properly in that situation. Is that who we really want to teach the next generation of thinkers?

As leaders, when we walk into a lesson to observe, we know that in the process of measuring we are definitely influencing the outcome of what we are measuring because the teacher is not a machine any more than the students. Their anxiety affects what they do in the lesson. If there are teachers who are cynical and reluctant to talk about developing their practice it is likely because they have experienced being treated like a robot for teaching in the past.

In education we need to stop following blindly, and start leading with a set of principles that is more applicable to what we do. Malcolm Knowles gets us off to a great start in The Adult Learner, for example:

  1. Adults are only motivated to learn as they experience needs and interests that learning will satisfy (i.e. you cannot tell an adult what they need to know).
  2. Adults have a deep need to be self-directing (i.e. adults need to be meaningfully involved in developing the curriculum, and do the work of learning themselves).
  3. Individual differences among people increase with age (i.e. from any given session adults will learn different things in different ways, no matter what the learning objectives were).

Unfortunately, in our culture the phrase “adult learning” has overtones of eccentric individuals learning to use Microsoft Word at night school. Yet learning as adults is what professional development is all about!

We both love learning and are about three-tenths of the teachers we want to be. Not because we cannot teach for toffee, but because we have high ideals about what great teaching is.

When teachers get together to talk about great teaching it is a two-way interaction that creates the possibility of new learning. We think the chance to participate in an on-going Conversation that motivates teachers to Develop as People is the only kind of CPD that really works.

  • Peter Goodman is assistant principal at St Bede’s Catholic College in Bristol. Stuart Trutch is a teacher of mathematics at Clifton High School in Bristol.

Interesting read, with some broad sweeping statements that I do not agree with. CPD if planned, implemented and evaluated effectively can be a catalyst for engagement and improvement. The key is ensuring that the CPD is relevant and beneficial and does not just pay lip service. I agree in that there is too much bland, ineffective training that seems to still be doing the rounds in schools and colleges.

I'm proud to be able to implement extensive staff development programmes that Teachers engage enthusiastically in resulting in improvements to the quality of teaching and learning and that this was acknowledged by our recent good OfSted report.

Posted By: ,
Interesting read. I don't agree with all of it. Teachers do need to talk together about learning and they do need to be 'protected' from false science. But the Chimp Paradox is one of the better evidenced psychological ideas. It comes from system 1 and system 2 thinking which is well evidenced. It comes from the work of Daniel Kahneman who is a Nobel prize winner. there are better examples of poor science to choose, perhaps. I'd be interested in your contrary evidence.
Posted By: ,

Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin