Tag Archives: professional development

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking about how to get the most out of professional development opportunities at the Chartered College of Teaching’s Early Career Conference in Manchester. It was fantastic to see so many enthusiastic early career teachers investing in their own learning and taking the opportunity to answer questions and share experience.

During his fantastic keynote, Amjad Ali’s briefly explored the phrase ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’ and spoke about the importance of promoting teaching as a valid and valuable career option when we’re advising pupils. I can’t be the only one who was prompted to reflect on this however there was something else about that day that has made me think about it a bit deeper.

As a completely wonderful surprise, as I was sat nibbling a pre-conference biscuit and working out which room I’d be in, I spotted my cousin with a group of friends (hurtling across the room, hugging and promises of a catch-up ensued). My cousin is training to be a primary teacher, specialising in science. This is not her first career; she was previously a pharmacist, working for the NHS, with the raft of high-level qualifications necessary for this. I’ve not seen her since she made the decision to change direction and having chatted throughout the morning I’m certain that she has made completely the right decision. She’s not gone into this blind either – both our shared grandparents and both her parents have had long careers in teaching and she knows it’s not all about sharpening pencils and long holidays; what surprised me was that she said she’d always wanted to teach but had been advised not to go into it. I can only speculate why this was but I suspect it was a combination of family who’ve seen growing accountability and stresses of the profession, and advice to a highly skilled scientist who’s talents could be ‘used better’. I know that everyone around my cousin fully supports and embraces her decision and my reflections now are in no way an impression of her situation, but meeting her was one of a combination of things yesterday has prompted me to think around this.

When talented, qualified people choose to teach I think it is often viewed as disappointing. Maybe a step back, or a waste of the time they’ve spent on building their skills and qualifications. Someone who is so clever they can be a doctor, lawyer, architect, and all they want to do with their life is teach children – something that’s often seen as a back-up option or for those who haven’t got what it takes to become highly specialised in a more ‘valued’ career. I think some of this comes from the fact that in order to teach you need, with varying degrees, to be a generalist, and we live in a society that places a lower value on generalists than it does specialists.

We gear everything towards becoming more and more specialised when it comes to prestige – even in medicine a GP is seen as less important a career path than a specialist consultant. There’s an unwritten rule that you’re supposed to specialise more and more as you progress in your career; more money’s attached to it, more status. It’s a failure to stay in the same role for years, it’s stagnating or not ambitious to want to stay in the classroom and not move on to management. It’s self deprecating to admit you know a little about a lot rather than a lot about a little.

Teaching is generalist. Even with a subject specialism you need to be across that broad and balanced curriculum you’ve plotted on a twisty pathway poster and you need to be able to teach at different levels and stages. You need to be able to draw from other subjects, manage behaviour, work with data, engage with parents, and all the other things that come with the job. I wonder that one of the reasons primary teaching is sometimes seen as ‘less’ than secondary is the necessity to be more generalist.

Of course we need experts and specialists, but we need to value the generalists just as much. I have a sneaky suspicion that the specialists we place so highly would be rubbish at it. Generalism is a skill and a talent. To be an excellent generalist you need to be across a wide range of expertise and we need to value people who can do this across all the demands teaching requires – whether that’s being able to work across three different sciences from Year 7 to 11 or have an in-depth knowledge of twelve novels; understand not only the intricacies of a subject, but the appropriate level of intricacy for each of the pupils you teach.

In my presentation I discussed making decisions about interests and the direction of your career, but I started with a firm declaration that it is 100% OK to be a classroom teacher for your whole career. As long as teachers continue to develop and hone their practice, it shouldn’t be a bad thing to not want to specialise. We need generalists just as much and the people who do this best should perhaps been seen as a different type of specialist.

Maybe there’s an element of truth in the whole ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’. Maybe though it’s that ‘those who can hold the expertise and professional judgements essential to be a generalist, do; those who can’t manage to be a generalist need to focus on one thing really well and make sure they pass on their bit of expertise to the generalist’.

I’ll admit it’s not as catchy.


Due to a small amount of technical gremlin activity my participation in the Teacher Development Trust webinar on CPD leadership yesterday didn’t quite go as planned but it was good to take a step back to prepare for the questions I would’ve been asked so I thought I’d pop some of my responses here.

I was in the second cohort of the Teacher Development Trust Associate in CPD Leadership course last summer and whilst I did it to kick off my role as Learning and Development Lead for our Trust, I focused on my own school for the purposes of the course.

What are the key readings for CPD leaders?

There’s something out there to suit everyone’s taste, but to be honest I don’t think you can go too wrong using the 2016 DfE Standard for teachers’ professional development as a starting point. It distils the key research down into an easily usable format and I’ve come back to this again and again over the last year. If you’re leading CPD and haven’t got the funds to use external guidance or don’t feel experienced to delve into the research, this is an excellent place to audit what you’re doing, plan from different points of view, and check yourself against. I wouldn’t advocate stopping there so I’ll actually cheat with my recommendations a bit and say to look at the references to follow up a few links, particularly the Developing Great Teaching report (and since the Standard’s publication there’s been the Developing Great Subject Teaching report), and I should also mention Unleashing Great Teaching which I’ve plugged before but it really is like a text book for the course.

I looked at a lot of research for my project, following references down rabbit holes. It was useful to identify areas of need particular to our school like vocational education and find research more bespoke to us, and I found work that centred on change management useful, particularly Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott and this paper (pdf) by Stouten et al (2018) that allowed me to work through how the process might happen for us.

In terms of research that changed the way I was thinking, Kennedy’s 2016 paper ‘How does professional development improve teaching?‘ is fantastic for starting to challenge some of the other key readings (which reference a lot of the same stuff, and sometimes each other) and prompted me to focus my ideas on individual levels of need, and look at what other research was saying in terms of that. I think my entire assignment could’ve been on this angle but word count (thankfully?) stopped that and things I’ve written about since (here, here, and here) have all stemmed from me linking this paper to some of David and Bridget’s work in Unleashing Great Teaching. I got properly into it.

How can leaders assess the effectiveness of their current CPD programme?

Talk to people.

Gaining an overview from different perspectives (all staff, not just teachers) is crucial. Assuming ‘effective’ will be a mixture of how it matches the list of features of good CPD and whether it’s doing what you wanted it to, you will need to run some sort of audit and decide whether to go for an external (independent but costs) or internal (watch out for bias but free) process. I had the benefit of access to the TDT online survey and triangulated these results with 1-1 interviews with staff across school and a document search – but you’ll know where to get information in your own setting and once you’ve spoken to people you should have an idea of where to find the rest!

I found the interviews particularly revealing. There were powerful comments that highlighted just how far we’ve got to go and pockets of expertise and interests that came to the fore. I was grateful that everyone I spoke to was so open and trusted me with their (at times intense) opinions. Since completing the course I’ve repeated the audit process with the PRUs in our trust and used a similar format (swapping the TDT membership survey for one I created based on the TDT framework) and once again the interviews proved the most insightful element, including one member of support staff revealing she is doing a secret degree.

How did the learning from readings and assessing current CPD provision inform your CPD plans for the coming year?

For me, everything pointed to culture. Without building a culture where CPD is valued and people know they are expected to invest in their own learning, anything I tried to implement would be temporary. In addition to this I also looked at how we could provide more time and reduce our focus from a heavily administrative one, to a more subject specific/ pedagogical one. I worked with SLT to introduce a programme of low-stakes, independent study, and rearrange the directed time budget to add a weekly half hour of CPD in the form of a menu of sessions which have included things like journal club, presentations, individual CPD feedback and an opportunity for joint feedback on the new Ofsted framework consultation.

Implementation has been mixed and there have been times where I have felt like I’ve carried it, and I know there are some people that haven’t bothered to take part, but I need to remind myself that this was never meant to be a transformation; this was to start to build that culture and expectation. Before this year there was INSET and external courses when people asked – this year there has been CPD available every week and over 50% of staff have accessed this at some point. There are staff who are frustrated that not everyone is seen to take part but there are others who have dived head first into their own learning as if they’ve finally been given permission. This I think is success and it’s where we go next that will matter most as we need to keep the momentum we’ve built and celebrate what we’ve done.

What was the biggest learning from the programme overall?

I suppose this has been about recognising that change is a slow and steady process and the value in viewing a system from others’ perspectives. I think I’ve been on quite a personal journey with this course and it’s certainly built my own confidence and resilience in enacting change. As I start working more across our trust I’ve no doubt that there are elements that I will return to and draw from when I need to.

Why should others do the course?

Doing CPD about CPD can be a bit of a mind twist and this is an opportunity to have excellent, ‘text-book’ CPD modelled by experts. Benefits of the course are that it’s adaptable to different settings, it is an investment for both the organisation and in the person taking part, and an opportunity to work with colleagues in similar positions, with similar interests (and similar uncertainties) over an extended period of time. The CPD leadership course allows you to slow down your process, providing time to think and insisting that you are challenged. I don’t think I’ve had the same intellectual stimulation since my MEd and wasn’t quite prepared for just how much time I spent thinking about different theories and ideas.

The final day of my course was exactly a year ago today and it would have been entirely possible to have left it there, writing up my report, getting a certificate and carrying on in pretty much the same way, but I haven’t wanted to. The support from David and his team, and fellow course participants, has continued beyond the course and it has been genuinely transformational both for me and, in time, for my organisation.


This week I’ve had two conference experiences, both packed with brilliant sessions and filling my head with new ideas and connections. The first was the Teacher Development Trust annual conference in London where I was chuffed to be asked to speak about my experiences of the TDT Associate in CPD Leadership course and ‘the transformative effect of professional development’ (not actually my finest fifteen minutes but more on that another day perhaps), and the second was the inaugural Derby Research School conference in, surprisingly enough, Derby.

I’m gaining more and more clarity about the way high quality professional development can be increasingly woven into the systems we already have in place at my school. I’ve never seen much benefit in suggesting I come in with a sledgehammer and force new ideas on people, particularly as I’m very aware that I’ve spent the last few months really digging into and exploring the possibilities of effective CPD  and I know that other people aren’t quite as into it as me, but in the process of thinking about everything from a CPD point of view I’m finding lots of interlocking ideas. I’ve come to realise that one of the things that’s making it such an evolving and, perhaps, delicate process is how much I realise it matters to get these first steps right. It doesn’t have to be perfect or something we stick to, but it needs to be something we can embed and build on.

A common thread through the TDT conference was the importance of culture within a school and how that impacts ideas. That includes a culture of relational trust, of challenge, wellbeing, and of course the importance placed on professional development for staff at all levels. It’s certainly something I want to be central to my own plans for CPD and thankfully I’ve got a wealth of back-up as to why this should be the case. I think I came away from this conference with more answers than questions for the first time in this process of CPD CPD. I’m not there yet, but it’s nice to feel I’m on the right track.

The Research School conference was a beautiful thing. A bit like one of the early researchEDs actually, and slightly squeezed together to shorten the day so that everyone could watch the football. I saw some interesting sessions but for me, the two keynotes bookending the day have given me the most food for thought. First up was Marc Rowland who spoke about the use of pupil premium funding. Not in a ‘which strategy off of the EEF toolkit works best’ way, but how we can genuinely delve into and identify where pupil need is, exploring all pupil needs in terms of themselves and their families, their communities, and reflect on the barriers we put in place ourselves as schools. At one point he said that the ‘teacher is the most effective intervention’ and if that’s not a case for cracking CPD, I don’t know what is.

The thing that really brought a lot of things together for me though was in Alex Quigley‘s final thoughts for the day. The conference was about building the role and reach of the Research Schools Network and with a local slant to his presentation, Alex started and ended his talk with this slide:

This brought into focus a few things for me and I think this idea is central to everything I’m trying to achieve. When I visited a local primary school as part of the TDT CPD leadership course, one of the comments that stuck was how they were looking at how they deliver reading instruction and realised that they already have a team of experts in-house. This has prompted me to think a lot about the importance of ‘finding and developing our experts’ and it’s central to my yet-to-be-proposed CPD plan. What Alex’s words have done though is cement this concept as a wider ambition for me. If we take out the specific detail, this is something I think should drive our CPD journey as I move from working with my school, to across the Trust and then in a wider context. There will be many ways to support this process, but these are the questions I want to hold at the core of what we build:


I’m doing a lot of work around CPD at the moment and when I started thinking about the level of importance placed on pedagogical expertise I started to ponder about when might be the best time to introduce these skills if it isn’t happening during ITE. I don’t think it’s a case of people not wanting to know the ‘why’ – the plethora of conference-bingo edu-myths are probably a cliché, but I take their longevity as evidence that teachers like to feel they understand the science of teaching. It’s for schools to harness this and if they harness it early enough and in the right way everyone’s a winner.

The students that sparked my thinking about all this in Part 1 appeared to be talking about how they’re going to have time to study ‘the pedagogical knowledge stuff’ once they’re teaching and in turn, I presume, that they’ll be able to change practices they’ve already imbedded. With the presumption that their situation is not unique, it’s important we provide opportunities and time to address this in our school CPD programmes.

I’m not particularly concerned right now with the ‘what’ teachers need to know in terms of pedagogy – there are lots of excellent suggestions for that all over the place and it would certainly turn this into ‘Part 2 of 12’. I’m mostly thinking about how those with a role in leading CPD can take this information into account when designing and updating their plans.

Whilst research informs us of the importance of subject-specific CPD, we need to think about the varying levels of pedagogical knowledge in our settings and ensure this is addressed too. Going back to Weston and Clay’s (2018) Depth of Practice Framework it is clear that programmes of CPD need to take into account the current knowledge and skills of colleagues and have an idea of the level of expertise expected following CPD. For teachers, the expectation for pedagogical knowledge and skills will probably be that they attain a level of adaptive expertise – an automacy that is adaptable to different situations. For this to be successful and embedded in practice there needs to be a continuation of opportunities throughout their careers.

Leaders of CPD also need to bear in mind the higher the level of adaptive expertise, the more difficult it is to make changes to practice. Therefore, the best time to embed good pedagogical skills would seem to be as close to the start of a career as possible and not, as my sample of two students indicated, once their teaching is ‘outstanding’. If we wait too long then the biases will creep in. Kennedy (2016) shows that as independence increases, so the ways in which CPD transfers to lasting change in practice change. As teachers become more experienced they need to be able to discover things for themselves and place them within experience.

Experiences are necessary to give teachers concrete ideas to hang abstract ones on – this idea carries on throughout a career with common advice to keep a particular pupil or situation in mind when taking part in any CPD. So maybe a solution to this is give teachers information and ‘facts’ whilst training, without worrying about practice too much when they’re concerned with all sorts of other things, but make sure the next step starts as soon as possible – and make sure they are, as Becky Allen and Sam Sims (2018) state, ‘immersed in a community of skilled teachers’ as more experienced teachers model what it looks like further down the line.

Experts can often forget how it feels to be a novice and this make pitching teaching at the right level an art that needs training and refinement – for children and for adults. By creating CPD systems that take into account different levels of experience and ensuring we include opportunities for challenge, questioning and learning from each other I think it’s possible to support teachers effectively throughout their careers and hopefully our visiting ITE students will find some of this ready for them in their next schools.

References:

Allen, R. & Sims, S. (2018) ‘The Teacher Gap’. 1st Edition. UK: Routledge

Kennedy, M.M. (2016) ‘How Does Professional Development Improve Teaching?’ Review of Educational Research Vol 86, Issue 4, pp. 945 – 980

Weston, D & Clay, B, (2018) ‘Unleashing Great Teaching: the secrets to the most effective teacher development’. 1st Edition. UK: Routledge


I think I’d always assumed that learning about pedagogical skills came hand-in-hand with learning to teach, but what if it’s something that needs to wait?

Broadly speaking, research says that in terms of teacher CPD, subject specific development has the greatest impact and that CPD with a pedagogical focus should be placed within a subject-specific framework. Aside from complications to this that may arise for teachers of multiple subjects in perhaps primary or special-school settings, it seems more than reasonable for teachers to relate the ‘how’ to their particular ‘what’.

At which stage though in ‘becoming a teacher’ should basics of pedagogy and detail of how children learn be introduced? I’ve not gone through an ITE programme myself and I’ve heard a mixture of comments about this that probably fall into categories of people who qualified a while ago saying they were just thrown in and never really taught how to teach and more recently qualified people having experienced a bit more theory and research – perhaps even an expectation that they carry out some research themselves. It’ll vary hugely, I suspect, between programmes but I had the idea that maybe the ‘how’ was increasing in importance.

I’ve been prompted to think about this following a recent series of visits from ITE students in school when I overheard some interesting comments over lunch. Aside from amusing snippets like ‘He wants to use a textbook and I’m like ‘agghh, that’s such old-school teaching” one of the conversations made me actually listen closer as they discussed how they want to (I wrote it down)

get better at [their] teaching, get that to outstanding first, and leave the pedagogical knowledge stuff for later

They spoke about how they felt like it was ‘Masters or PhD stuff’ to know about how pupils learn and felt like they were likely to get more information about this by asking the pupils themselves. Aside from the fact that many PGCE courses offer Masters credits and so I’d assume a PGCE is Masters level, it really made me think about the value that’s placed on pedagogy.

Firstly there’s the incredibly weighted area of ‘outstanding’ teaching and secondly, they think that this can happen before engaging with pedagogical knowledge. Assuming their subject knowledge is fairly fresh, isn’t pedagogical knowledge (and how that’s relevant to their subject) central to improving their teaching and exactly what they should be learning now? I didn’t get a chance to ask them about it but I have so many questions! They know what pedagogy is and can see a level of importance but don’t see it as relevant to improving the job. Is this because their time is too full of everything else to have time to study in more depth about how pupils learn? Are they just being asked to think about it now, at the end of their course? How much do placement schools influence their opinions on this? If older/more experienced teachers essentially tell them it’s nonsense… I’m wildly speculating here but it fascinated me.

I know there are ITE reforms in the offing and maybe this will all be addressed in that, but whilst we wait for it, if we assume that some ITE students are just paying lip service to their pedagogical knowledge to get through the course, how then can this be addressed through our school CPD programmes? Maybe it’s like the learning to drive cliché that ‘you only really learn to drive once you’ve passed your test and are out there on your own’. Maybe you can only really appreciate how to use pedagogical knowledge once you’ve been teaching for a while?

In their new book ‘Unleashing Great Teaching: The Secrets to the Most Effective Teacher Development‘, David Weston and Bridget Clay demonstrate how the needs of CPD provision change depending on experience and the level of independence of teachers. Their Depth of Practice Framework shows how programmes of professional development should take into account both the level of pre-existing knowledge/skill and the depth of expertise being sought.

Learning all the aspects of teaching whilst juggling the workings of a classroom is hard – and making these processes automatic is even harder, so it’s easy to understand why my example ITE students would want to put all the ‘how they learn’ stuff to one side whilst they deal with the rest. It’s important though to recognise that the more expertise someone gains, the harder it is to learn something new. So whilst some experience might be a good idea on which to build pedagogical knowledge, it probably can’t wait too long.

In my second post I’ll have a little look at how schools can use evidence on effective professional development to address this potential pedagogical knowledge gap.