The issue of the week has been CPD. As we look ahead to next year, planning the way forward for professional development is a dominant theme. What could be more important? I’ve had five key meetings in the last week:
1) a meeting with Sue Brindley from Cambridge University, exploring a research framework for our teaching and learning exploration groups (as featured in the ‘CPD Market Place’)
2) a meeting of the Eastern Region SSAT Heads’ group – I am the Chair – where we planned an exciting re-launch of SSAT activity with an ‘innovation in learning’ theme for future gatherings or Forums
3) a visit from the super-bright guru of CPD David Weston, aka @informed_ edu and new Chief Exec of the Teacher Development Trust.
4) a school Middle Leaders meeting where, following a mock inspection process, we had one agenda item: how do we ensure that all teachers are improving and are consistently operating within Good to Outstanding territory without becoming overly ‘OfSTED driven’ and retaining the passion for our own ‘zest for learning’ ideals? (See post on our Departmental Review process)
5) a meeting with Officers from ASHE, the Essex Heads’ group to plan follow-up events after an Alan November @globalearner conference.
In all these discussions some themes were common:
1) any group of teachers or leaders has within it a range of abilities, strengths and interests. CPD processes need to provide a degree of autonomy or the flexibility to match individuals’ needs. It sounds so ridiculously obvious but we still deal with too much onesizefitsall CP D. However, within this range there are people who have the capacity to drive their own professional learning whilst others, at all levels, do not. Identifying who needs what is a central leadership challenge.
2) there are some situations where the priority is to establish and then maintain minimum standards in core practice. The challenge is to address teachers’ individual professional learning needs in a way that is supportive and motivating whilst being clear that some standards are non-negotiable. Peer to peer processes can facilitate reflection and provide support but, because it is not easy for everyone to give tough messages, they rarely really challenge people to raise their game significantly. Ensuring that CPD has rigour and impact is another key leadership challenge.
3) too much CPD is about teeing up and not enough is about following through. Innovation can be flashinthepan because it is not embedded or sustained. In planning a CPD event it is important, therefore, to plan a follow- up process at the same time. All CPD should probably have an element of obligation to come back later to show what you did.
4) the one-off formal lesson observation model is rubbish in terms of CPD and it seems obvious that regular coaching or micro- feedback is the true path to improvement – if we could only get past the fear factors and defensive barriers. The culture that has led to teachers resisting observation processes is highly toxic; it needs to change. Fundamentally this is all about trust. The challenge is to build a high trust culture at the same time as tackling underperformance robustly. Not easy- but necessary.
5) there is CPD around mastery – improving confidence and competence with known skills – and there is also the R&D, research/innovate form of CPD where new ideas are explored. It is important to provide opportunities for both; they are not the same thing. However, although R&D work is highly rewarding, it must ultimately be evaluated, put into practice and disseminated to have real value – otherwise it can become indulgent fluff. Similarly, some people are already sucking eggs pretty well and need to be set free to explore.
6) leaders of innovation and models of expert practice can come from anywhere. In some areas, such as the exploding ‘edtech’ revolution, Heads can be facilitators or blockers but are unlikely to be leaders; this is going to a bottom-up movement. Hopefully a tidal wave. However, Heads rarely support initiatives they don’t believe in so CPD for leaders is needed to give them confidence to unleash the energies of others.
I will report back on developments from all five meetings in due course. Look out news of a big SSAT forum in Cambridge in the autumn and an Essex teacher-leader ‘techfest’ event. Also, keep an eye out for more work by the CamSTAR school research group.