What makes good professional development (CPD) great?


There are significant changes taking place in professional development in England. Research shows* that traditional one-off and individual approaches to CPD are having little impact on student outcomes. However, the same research shows that certain types of professional development can lead to demonstrable improvements in pupil attainment and engagement as well as gains in teacher confidence, skill and motivation.

Professional development is most effective when senior teachers and managers lead by example in promoting and engaging in professional development. [See our supplementary guide for leaders here]. Below is our quick guide to the key questions that leaders and teachers can ask themselves to ensure they get the most out of the time and money spent on their professional development

What CPD do I choose? - Target the learning of specific pupils

  • Professional development is most effective when you're aiming to improve the learning of a specific group of pupils.
  • To maximise the benefit, decide on the specific pupils and a clear learning goal for them before you choose a course, event, expert or resource.

Who should I work with? - Work with colleagues or other schools

  • You're much more likely to succeed in improving your teaching habits if you work with colleagues.
  • You need to find time to identify ideas, share and discuss the progress of new ideas regularly including trying out new approaches, plan lessons/interventions together, observe each other, examine work samples and assessments and keep adapting and improving. To do this you must allocate time for the regular giving and receiving of constructive feedback.

Who can challenge? - Consult an expert, course, or resource

  • The most effective professional development requires an outside voice to support, challenge your beliefs and assumptions and guide the implementation of new ideas, as well as a mentor or coach to facilitate your learning.
  • If you keep everything in-house you may be recycling ideas that are less effective, choosing sub-optimal strategies, making mistakes that others have already made, and you may stop investigating before you've fully an explored an idea.

How long should I spend on this specific CPD? - Sustain the CPD for at least two terms

  • A one-off training event rarely changes habits effectively, you need to actively pursue a new idea or skill for at least two terms, or more than 50 hours if you want to see a long-lasting change. Sustained experimentation and refinement is the best way of embedding a theoretical idea in everyday classroom practice.
  • A single course could kick-start this process or act as a refresher during the learning process, but shouldn't be undertaken without a plan to continue the learning back at school or college.

How is it helping my students? - Evaluate the effect on pupils' learning

  • Throughout the learning process you should keep evaluating how the learning experience of your pupils has changed. Just because you've change your practice doesn't necessarily mean they're learning any more effectively.
  • Use a variety of ways of evaluating learning: tests, homeworks, surveys, work-samples, observations or video, and of course simply asking pupils.