No matter the sector, setting or career stage, since the beginning of Covid, lockdown and the spread of remote/online learning, there has been an explosion in the quantity of continuous professional development.
From the expansion of existing resources to the release of updated or new books to the move to online professional development, it seems that there is now truly something for everyone. Gone are the days of the binary choice of in-school CPD (often facilitated by senior leaders who, although offering insight, would often prefer to hand over to an industry specialist with new innovation and strategies) or collaborative endeavour (usually joint-planning or swapping of resources).
Clearly, this is a simplification of the CPD landscape prior to Covid, but the reality is not far away from this. Now, with the spread of high-quality, free resources such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google, teachers are now not only able to attend a multitude of free professional development from professionals from across the country and internationally, but they can also facilitate their own training sessions and build successful profiles as a result (and long may it continue).
Having said this, is there an argument that there is such a thing as too much professional development? With more and more focus on cognitive load theory, metacognition, and critical reflection within teaching, are teachers taking the necessary time to apply the new strategies and innovations they are being introduced to in professional development, literature and through collaborative work?
Through Twitter and LinkedIn, we often see teachers and leaders celebrating a training session they attended, a course they completed and/or a facilitator who inspired and delivered an engaging session. This has seemingly increased substantially since training and professional development are now more than ever delivered remotely, but are practitioners ‘closing the loop’ on training to identify if it has made an impact?
Much in the same way that chocolate makes us feel good, it does not mean that it improves our health: just because we enjoy the training, it doesn’t mean it has a significant impact. The problem here can sometimes lie with the ‘I’ word – impact. With changes to the Ofsted inspection framework, this can be a dirty word for some.
Some hear ‘impact’ and instantly hark back to a distant time when data could resolve all challenges. Since the changes to the inspection framework, the holistic picture is more important than ever, and CPD should be evaluated and reflected upon using the same metrics. Yes, it is important that CPD is challenging, engaging, inspiring and correctly sequenced, but the next step should always be that it improves facilitation in some way.
This does not have to mean a wholesale change to a teacher’s professional practice, or even significant changes, but all CPD should be evaluated through a lens of student improvement. As good action research seeks to formulate and answer a specific question, good CPD should answer the following question in the affirmative: ‘did this make a difference to the effectiveness of my teaching?’
Again, this is not to say that dramatic changes should be seen (or that they are even needed) – just as I hope we have all attended inspiring training, I don’t know a single teacher or leader who has not attended training which felt like a wasted opportunity (‘mark SEND student’s books first’…) – but there should be impact.
This impact could be in finding efficiencies in workload management or shaving 10 seconds off the time it takes to mark each piece of student work; it could be in finding ‘the 1%’ or perhaps it could be in a total change in classroom management strategy. But there must be an impact.
Just as important, teachers should identify what impact they want professional development to have. If attending a session on classroom management, it is clear what the expected impact is: those attending will expect to complete the session with new, improved or developed strategies to manage challenging behaviour and promote positive behaviour (or something similar).
For leaders then, there is a role to lightly monitor and fully support colleagues through all professional development and guide practitioners to reflect on CPD through this lens (as well as doing so with their own professional development).
Bluntly, all professional development comes at a cost. Whether a financial cost, a time cost or using another resource (providing cover for a lesson etc.), we all have a responsibility to make sure we are getting value for money. All our time should be spent on those activities which have the biggest impact on students. And CPD is no different. With CPD, impact does not mean data, it means just what it states: development.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of Teaching, Learning and Assessment at a college in the North East. He has previously worked as Head of English and maths in FE and as an English teacher and Head of English in Secondary schools. He tweets @jonnykayteacher and his book, 'Improving Maths and English in Further Education: A Practical Guide', is available now.