Teacher development: Making CPD more effective

30 May 2018

What makes an outstanding teacher? Last year, Helen Webb wrote about her work developing an in-school teacher development programme. She now updates us on this work, the challenges she has encountered and how the programme has evolved.

What makes an outstanding teacher? Last year, Helen Webb wrote about her work developing an in-school teacher development programme. She now updates us on this work, the challenges she has encountered and how the programme has evolved

In an article for SecEd last year – Building an Outstanding Teacher CPD Programme (January 2017) – I discussed the challenges, successes and failures of developing an in-school outstanding teacher programme.

Having now led this CPD programme with two different cohorts of staff using very different formats, this article aims to share some of the key lessons I learnt in ensuring that CPD of this kind is delivered as effectively as possible.

Providing CPD on a limited budget

In recent years our school has experienced some financial challenges and our budget for CPD has been extremely limited. I think this makes for an interesting case study, as we have had to focus on providing the majority of CPD in-house. This has meant that individuals and teams of staff have been challenged to be creative and innovative in the way we offer CPD.

In 2015, a colleague and I piloted an in-school Outstanding Teacher Programme (OTP) with varying success. The main aim was to move a group of competent teachers from “good” to “outstanding”. The principle was good, but the reality was that with extremely limited time and budgets we had only been allocated five hour-long after-school sessions to achieve this.

OTP – Cohort 1

When we initially planned the structure of our OTP we used the Ofsted outstanding grade descriptors as a starting point. Our logic was to focus on tangible skills that teachers could develop and move their practice forwards. The five sessions we chose are summarised below:

  1. What is outstanding teaching? To include a self audit and target-setting exercise.
  2. Questioning – framing and differentiating challenging questions.
  3. Effective feedback – what do you say/do to make your feedback more effective?
  4. Demonstrating pupil progression and ideas for Assessment for Learning – evaluating strategies that enable you to easily assess the learning of all students in your class.
  5. Challenge – strategies to effectively challenge different aspects of learning and groups of students.

I had previously delivered versions of some of these sessions to groups of trainee and new teachers with great success. As I have tended to design CPD sessions “compact” with ideas, this style of CPD was very popular with teachers new to the profession and eager for new strategies to add to their repertoire.

However, while these latest sessions had good evaluations and were able to support experienced staff to develop different aspects of their practice, I did not feel that I had sufficiently challenged this particular cohort of already very able members of staff. I certainly did not feel that the group’s huge amount of skill and expertise was shared with each other.

As such, I changed the focus of the following year’s OTP. Instead of focusing on the individual skills of outstanding teaching, I decided to focus on developing the qualities of outstanding teachers. This was in direct response to the initial session of the first cohort in which staff brainstormed what they considered to be the qualities of an outstanding teacher.

Staff were able to reflect on some of their own strengths and focus on what was really working well for them in their classrooms. This included their relationships with students and with the progress their students were making. By focusing on the qualities of effective teachers, participating staff were inspired to create a personal programme of development. This strategy had added value as it also promoted a strong work ethic as well as encouraging innovation and initiative.

Linked to this theme, there was a wonderful article about by John Dabell in a recent edition of SecEd that summarised what he considers to be the 31 things that effective teachers do (September 2017). This is really worth reading and sharing with staff.

OTP – Cohort 2

The main objective of the second OTP cohort was to inspire teachers to independently improve their own practice, providing them with the time and opportunity:

  • To reflect on their own practice.
  • To share their own best-practice ideas.
  • To promote research-informed practice.
  • To provide time to discuss teaching and learning and get excited by teaching.
  • To personalise their own learning by trialling new or different approaches that interest them with support from colleagues they may not normally work with.
  • To improve morale and staff wellbeing.

I led five hour-long sessions across the year that felt extremely energised, had a clear focus and judging by the feedback motivated staff to try new approaches and reflect on and adapt their practice. 

While the themes of our discussions were guided by that particular year’s whole-school priorities (in this case challenge, differentiation, growth mindset and engagement), clearly the challenge faced by many teachers in the group were rooted in differentiation.

Due to significant changes in student numbers due to local age-range changes, core subjects were now being taught in mixed-ability groups. As most core subjects had always been taught in sets, some of our most experienced staff in this group had little experience teaching with such wide-ranging ability in one class. As such we dedicated more than one session to differentiation.

Provide time for professional dialogue

One of the absolute benefits and joys of working with a cross-curricular group in my own school was the professional dialogue we had because of the breadth of expertise and experience offered by different members of the group.

Sharing good practice with staff who had knowledge on the same cohort of students within the same context as you is invaluable and something I would recommend.
Also, having the time and flexibility for staff to drive the focus of the discussions rather than relying on a fixed agenda was extremely beneficial in this case.

Use research-informed practice to enhance student attainment

What did become evident was that to be as effective as possible in promoting high-quality teaching and learning, there needs to be someone leading the group who has a current awareness of the latest pedagogical research and ideas; someone who can direct conversations towards evidence-informed practice and away from strategies that may have limited impact.

It is important that the group lead is also able to provide absolute clarity about any expectations that the senior leadership team or indeed Ofsted may have regarding teaching and learning. This is to address any misconceptions or uncertainties that staff may have which can feed negative attitudes and reduce the opportunity for ranting. This inevitably can happen when teachers get together and have an opportunity to let off steam! A strong link between this member of staff and senior leadership team is essential for this to happen.

Share good practice

As you can imagine, when you put a group of passionate teachers together, the number of useful ideas generated in each session was incredible. What I wanted to do was not only record the ideas for this group’s own future reference but also to share these ideas with other staff around the school.

We are a large campus-based college and as such communication across the school is always a challenge. We joke in our department that our school has a multitude of “secret squirrel clubs” – as such, I considered how I could begin to break down this barrier. 

I created a group blog/site called Outstanding Classrooms using Wordpress (see further information) and shared the minuted ideas from each session, carefully organised under the whole-school priorities for anyone to access. It was my hope that staff would eventually use this as a platform to upload photographs and other useful documents and ideas to inspire others, which they started to do. 

Moving to this academic year, and with the introduction of the new specifications, there was a greater need for CPD to focus on the changing curriculum and to support staff to deliver this effectively.

There are many teaching skills that are transferable in cross-curricular focus groups. However, they do not easily promote the opportunity to improve subject-specific curriculum knowledge or skills, particularly in light of the specification and assessment changes. For more on how we met this particular challenge, see my previous article for SecEd (May 2018).

  • Helen Webb is an experienced science and biology teacher and lead practitioner with a professional interest in developing CPD for teachers. Her CPD packages are available on TES. Helen works at Lutterworth College in Leicestershire. Visit https://helenfwebb.wordpress.com or follow her @helenfwebb. To read Helen’s previous articles for SecEd, visit http://bit.ly/2cLa6UZ

Further information

  • Building an Outstanding Teacher CPD Programme, Helen Webb, SecEd, January 2017: http://bit.ly/2rLtqpH
  • Outstanding teaching: 31 things that effective teachers do, John Dabell, SecEd, September 2017: http://bit.ly/2IIhsaN
  • The Outstanding Classrooms website: https://outstandingclassrooms.wordpress.com
  • Lutterworth College has been working to develop inexpensive forms of in-school, teacher-led CPD to effectively support colleagues through the curriculum changes. See In-school, teacher-led CPD programmes, SecEd, May 2018: http://bit.ly/2rLu86l