Building Effective Professional Development

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How should schools build a robust professional development programme?

To have a world-class educaiton system, we need world-class professional development provison, delivery and evaluation.

Education Endowment Foundation Professional DevelopmentI’ve been taking a closer look at the Education Endowment Foundation’s new report on Effective Professional Development. Their guidance is intended to support those who design and select professional development aimed at improving the attainment of pupils aged three to 18.

Inside the downloads from the report, one of the three recommendations says, “when designing and selecting professional development, focus on the mechanisms.” What they mean by this are the 14 mechanisms listed in this document… 

I’ve deliberately not looked at their explanations offered inside the main document; I would encourage you to do read them. Instead, I wanted to write my thoughts based on each of the 14 mechanisms as I see them before I read the main body. What you read below are my immediate thoughts based on this graphic.

1. Building Knowledge

1)  Managing cognitive load – probably a term many teachers were unfamiliar with a couple of years ago. With a better understanding of working memory, school leaders and teacher who design and lead professional development must take cognition into account. I always start from this point: What would you like to do after a 5-period day? Then work backwards…

2) Revisiting prior learning – if we do this with students, why not teachers? In any context where we are learning and working to improve the way we do things, all future goals require a degree of looking back and looking forward. As teachers reflect on how they are developing as a professional, so too much we reflect on what we could do better.

2. Motivating Teachers

3) Setting and agreeing on goals – this has to be a collective exercise, not necessarily for specific decisions to be made, but ‘power from the floor‘ where key decisions are communicated and opinions are sought publicly. This should be commonplace for policy building and staff professional development.

4) Presenting information from a credible source – whether Ofsted, Department for Education, a teaching union, research papers or an academic institution, ‘what Ross said on Twitter’ isn’t a credible source. Please make sure your references are well-versed. Keep them broad, updated and do signpost these sources to staff.

5) Providing affirmation and reinforcement after progress – some of the best headteachers I worked with were excellent at doing this. As they drip-fed new initiatives, vision and values, they continued to remind you of the progress made, reminding the staff body of the reasons why changes were made…

3. Developing Teaching Techniques

6) Instructing teachers ‘how to’ perform a technique – ‘Here’s what a good one looks like?’ is every teacher’s classroom mantra. We can support professional development with scaffolding resources and fading them away as we develop a degree of expertise.

7) Arranging social support – I am reminded of the excellent research by Prof Andy Hargreaves and Prof Michael Fullan. In Professional Capital, they argue that teachers learn more and improve more if they are able to work, plan and make decisions with other teachers rather than having to make everything up or bear every burden… Best described in three parts 1) Human capital – individual talent; developing the right knowledge and skill base 2) Social capital – working and learning from each other and 3) Decisional capital – what teachers acquire as a result of the combination of skills, knowledge, experience and considered reflection.

8) Modelling the techniqueI do, we do, you do. It’s one of the most powerful modelling strategies a teacher can use with their pupils. Why not with staff too? Teachers respect the school leader who puts themselves on the front line of a demonstration!

9) Monitoring and providing feedback – the former can often go so wrong in schools; too much detail, too frequent or infrequent. Getting the balance right and being clear and specific about what it is you are monitoring is crucial. Once you have this information, how you provide this feedback to (groups of) teachers is essential. Just like the classroom, it’s what we do next with this information that matters…

10) Rehearsing the technique – teachers need time to plug and play with ideas. Whilst one or two may be able to use a few ideas from teacher training sessions the very next day, what we are really hoping for is a change in long-term behaviours. When designing professional development programmes, build in time for embedding and retrieval. I would also ask teachers to report back on ‘what’s working?’ and ‘what’s not?’

4. Embedding Practice

11) Providing prompts and cues – put simply, from the original point of exposure, use every opportunity to revisit the material in staff briefings, email messages, meetings or ‘show and tell’ twilight. Regular drip-feeding is a good way to help shape culture, habits and provide school leaders with frequent opportunities to promote the work of the wider staff.

12) Prompting action planning – this is best achieved by having specific items added to every middle leader’s agenda when they meet with their immediate teams. A simple ‘report back’ your thoughts and feedback on this resource, policy or plan is sufficient to keep the professional development dialogue continuing across every office and classroom space.

13) Encouraging monitoring – when we introduce any new initiatives, we hope there is going to be some impact on teaching standards and pupil outcomes. With intelligent quality assurance, school leaders can do this well when middle leaders are the driving force. Don’t make monitoring erroneous. Make it an essential part of future decision making (see no. 2).

14) Prompting context-specific repetition – Within a school, if one member of staff is presenting, they should offer some ideas as to how other teachers (in year groups and subjects) may be able to translate ideas back into their classroom. In my context, speaking in front of 100s of teachers every week – sometimes from a wide number of schools – it’s just as important to offer a range of ideas to suit early years, primary, secondary and further education. Whilst you may not meet the needs of everyone, at least considering this and providing one of two ideas provides other teachers with a starting point from which to build upon…

Effective professional development requires building knowledge, motivating teachers, developing teaching techniques and embedding practice. It’s worth checking if your CPD programme features all fourteen…

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