Strengthening Teacher 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 can schools develop all teachers to become more committed to their professional development?

Fidelity: faithfulness to a cause, a belief, or by continuing loyalty and support.

In an interesting article, ‘Why the approach to professional development for highly accomplished teachers needs to change’, published by Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, the authors offer 5 ways teachers can respond to ideas presented during professional development.

Linear CPD with fixed outcomes!

This is challenging the notion that professional development is linear with fixed outcomes. I am particularly mindful of this given that I work with thousands of teachers all across the world, predominantly in one-off episodes, constantly speculating about how I can offer a long-term impact and meet individual needs.

The authors write that highly accomplished teachers, defined by those who show skill and sophisticated practice, are those who are motivated and apply learning in practice back into the classroom. One only needs to look to social media to observe a large number of teachers excited about learning more about teaching, sharing their ideas, reading books and profiting from this acquired wisdom to translate back into their world of work.

Fidelity to implementation

Typically, all teachers are shoehorned into a school hall and irrespective of experience, are required to attend and expected to learn from pre-determined outcomes. Much of this will be familiar to the vast majority of teachers, with some schools now approaching things differently.

‘Fidelity to implementation’, a term I have not come across before, is used in educational research to explain this phenomenon. That evidence-based interventions, from a researchers perspective, consider what gets in the way of teachers being able to implement ideas and offer solutions to improve fidelity, defined in this context as ‘faithfulness to a cause, a belief, or by continuing loyalty and support.’

Available time, having a poor strategy and weak implementation will be frequently used as barriers to success.

5 ways to transfer CPD ideas into practice

The authors importantly reference that ‘fidelity to implementation’ as a theory, fails to recognise teachers as decision-makers. I do think this is one particular problem in some of our schools where teacher autonomy is low. Listening to teaching ideas at a CPD event and then translating them are two very different things. Putting ideas into practice requires five different responses. Those are:

  1. Rejection: Professional critique of the current status quo and any new ideas being presented.
  2. Replication: How do these ideas work in my classroom?
  3. Application: Apply ideas and translate to suit professional expertise as well as the students in the class.
  4. Adaption: Think about the pedagogical reasoning of the idea and how it can be modified to suit the application.
  5. Amplification: How the ideas presented can have a greater impact and be sustained.

What to do instead?

I’ve thought a lot about poor professional development and how schools can restructure CPD effectively, where teachers should focus their efforts as well as accessing some of the latest research findings on professional development and some academic research critiquing the status quo.

Rather than focusing on standardised outcomes, school leaders or anyone like myself who leads teacher training should focus on existing teacher expertise and the practical applications required for specific school contexts.

Recommendations for schools

We know there is a great abundance of education research that recommends to schools how best to approach professional development. Thinking simply in practical terms, how to bring all of these ideas to life, here are some of the things that I would suggest.

  1. Differentiate professional development
  2. Align various pathways to school values, individual needs and department/team priorities
  3. Communicate these pathways and constantly refer to this action plan on a regular basis
  4. Ensure all school staff are aware of the big picture and how they fit into the strategic jigsaw
  5. Develop a culture of trust and autonomy – allow teachers to select professional development routes
  6. Overhaul traditional teacher training days away from 5 separate and stagnant days, to regular shorter slots spread throughout the academic year.
  7. Keep CPD sessions short, pragmatic and develop methods for all staff to contribute.
  8. Build-in time to retrieve and embed ideas, providing opportunities to share.
  9. Separate the essential ‘information-type CPD’ from the pedagogical E.g. safeguarding, epi-pen etc

When leaders invest a great deal of time in ‘getting to know’ teachers before they start any work together, where nuance is considered, it is where teachers can have a larger impact.

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