Four ways to improve teacher CPD and make it impactful

Emma Wilks offers simple strategies to design CPD that reflects what’s happening in the classroom and avoids information overload

Emma Wilks offers simple strategies to design CPD that reflects what’s happening in the classroom and avoids information overload

28 Jul 2023, 5:00

Schools spend time and money creating CPD programmes for teachers, but by the time they get to the training it isn’t always relevant to the students they’re teaching at the time. 

A CPD session designed to support Year 11s with a particular skill based on the previous cohort’s outcomes quickly becomes ineffective. It is important to adapt CPD to meet the needs of the current cohort and focus on what they need and, therefore, what the teachers need to support them. 

So, how can schools ensure teachers’ CPD is timely and relevant?

Avoid blanket training

Gathering all teaching staff together at 4.30pm for a session on raising girls’ achievement in STEM might fit around everyone’s day. But there will almost certainly be teachers who don’t find the training relevant at all.

Whole-school CPD can dampen teachers’ individual teaching styles too – which might be what helps students understand a complex mathematical equation.

One change we’ve made to improve the relevance of CPD is to step back from one-size-fits-all approaches and run smaller, more frequent sessions, which better reflect teachers’ experiences and are therefore more valued.  

Prevent information overload

Blanket CPD can spark information overload too. Teachers leave with multiple strategies to stamp out classroom disruption or inject more outside learning into lessons when the issues they want to address are often more specific.

Teachers access mountains of data on their students’ progress too, in comparison with previous cohorts or students nationally. This adds further to information overload. Humans can only process so much information at once, and if teachers have too much data or try to remember too many complex teaching strategies, lesson quality can suffer.

Guidance from The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) suggests that when presenting new information, careful thought should be applied to managing teachers’ cognitive load.

We’ve found a drip-feed approach works well. Combining reduced amounts of content with examples and modelling enables teachers to incrementally build knowledge without burning out.

Enable autonomy

One aspect of CPD that’s made a significant difference for us is the added flexibility teachers have to develop their expertise.  

Our teachers have three CPD days in addition to the statutory five. They get complete autonomy over what to focus on in their practice and can choose to visit other schools, develop their subject knowledge or bounce ideas off colleagues, according to students’ needs at the time.

A fresh perspective

The way teachers identify areas for improvement has changed too. Lesson observations are recorded using camera technology which gives a 360-degree view of the classroom with audio. This has been transformational as teachers can see for themselves where in a lesson students started to lose engagement. If a behaviour incident occurred and the teacher wants to use it as a learning opportunity, they simply check the footage to consider what they could do differently next time. 

Some will have concerns about video, but we decided to use a system that gives teachers full control of when to record and what to record. It is teachers who decide whether to share clips with colleagues and observers to identify learning points.

Trust and confidence have grown as a result. Teachers often sit with senior staff or peers to watch lesson footage and discuss together what improvements can be made, which helps them feel observation happens with them, not to them.

Every Friday, we have what we call learning and teaching blasts, where teachers share best practice. In one session, a lead practitioner showed two video clips of himself teaching the same lesson to two different groups and explained what didn’t work in the first lesson and what he changed as a result – an incredibly powerful way to share an experience and help others.

It is possible to shape CPD that empowers teachers to focus on small, manageable improvements to their own practice which they know is relevant and they can sustain.

It’s these marginal gains that bring about lasting change and improve student outcomes.

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