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The future of Continuous Professional Development

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This article originally appeared in NAHT’s Leadership Focus 

Authored by  Andrew Hammond

In the coming months, as we evaluate the remote routines and rituals that started off as temporary make-dos and quickly became the norm, we will decide which of our new working practices will be retained for their efficacy and efficiency and which others will be locked away as ominous reminders of a deeply unsettling and dehumanising period in our professional and personal lives.

Which selection criteria for such an evaluation will need to be bold and robust, for the scope and impact of a teacher extends far beyond the delivering of propositional knowledge, whether remotely or in-person, A teacher inspires, enthuses, engages, energises, motivates and cares – deeply. When schooling shifted to online, both pupils and teachers were left to their own devices, literally, and while the herculean efforts of staff meant that lessons could continue unabated, the less visible, harder-to-measure impact of each compassionate teacher has been sharply revealed and sorely missed. The lockdown has revealed to us the true extent of a teacher’s contribution to a child’s development.

So what will the learnings be when in-person schooling resumes for everyone? When the corridors and classrooms are refilled with children, and those rich relationships can restart, what will we take from the past year that will enhance and perhaps even reshape the way we do things in school?

Even the most digitally literature teachers among us will have finessed their IT skills this past year, while many others will have seen a seismic shift in the way they teach, engage and reach out to their pupils.

There will be myriad skills and capabilities we want to retain in our teaching toolkit – blended learning tools, flipped classroom strategies, home learning projects, parent partnerships, to name just a few – but there may also be positive changes available to us in the world of Continuous Professional Development too.

It is unlikely that teachers will be taking a day out of school to attend an in-person CPD session anytime soon. This might have been especially worrying had it not been for a forced shift to – and broad acceptance of – online CPD in this past year. Many teachers, some of whom may have been wary of online training in the past, will have derived significant value from online courses in recent weeks and that may indeed bring a paradigm shift in how we can develop and empower our staff in the future, whilst minimising disruption to pupils’ learning. No one would suggest that online CPD could ever fully replace in-person training, with all the opportunities the latter brings for networking, but in a recent survey of school leaders, conducted by the NAHT, 75% of respondents said they would attend online CPD during the pandemic; and whilst some missed the opportunity to meet other teachers face to face, many recognised the benefits of not having to travel, not needing to arrange supply cover, and being able to complete online courses at a time and pace convenient for them.

To find out more about how schools have adapted to the current challenges and how their CPD priorities and delivery systems may have evolved as a result, I sat down with Jeremy Spencer, Senior Director of Performance and Standards at St Ralph Sherwin Catholic Multi Academy Trust, where he heads up the School Improvement Team.

An experienced school leader, and a former Senior Her Majesty’s Inspector. His Trust has recently invested in the NAHT Discovery Education Pathway programme for many of their staff and so I was keen to understand what effective CPD looks like for him, how it may have changed as a result of the national lockdowns we have experienced, and what the new strategic priorities may be for the future of CPD across his Trust.

What, for you, does effective CPD look like? What should it achieve?

At St Ralph Sherwin CMAT, our aim is to provide colleagues with the CPD they need to perform to the level of the best. We believe that effective CPD stimulates a positive and permanent change in a colleague’s behaviour. It provides the trainee with the new ‘expert’ knowledge they need, to further develop their skills and practice. The knowledge should be imparted in a way that enables the trainee to assimilate with their current level of understanding. There should be opportunities for the trainee to revisit and apply the knowledge in different contexts and situations, to help it to stick. On a more basic level, we also absolutely want trainees to enjoy, and be stimulated and engaged by, their CPD offer.

It is clear that you are committed to bringing out the very best in everyone and investing fully in your staff across your organisation. How do you empower your colleagues to be the best they can be?

As a Trust, we invest heavily in staff CPD. We provide a ‘Training and Professional Development brochure, which reflects training needs identified by colleagues through their feedback. This helps to give them ownership of the CPD offer and we find it empowers them to engage with it. Beyond this , our School Improvement Team continually seeks to harvest the best practice identified, from both within and beyond the Trust and Diocese. If strong practice is identified from within the Trust, staff are empowered to lead training for others. T We are fortunate to have some forward-thinking people to draw from within our Trust and Diocese, and from our partner Trusts nationally.

As your community comes out the current lockdown and returns together again, what will be some of your standout priorities from a professional development point of view? Will they have changed from before?

Several priorities stand out for us. The first is to build further on our commitment to provide leaders and staff with a strong personal development programme, to sit alongside their professional development pathway. During lockdown, our headteachers and Trust senior leaders engaged in a programme of resilience coaching. Feedback has been exceptionally positive with leaders saying, for example, that they felt empowered, valued, reinvigorated, and better able to cope with the high pressures of the pandemic. Having seen the benefit, we want to extend this type of CPD to impact on staff beyond the leadership tier. We are also determined to build further on the strong gains our staff have made in developing their digital literacy skills, through our Trust digital leader/partner.

What do you think are some of the benefits, and challenges, of presenting CPD online?

We have seen some significant advantages of CPD during lockdown. Not least the fact that I have led training for every member of staff in our Trust schools at some point, from my home office, wearing comfy slippers! The real advantage here, of course, being the many hours saved by colleagues not having to travel to engage in face-to-face CPD every time. The increased flexibility of online CPD has also enabled Trust colleagues to access CPD at a time of their choosing. Particularly important with staff having to plan and deliver teaching online… and perhaps try to care for others in their homes at the same time.

Challenges have included staff finding it difficult to connect to some content/discussions, due to bandwidth or other technical issues. I am sure that we all relate only too well to the moment when colleagues tell you that your picture has frozen, and you sit hoping that the frozen picture is not too unfortunate!

What does reflective practice look like for you at SRSCMAT? How are you empowering your colleagues to recognise their self-efficacy and retain agency in their roles?

There is strong recognition across the Trust that unless we take time to stop, reflect and review – the chances of us growing stronger will be greatly reduced. Multiple working groups, along with a series of action research projects (led by Trust colleagues working in schools) are in play, and support this process. The groups meet regularly and feedback to the Trust’s Executive Team and Trust Board, to help ensure that we finetune our practice and continue to drive forwards in the right strategic direction. Our Trust CEO, Sean McClafferty, is a keen believer in talking to staff across all levels of the Trust on a regular basis. He frequently drops into our schools (virtually, at the moment) to speak with pupils and staff. In doing so he empowers colleagues to make their voices heard and recognise their value to our organisation.

You have invested in the NAHT Discovery Education Pathway programme for many of your colleagues across the Trust. What are you hoping to gain from this programme? What are your expectations? How will you know it is working?

We see the NAHT Discovery Education Pathway programme as the logical next step on our journey. Having reviewed and sampled a range of potential CPD options for our Trust, we are confident that the programme matches our needs and ambitions the most convincingly.

We particularly like the strong focus on staff personal development, and the fact that this dovetails with their wider professional development. We want our staff to continue to feel both challenged and exceptionally well supported. All things considered, we never want to lose sight of the fact that it is the ‘people’ who make our organisation. We want to give them the very best CPD out there, to support them on the journey.

We are also highly impressed with the quality, range, and relevance of the digital content on the Pathway programme. The materials have a connected, joined-up feel to them. This provides a sense of purpose – very much unlike many other online CPD products, which all too often can come across as a series of ‘bolt ons’.

As with any CPD package that we buy into, the impact made on improving colleagues’ knowledge and skills and strengthening their behaviours/influence will be a key measure of its success. A such, we intend to keep discussions with staff about their work on the programme detailed, and very much live – so that we can gauge impact in the short, medium and long term. It is the latter though that we will be most interested in seeing. I have a very good feeling about it!

At times it is difficult to believe that we are in just the third year of operation, as a Trust. We have come a long way in that time, and we are excited about the future and what we can achieve for our pupils. The partnership with NAHT Discovery Education Pathway, we believe, will help us to achieve our ambition for CPD, and provide our staff with the tools they need to take us to the next level… the level of the best.

Created in partnership with NAHT, Pathway offers a fresh new approach to CPD supporting the continuous professional empowerment of teachers and leaders.