Last week David Weston, the Chief Executive for the Teacher Development Trust, chaired the first of a series of Webinars exploring the findings of a research report we’ve commissioned from the Centre for the Use of Research Evidence in Education (CUREE) about Continuing Professional Development (CPD). We commissioned this research to help us develop our new year-long action-learning approach to CPD. David’s sharing the findings of the Webinar discussions via a series of posts on this blog. In the first of his entries David recounts participant’s perspectives on whether we should ban one-off professional development courses for teachers. To kick off the session David ran through the key points from the research and asked delegates to reflect how many of these highly-effective features they had seen in their own work.
Opinions were split on this controversial question as a mixture of teachers, school leaders, training providers and researchers took part in the first Teacher Development Trust webinar debate last night. Polls at the start and end of the debate showed that views were fairly entrenched – those who came in to the debate wanting to ban one-off courses stuck to their positions. Interestingly, the teachers present tended to support an outright ban, whereas (perhaps less surprisingly) the training providers unanimously supported the status quo.
John Blake said that these one-off courses were “completely cut off from the type of learning that we’d expect students to do”, inasmuch as there was no opportunity to go back and check that lessons learned were being applied correctly.
Steve Clark agreed that there were drawbacks but thought that one-day events were probably the best way for schools to allow “teachers to network, to understand more, to gain new insights” and that they were fairly practical for schools in terms of having to release staff.
Jane Cross, from Behaviour Advice, describe how she provides opportunities for detailed action-planning in her courses, but that schools are very cost-conscious and generally won’t want to pay for the repeat sessions or follow-up visits that the research suggests are effective. She also noted that one-off courses are not only there to pass on advice, but that they enable teachers to share ideas, reflectupon their own practice and develop new thinking.
Ben Rogers, from Ormiston Victory Academy, described how his colleagues create implementation plans from all their one-off CPD, involving both formal and informal collaboration, observations and monitoring. Generally they prefer to bring experts in to their school to work with a group of teachers rather than send one teacher out for a day.
Some providers expressed a confidence that their own one-off courses had been effective in improving teaching and learning, and this prompted Paul Crisp, Director at CUREE, to raise a question as to the type of evidence being used to back up those claims. He suggested that interventions be set up with an experimental approach, measuring specific outcomes to evaluate impact.
There was general agreement that measuring impact was a hard thing to do, and a frustration that every CPD provider’s marketing material makes claims about their effectiveness, and yet there is no way for schools to judge if this is true. Providers also expressed frustration that they could never be sure if schools were giving them genuine feedback or simply saying things they thought that the provider wanted to hear.
Ben Rogers described his school’s approach to evaluation which begins by designing the whole CPD programme around a specific need identified by the staff that features in the school development plan. This approach enables staff to carefully evaluate the intended effect through results, lesson observations and more informal discussions. Paul Crisp, from CUREE, commended this as a particularly sophisticated approach to professional development.
There was general agreement that effective needs analysis is an important pre-requisite if one-off CPD is going to have impact, but that this is something that is difficult for providers to do. Schools need to have an effective approach to needs analysis, although providers could prompt them and provide some tools for this.
As the debate drew to a close, participants reflected on their key take-away points from the debate. The two main points were:
• There needs to be a closer partnership between schools and providers so that needs are being identified clearly and met more effectively.
• The challenge for trainers and participants is to keep the momentum of the learning process going, long after the initial discussions have finished.
The slides used in this debate are available here
A recording of the session’s audio (plus some of the visuals) is available here
The webinar debates run on Mondays at 4pm and Thursdays at 7pm until Monday 16th July. They’re open to anyone and you can sign up here
There will be on-going discussion and comment on Twitter using the hashtag #bettercpd