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CPD, but not as we know it

Our CPD Journey until now

Over the last three years, I have been part of a team leading and facilitating CPD across Reading College. We’ve experienced great successes and we’ve largely achieved what we set out to:

  • An increase in conversations about teaching & learning
  • A breaking down of silos
  • CPD that is more relevant, real and accessible
  • A range of opportunities for teaching and support staff alike

The vehicle for this work has been ‘Pass It On‘ and the drivers have been sharing, learning and inspiring.

These three pillars have allowed us to establish:

  • A new staff development programme that is reflective and leads to practitioners who embody and champion the College’s values and ways of working. They are well connected, well supported and well on their way to being fantastic practitioners.
  • A Pass It On Friday Padlet wall, website and CPD community for sharing best practice across the organisation and opening learning to full time, part time and evening staff.
  • An annual teaching and learning conference to bring FE together with practitioners from other areas of education.
  • Partnerships with local schools to share practice and hold some awesome learning events: Teachmeets.
  • Open classrooms weeks for staff to dive in and out of one another’s classrooms for their learning, whether that be construction, performing arts or maths.
  • A range of challenges and opportunities to enable staff to go further: ‘Take the Plunge’ projects for aspiring leaders, Google Glass projects, Poundland Pedagogy challenges, staff awards, competitions and free conference tickets to apply for.
  • A heightened focus on wellbeing with meditation sessions and CPD afternoons where staff can share their skills and passions with one another.

The dawn of a new era


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A new era is dawning for one main reason:

  1. What we’ve established is not CPD.

Don’t get me wrong, what we have established is fantastic and I’m incredibly proud of what’s been achieved. We set out what we wanted to achieve after all.

‘The Pass It On sessions have really invigorated staff. I have been introduced to some great ideas and feel that my teaching has a new impetus. Before the end of term I have used some of the ideas gained and am planning incorporation into next year’s teaching. I like the way the sessions work, and really believe this sort of learning community is a benefit, not only for me but for my students and the college too. It has brought together colleagues from departments that never met each other and is therefore facilitating new relationships which are further impacting upon learning as those new cross-college bonds develop.’

We’ve had numerous colleges come and visit us over the last couple of years to magpie what we’re doing and their feedback indicates that they’re impressed with what we’re doing.

“When the debate about what constitutes great learning and how it can happen is being driven by ground-up by practitioners rather than managers you know you are well on the way to becoming a true learning organisation. The ‘Pass It On’ concept is beautifully simple and has been very skilfully promoted through a range of technologies, reinforcing the journey that the college has started with the use of all things Google. The programme has clearly created a buzz for staff and has been successful in delivering significant improvements in teaching, learning and assessment. There is much for other colleges to learn from the way in which staff at Reading College have quickly got behind this concept and re-engaged with what lies at the heart of  FE – teaching and learning.”

We’ve been nominated for awards and above all, we feel the difference all around us and we can very visibly see the progress that’s been made with the culture change. A full review of the last year is available here.

The lightbulb moment is almost here!


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But it’s not really CPD. It’s learning. Sometimes it’s bloody fantastic, uplifting and inspirational learning but it isn’t CPD. Ultimately, it’s not ‘continuous.’ It’s not ‘professional’ in the way it should be and it’s certainly not ‘development’ in the truest sense. The closest I felt we’d got to true development over the duration of Pass It On were two main projects:

1) New Teacher Essentials and  2) #CurricCon

These two projects had a few things in common.

  • They were continuous.
  • They were collaborative.
  • There was a shared purpose.
  • They were based in real problems.
  • They encouraged reflection and revisiting over time.
  • They ended in a final presentation- there was a product of the learning that had taken place.
  • Students were at the centre of each project.

I soon realised there was some learning I could take from these two projects. Our CPD was a facade. It was busy activity that didn’t have measurable impact and crucially wasn’t connected to the needs of the students. It had certainly been a vehicle for our culture change but we had now most definitely reached the time for phase two.

An NTEN  (now TDT) conference with the fabulous David Weston and co. contributed to this shift: they helped us to recognise that we were unable to measure impact…at all. We could pretend we could measure it but really all we were doing was forcing the numbers, data and stories to fit the busy flurry of activity that had taken place.

We (@S_Moakes and I) then spent an awful lot of time reading, researching and exploring what the answers could be. The research and key quotes of most of what we came across can be found here. Essentially, there were three main pieces of writing that really lead our thinking:

Cordingley, P et. al. (2015) Developing Great Teaching: Lessons from the International Reviews into Effective Professional Development

Iris Connect (2015) Shaping the Future of CPD: Time to focus on the important, not the urgent

Robinson, V et. al. (2009) School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying What Works and Why

And these were the quotes we’d use as the basis for the solution we’d finally come to (a few months later):

CPD Plan 15-16 NEW Spare Slides Spare Slides (2) Spare Slides (3)Spare Slides (1) We needed to connect staff to CPD that:

  • Is personalised to them, their passions, development needs, students/staff/customers and context
  • Gives staff a shared sense of purpose
  • Has an enquiry based focus
  • Is sustained over time
  • Allows for reflection and revisiting
  • Has a measurable impact
  • Is grounded in the students’ learning

This is the model we arrived at that would incorporate all of these elements:

CPD Model 15-16 The focus is where staff will select their strategic aim to focus on over the coming academic year. This is where the shared sense of purpose will begin to be achieved. This also means that CPD activity is being aligned to the aims of the organisation- we’re all steering in the same direction.

The question is where staff will form an Expansive Education style research question to attempt to answer over the year and direct all of their CPD towards. This is where their CPD will hold meaning, purpose and relevance. Without it, the rest of the model collapses.

Then staff will select their CPD options.

Support will be the sustained collaborative part, alongside their question. They can choose from:

  • Action Learning Sets
  • Communities of Practice
  • New Staff Essentials followed by ALS
  • Lesson Study/Peer Observations

Action will be 2 activities per term that will progress their learning further. They can choose from:

  • 1-1 coaching
  • Action Research
  • Bitesize sessions
  • Book club
  • Conferences
  • Digital learning networks
  • External CPD
  • Group coaching sessions
  • How 2 Resources
  • Journal/blog club
  • Lesson Review- Video
  • Mentoring
  • Networking with other schools/colleges
  • Online learning- long/short term
  • Open Classrooms
  • Reading
  • TeachMeets
  • Tech Support
  • Vocational experience

The Go Further options allow staff to take their learning to the next level. They can choose from:

  • Aspiring Leaders
  • Blogging
  • Coach colleagues
  • Facilitate a CPD session
  • Mentor new staff
  • PIO Team member
  • Professional qualifications
  • Speaking at external events
  • Submit a Resource
  • Take the plunge project- Coming Soon!

They’re then reminded about the importance of reflection: continually returning to their question and CPD activities to ensure changes in their work are taking place that are leading to the desired change they’d like to see.

Finally, they can explore the evaluation options for measuring what they’ve been actioning in their work as a result of their CPD. This way, we have measurable impact right across the organisation. They are advised to select a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods from:

College data

  • Retention rates
  • Achievement rates
  • Success rates
  • High Grade achievement
  • Progression rates/routes
Other methods
  • Attitude Survey
  • Interview
  • Observation Grid
  • Checklists
  • Focus Groups
  • Learning Log
  • Diary
  • Critical Incident Review
  • Story
  • Recording
  • Document analysis
  • English and maths
  • My Views- student feedback surveys every half term
  • Employability skills

What’s Next?


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All of this development that will take place over the next academic year will be shared in the summer during what used to be our CPD week where we traditionally inserted more learning. The week will now become a celebration of learning and development instead. As is the tradition with Pass It On, choice will be key: staff will be given a range of choices for sharing the learning they’ve undertaken and the resulting impact. We look forward to a range of presentations, reports, workshops, displays and videos.

What we’ve learned already from staff submitting their CPD plans for the year:

  • It’s exciting to read the renewed focus in more of a professional kind of learning that everyone is making.
  • Making the shift to focus more on the resulting improvement for students/ staff/ customers is bigger that we expected it would be: we assumed this would be a natural movement.
  • Focusing on the measurable impact is about as difficult as we expected staff to find it.
  • It has confirmed that staff find it challenging to identify the best kinds of CPD that will support the aims they’re attempting to achieve.

I expect that much learning will take place over the next academic year for the Reading College CPD team now that this new model is on trial. There will be new experiences aplenty but if the reading we’ve done is to be relied upon then it’ll certainly lead to meaningful learning experiences for staff and improved experiences for learners, staff and customers as a result. Watch this space.

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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The Best CPD… EVER!

We were asked, during one of the excellent workshops arranged by @iris_connect at the #ShapingCPD conference last week, to reflect on our best CPD experience. This was