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Going beyond CPD to develop outstanding teaching and learning

Click here to view the full publication (5 pages)

This publication ‘moves the discussion from the importance of effective CPD for individual teachers (building human capital) to the importance of collaboration (building social capital).’

This is something that intrigues me as I can see the value in each but the immense power of collaboration, especially through creative problem solving that can come about as a result of action learning sets or design thinking approaches cannot be underestimated for empowering colleagues and igniting change.

… simply laying on more courses is not enough. Above all, professional development needs to be integrated into both an individual teachers’ career and school system changes.’ (OECD, 2011)

I’m immersing myself in a weekend of reading, studying, reflecting and designing and in revisiting some conference notes, it is a notion that repeats itself time and time again: a course or ‘training’ just doesn’t cut it. Just as for learners, our learning experience needs to be diverse, relevant and ideally work-based or at least project-based if it is to have real impact. Why do we repeatedly adhere to some bizarre notion that placing a group of professionals in a room and telling them the way to do something would be any better learning experience than it would be for our young students? They need to experience it, reflect on it, collaborate on it, practice it, discuss it and share it.

‘The failure of traditional CPD is neatly summarised by Michael Fullan (1991):


That was written in 1991. How woeful is it when we realise that this kind of practice has never ceased to exist? That’s 25 years later.

What are the characteristics of good development?

‘Ofsted’s Report, ‘Good Professional Development in Schools’ (March 2010), identified the key characteristics of what makes good professional development work in successful schools. Amongst a number of helpful observations, were the following comments:

‘The most successful schools prided themselves on being learning communities.’

I’ve heard this time bandied around and I’d really love to visit an education organisation where a true ‘learning community’ has been achieved (especially if it’s an FE college) as although it’s a state I’d love to reach, I’m unsure how best to achieve it.

‘The Headteachers in the survey schools knew that one of the best resources for professional development was the expertise of their own staff.’

Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? The good organisation or the sharing of staff expertise? In an organisation that isn’t ‘good’, does the expertise exist or does the organisation have to become good before the expertise can be shared? Is it through the sharing of staff expertise that an organisation that isn’t ‘good’, becomes ‘good’?

‘Lesson observations led to the identification of teaching strengths that could benefit the whole school.’

‘To the next level: Good schools becoming outstanding’ (CfBT, 2011) also picked up this theme and identified two key characteristics of outstanding schools:

Senior leaders make sure professional development of all staff,teaching and non-teaching,is relevant,continuous and of high quality.Most of this professional development takes place in schools.’

‘Relevant, continuous and of high quality’ doesn’t seem like rocket science at all and certainly aligns with much of the other reading I’ve done but how can this be achieved? How can we ensure it’s always of high quality when we may be relying solely on the expertise of our own staff (and a separate consideration- how do we avoid burning out these beacons of expertise by asking them to share constantly?) How can we ensure it’s continuous when there are so many other duties and learning vying for our undivided attention? How can we ensure it’s always relevant, when this is so personal?

‘A key difference between being a good school and being an outstanding school involves going beyond tight quality controls towards the quality assurance of a self confident, self critical community in which learning is interactive and permanent.

This suggests an effective way forward in the development of outstanding teaching without relying simply on providing more traditional CPD.’

Although a ‘self-confident, self-critical community‘ sounds like the epitome of outstanding, there are still no concrete examples provided of what this might look like and where it has been achieved.

One thing I have begun to consider in greater detail today, through various readings and videos, is the need to provide a different development offer for teachers at different stages of their careers; with newly qualified colleagues needing greater levels of modelling, coaching and practice than perhaps their experienced and ‘great’ colleagues who will benefit from a more collaborative and reflective approach.

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Human capital versus social capital

‘In response to the question, ‘Why are some teachers better than others?’, a human capital perspective would answer that some teachers are just better trained, more gifted or more motivated. A social capital perspective would answer the question by looking at just not what a teacher knows, but also where she gets that knowledge. If she has a problem with a particular student, where does the teacher go for information and advice? Who does she use to sound out her own ideas or assumptions about teaching? Who does she confide in about the gaps in her understanding of her subject knowledge?’

I’d hate to have counted the number of colleagues who have said to me that they never get a chance to talk about teaching and learning, especially in the early stages of their career, because everyone’s always too busy or they don’t want to feel like a burden to others. Having experienced the very same myself, ‘here’s your desk, here’s your mentor (who will never be free when you are) and here’s your timetable: off you go then’, ‘I’d love to reach a situation where a colleague never has to relay such experiences to me ever again.

‘Ikujiro Nonaka…conducted some research into why Japanese companies were outperforming American companies…Nonaka argues that throughout any organisation individuals hold a wide range of ‘tacit’ knowledge which needs to be developed into ‘explicit’ knowledge which can be fed into the whole organisation and used as the springboard for effective change and development.’

Collaboration is important if this kind of culture is to be achieved.

‘As Michael Fullan (2011) says of schools:

‘Teaching quality also improves within a collegial, collaborative environment… The power of collective capacity is that it enables ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. Activities and projects such as ‘Instructional Rounds’, ‘Study Lessons’, ‘Walk Throughs’ and ‘Lesson Study’ are all very powerful and have successfully built upon the concept of collaboration as being at the core of improvement. A key challenge for these great ideas has been sustainability and resource implications.’

Still there is no answer. I have not yet come across any FE college (with its large number of staff and, increasingly, wide-spreading campuses), that has truly achieved a sustainable model for colleague collaboration. Maybe I’ve just missed you, in which case, please get in touch with me! Can you hear the desperation in my voice yet?

The publication acknowledges that despite multiple pieces of research indicating that some approaches to CPD (that are in opposition to more traditional approaches) have much greater impact, yet they continue to be neglected in favour of continuing to develop human capital where metrics are more easily found. Collaboration, team-building and building social capital mistakenly continue to be seen as ‘wishy-washy notions‘ that won’t truly contribute to the development of teaching and learning.

‘There is, however, a growing body of evidence underpinning the importance of developing and encouraging active professional interactions between staff.

‘Carrie Leana (2011) reflects on the large scale studies undertaken over a decade in the USA. The research provides a strong evidence base showing that where social capital has been developed in and across staff groups it is a significant predictor of student achievement gains above and beyond teacher experience or ability in the classroom: And the effects of teacher social capital on student performance were powerful. If a teacher’s social capital was just one standard deviation higher than the average, her students’ maths scores increased by 5.7%’

‘Amongst Leana’ s conclusions, based on this extensive research, are the following key points:

‘If human capital is strong, individual teachers have the knowledge and skills to do a good job in their classroom. But if social capital is also strong, teachers can continually learn from their conversations with one another and become even better at what they do.’

Even better‘ seems like a far more attractive proposal to me, however easy and ‘safe’ the alternative may be.

‘and critically, even teachers with initial low human capital can perform as well as teachers of average ability if they have strong social capital. Strong social capital can go a long way to off-set any disadvantages pupils face with lower skill teachers.’

I was so interested by this research that I looked her up and it would seem I have even more reading to add to my ever-growing list but in the meantime, this video is worth watching:

‘Love the one you have’

‘We should not rely upon ‘magic and heroic’ teachers coming to the rescue but need an approach which can support all teachers; as he put it, “What I call the love the one you have strategy”. Dylan William, 2010

Social capital continued

As Dylan Wiliam (2011) says, “Teachers don’t lack knowledge. What they lack is support in working out how to integrate these ideas into their daily practice …”.

Connecting teachers means that it’s more likely they’ll integrate new learning because they’ll have people to speak to about their fears and then how new approaches are working or not working in practice. If teachers don’t have this support network then the learning may, or- more likely- may not, affect or influence their practice.

‘Richard Elmore (2009) provides the insight that: “there is almost no opportunity for teachers to engage in continuous and substantial learning about their practice …observing and being observed by their colleagues in their own classrooms and the classrooms of other teachers in schools confronting similar problems of practice”.

This is one of the main things I grapple with at present: there is such great value in observing one another but how might we make available, the proper time and space for this to occur?

Developing an open classroom culture

Teachers accepting this kind of a culture can be a big challenge. Observing others and being observed is associated with ‘a judgemental performance management process rather than collaboration.’ Developing trust between teachers for an open classroom culture to work is therefore essential: ‘within the school there needs to be clarity of purpose and logic behind observations in order to minimise tensions and maximise value.

It is suggested that as an organisation moves towards ‘outstanding’, they must trust their staff even more and loosen up any ‘tight’ development cultures and practices in order for staff to feel fully empowered.

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In the face of all this evidence to the contrary, why do we keep ‘doing’ CPD badly?

I believe there to be a combination of factors:

  • Pressure from external and internal sources generating fear, which makes it difficult to even contemplate alternative approaches
  • Immediate results are required and so leaders are being fooled into thinking that they’ve ‘cracked it’ when in fact practice has only changed on the surface and not to a deeper level
  • Fear of failure and of risk-taking leading to poor decision making and sticking to the status quo
  • Doing it the way it’s always been done- relying on a familiar and comfortable approach- rather than responding to the obvious fact that what you’ve always done is not working

So what’s next? Doing CPD differently and better than before!

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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