Why it’s time for teacher CPD to get personal writes Matt Tiplin

There are plenty of reasons why CPD in schools should be successful. Teachers are lifelong learners who want to develop their skills and improve their craft, and schools are learning institutions that are keen to support them. And yet despite this shared ambition, the truth is in many schools’ teacher CPD isn’t doing its job.

All too often teachers can’t see a link between the training offered and their own needs and objectives. INSET led CPD, with its one size fits all approach, can feel like a tick box exercise to teachers and leave them feeling frustrated that the hours would be better spent elsewhere.

Targeted support

The way forward is to provide teachers with regular developmental opportunities that align with their own needs and that of their pupils.

Hearing about a colleague’s experience supporting struggling learners to prepare for SATS in Year 2 or how a Year 7 teacher used a symbol-based system to create a more inclusive learning environment, is a more relatable way for teachers to link professional development content and practical classroom application. 

Emma Wilks Interim Co-Principal at Nishkam High School in Birmingham agrees, “tailored teacher development is far more effective in supporting teachers and ensuring the children get the best out of the lessons.

“I wouldn’t deliver a complex teaching strategy to all staff when I know only two might benefit from that strategy. CPD needs to be responsive to the children they are dealing with at the time. That’s why we limit whole school training days to covering issues like safeguarding or wellbeing.

“Even in smaller CPD sessions, unless they offer practical and targeted development, there will always be one or two in the group who won’t find the sessions a good use of their time.”

Keeping CPD relevant

The disconnect between what staff want from their CPD and what the SLT can sometimes assume they need, was highlighted in a Teacher Tapp survey. Only 34% of teachers felt their school’s CPD was helping them to become better teachers, compared to 67% of headteachers who felt they were providing the right teacher developmental opportunities.

Nishkam High School made CPD more relevant to staff by injecting fresh thinking into how it was offered. The changes made have positively impacted on pupil outcomes and teacher buy-in at the school.

As Emma explains, “we wanted to help our teachers flex, move, and adapt their teaching practice to best suit the needs of the children they have in their classrooms right now. Finding ways to keep our CPD fresh, with regular and focused feedback is integral to our approach.

“Encouraging self-reflection is key, but it’s hard for teachers to do this without the aid of seeing what their teaching looks like in practice. We’ve found using video technology provides a more objective view of how a lesson went compared to a traditional lesson observation.

“Our teachers feel positive about the central role they play in their professional development. They can review the camera footage by themselves or with a colleague and see what specific aspects of their teaching practice could be improved upon and just as importantly, when, and why, things go right.”

Greater teacher autonomy

Teachers feel valued when they are trusted to take ownership of their teaching practice and make any positive changes needed. And yet, in the Big Question NASUWT 2022 survey only 28% of teachers surveyed felt their professional judgement is respected when it comes to professional development

Schools can fix this. Create a climate of continual professional development by giving teachers the autonomy to identify and focus on what they want and need to focus on. Encourage teachers to learn from one another and use the expertise of other staff to push the school forward.

Find better ways to do CPD that will engage staff and raise the quality of teaching and learning, like visiting other schools to develop their subject knowledge, bouncing ideas off colleagues, or attending a Research Ed conference. 

Emma Wilks is featured in What’s wrong with teacher CPD – and how do we fix it? which examines CPD in more detail.

Matt Tiplin has been a senior leader in a MAT and an Ofsted inspector. He is vice president of ONVU Learning.