Research School Network: Effective Professional Development For Effective PD to succeed in school and bring about improvement, it needs to be feasible and appropriate to the school context


Effective Professional Development

For Effective PD to succeed in school and bring about improvement, it needs to be feasible and appropriate to the school context

by Billesley Research School
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Dr. Elizabeth Ford, Evidence Lead in Education at Billesley Research School and Senior Deputy Headteacher at Christ Church C of E Secondary Academy, Birmingham, shares with us her wisdom regarding how Effective PD is both an individual and a shared goal within a school team. 

I firmly believe that as leaders we should have a principle aim that every member of staff has a core influence and determination for shaping their own professional development. Following and adhering to our teachers’ standards set out by the Department for Education, we all know and appreciate that it is our responsibility to improve our practice through appropriate professional development, responding to advice and feedback from colleagues (TS8d). The approach to professional development has been transformational over the last decade. There are now, by comparison, a multitude of opportunities, both formal and informal, where everyone can learn and improve their practice.

It is arguably the single most important thing that teachers and school leaders can focus on to make a difference in children’s learning” (Rauch and Coe, 2019). To succeed, we need to make a move from a knowledge transmission model (staff are passive receivers of isolated learning) to one in which acquired knowledge can be applied, trialled and evaluated against impact indicators. There is an overt relevance of content to its participants and their day-to-day experience and aspirations for pupils’ (Cordingly et al., 2015, p5.). We need to move towards embedding a culture where teachers seek opportunities to develop inspiring and aspiring practice.

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EEF Effective Professional Development Guidance Report.

Autonomy promotes motivation and a sense of professionalism. Promoting self-evaluation and evidence-informed practice allows individuals to identify their own areas of professional development need and their own professional development desires. The intended impact on practice becomes the design tool, offering a powerful method to raise both the quality of learning … for adults and students – and student outcomes’ (Earley and Porritt, 2013. p1).

The professional development lead in schools needs to think about staff learning as its own curriculum. A coherent, and carefully considered sequenced and interleaved programme which follows the key priorities for the whole school, different subjects and their focus for improvement, as well as the progression and succession of individuals. Schools have been supported in centralising improving teacher quality through new initiatives and reforms such as the Early Career Framework and the new National Professional Qualifications.

Despite its amazing potential, professional development does come at a cost. It is a challenge for colleagues to balance competing commitments and time pressures. Quite often, and I am sure we have all experienced this at some point, PD is not well-designed, is not selected carefully, nor implemented well.

The wonderful EEF Effective Professional Development guidance report has provided us with a clear way to approach designing and selecting PD to improve practice and, subsequently, students’ outcomes.

A colleague of mine attended some external professional development last week. They sent me a message with their initial reflections on the day, It was BRILLIANT. I’m aware that I can be a pain when it comes to PD as I am difficult to please. Genuinely marvellous. Now I just need the time to process it all into something meaningful for us in school”. My response to them was This is because it quite evidently ticked two of the mechanisms for effective professional development – building knowledge and motivation”. This individual now needs to develop and embed their learning in practice, taking into account the context and needs of our school. It is my role as a school leader to make sure that they have the time and space to do that. Because, no matter how well thought through the PD is in terms of content and design, for it to succeed in our school and bring about improvement it needs to be feasible and appropriate to our context.

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EEF Effective Professional Development Guidance Report.

Simplifying this in readiness for planning for next academic year:

Step 1: Through exploration of school-based evidence and context as well as a wider understanding of evidence-informed practice, identify key priorities for school improvement.

Step 2: Carefully plan and sequence professional development as a spiralled integral thread for the academic year in support of a well-planned implementation process.

Step 3: Utilise the mechanisms for effective PD to secure a balanced design.

Step 4: Through monitoring and evaluative moments, measure impact and update accordingly.

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