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Research School Network: Design and Deliver Effective Professional Development How to design and deliver effective PD that balances investment and impact


Design and Deliver Effective Professional Development

How to design and deliver effective PD that balances investment and impact

by Meols Cop Research School
on the

We know that teachers engage in professional development on a large scale, but until recently their evidence has failed to provide a set of clear principles for how to design and deliver effective PD that balances investment and impact. Therefore the new EEF Effective Professional Development guidance report, which is underpinned by a new review of evidence, is a timely addition to the EEF’s portfolio. The report seeks to offer valuable new insights into what makes good design and implementation of professional development. The report aims to serve as a guide for schools in selecting external PD and designing and delivering their own PD as well as external providers in designing, delivering, and explaining their offering to schools.

In this blog I want to focus on the second key recommendation from the guidance report, the emphasis on the mechanisms (or building blocks) which are crucial in successful professional development. The evidence review suggests that utilising a number of these mechanisms in PD programmes leads to improved classroom practice, and therefore pupil outcomes.

The EEF has identified 14 mechanisms in total, which are grouped into four broad categories: Building Knowledge, Motivating Teachers, Developing Teacher Techniques and Embedding Practice. In short: 

  • Building Knowledge: As when we teach students, it is important to present, structure and build new knowledge in ways that support understanding throughout the PD Programme.
  • Motivating Teachers: It is important to ensure that teachers feel motivated to act upon the new knowledge, by ensuring that they feel part of the journey and that they buy into the changes you are trying to bring about.
  • Developing Teacher Techniques: Our teachers need to know what’ our desired outcomes of the PD looks like, through providing the tools required to take action and change practice.
  • Embedding Practice: If PD is to make a lasting impact, sustained support is required for teachers to embed the techniques or strategies into their practice.

The diagram below identifies the 14 mechanisms grouped within these categories

PD chart

Whilst the reports suggests that successful PD programmes that have more of these mechanisms, it is crucial to point out that these mechanisms should not be seen as a checklist to tick off during the implementation of programmes. Rather, the report suggests that a balanced approach to PD design is required to maximise its effectiveness. The authors suggest that a programme that features a mechanism from each of these areas represents a balanced design’, which is more likely to succeed and have the intended outcomes.

Pd chart 2

As of September, I took on the joint role of Assistant Headteacher responsible for Teaching & Learning and Director of Meols Cop Research School, exciting positions which provide extensive opportunities to lead professional development both internally and externally. One of our first school priorities this year has been a back to basics’ approach after the disruption of the last 18 months, with staff and student voice identifying a lack of consistency across learning and professional behaviours in the wake of the pandemic. Therefore, as part of our new whole school teaching and learning strategy, we felt that a focus on a Strong Start (Lemov, 2021) to lessons would be our initial emphasis across the school.

A strong start

When designing the PD programme to support the implementation of our Strong Start, I was keen to refer to the guidance report throughout, to ensure that the roll out had the desired impact, to improve the start of lessons at Meols Cop High School.

I was keen to ensure that the programme had a balanced design and I mapped out which of the mechanisms from each categories that I aimed to utilise throughout the year. Whilst our PD programme around a Strong Start continues, these are several mechanisms which I have deployed during these initial stages to aid its implementation.

Building Knowledge

Revisited Prior Learning
– This continues to be built into the programme, with the sequencing of the PD programme ensuring that we constantly revisit our core principles and retrieval practice based on our previous programmes. Moreover, we linked the initial training stages to our previous PD on memory and cognitive science, so staff were aware of the benefits of how routines reduced cognitive load. 

Motivating Teachers

Credible sources of information
– As with all decisions made at Meols Cop, I was keen to ensure that our rationale behind the Strong Start was evidence informed. Throughout the initial stages, staff were given pieces of research around the power of habits, reducing cognitive load & managing behaviour which served to provide the basis of our work. Moreover, copies of Teach Like a Champion 3.0 were put into the staff CPD library for those looking to delve deeper into the strategies used.

Setting & agreeing goals
– As part of our professional growth system, we utilise an observation cycle called Making Feedback Meaningful’ and the focus of our first cycle has been a A Strong Start’

Developing Teacher Techniques

Instructing Teachers on how to perform a technique
– Clear guidance through modelling, instruction and resources were provided to staff on what a Strong Start looks like, with a granular approach taken to each part of it (Threshold, Do Now and Transition) – chunking down the areas of the strategy.

Arranging Social Support
– Staff were given time to discuss and plan A Strong Start within their subject areas and to give feedback to their peers. Moreover, as part of our observation cycle, feedback and coaching was provided to individuals along leverage points on how to improve their practice during A Strong Start.

Modelling the technique
– Both live modelling by myself and videos of teacher practice were used to model the strategies used in a Strong Start during the training and subsequent follow ups. Moreover, follow up PD sessions involved examples of best practice from staff implementation of a Strong Start, with the plan for staff to record subject specific examples that can be used in later training and reflection.

Rehearsing the Technique
– As part of the initial sessions on a Strong Start, staff were encouraged to rehearse parts of the Do Now such as narrating the positive and challenging behaviour on the threshold, with their peers and in subject areas.

Embedding Practice

Providing prompts and cues
– This was an area which I initially neglected to do consistently and after re-reading the guidance report, it was a tweak which could be made quickly. As a result, I began to offer regular reminders about a Strong Start in staff emails, briefings and as part of our staff voice, meaning that it became part of our everyday school dialogue.

Prompting Action Planning
– As an ongoing part of the programme, after each PD session staff are given time to reflect on their existing use of a Strong Start, and what actions they will take to amend their use of it in the coming weeks based on the updates shared. Again, this filters through our observation cycle, with clear targets given that are linked to A Strong Start.

Prompting context specific repetition
– Ongoing the programme is the opportunity for departments to ask What does this look like in our subject”, with opportunities to collaborate around the effective implementation of a Strong Start in their context.

These examples provide a snapshot into how we are embedding the mechanisms from the four categories into our PD at Meols Cop High School, and I hope they provide some concrete examples of how you can make changes to the programmes you lead.

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