Research School Network: Effective Professional Development: Surviving and Thriving by Deliberate Design Vina Sharma discusses the recommendations of the EEFs Effective Professional Development guidance report

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Effective Professional Development: Surviving and Thriving by Deliberate Design

Vina Sharma discusses the recommendations of the EEFs Effective Professional Development guidance report

Emerging from a period of national turbulence, most would agree that both teachers and pupils have been pressed and tested in unique and unforeseen ways.

Despite this turbulence, many teachers continue to transform their pupils’ experience of learning and, as a result, the overall life chances of their pupils. In the words of Bandura (1989), effective teachers can be likened to a fortuitous chance encounter”. At best, such teachers provide a space where stars can align, and futures begin to unfurl. They know deeply and precisely, both the needs of their pupils, whilst continually reflecting
on their own as practitioners.

So how exactly do we begin to ensure that every teacher has the knowledge, both of pedagogy and practice, declarative and procedural, to rise to the challenge of becoming an enabling agent of change for a pupil?

Answering this is not an easy undertaking. However, Schempp, Tan and Mccullick, through their long-standing work on expert teachers, offer us a simple premise to start with; that everyone who steps in front of a group of students wants to teach well’. Effective professional development can therefore be seen as being as much about capturing the existing motivations of teachers and leaders with deliberate accuracy, before designing any professional development that follows.

The fundamentals of effective professional development, alongside an indication of the answers are explored further in the EEF’s recent guidance report: Effective professional development (2021). Their guidance takes us a significant way forward in understanding what works.

Three areas are spotlighted, each with their own mechanisms for success.

Recommendation 1
When designing and selecting professional development, focus on the mechanisms

The EEF describes mechanisms as the core building blocks of professional development; observable; replicable and their omission reduces the effectiveness of the PD”. Mechanisms are best seen as edifying, that is holding up the structure of professional development, anchoring it into a solid foundation and helping it to withstand the turbulence of any school or trust climate.

It is worth noting that such mechanisms are different to active ingredients, which can be seen to be the specific success criteria required to facilitate the success of a particular intervention: be it instructional coaching, accelerated reading or dialogic talk.

Recommendation 2
Ensure that professional development effectively builds knowledge, motivates staff, develops teaching techniques, and embeds practice.

The most notable feature of this recommendation is the overarching consensus that what works for pupils in terms of their learning, can be seen to work for teachers in terms of their professional development. Prior knowledge, motivation, modelling and feedback, all established features of effective teaching practice, are emphasised as key ingredients of effective professional development. Whilst this may seem a given, this refocus of collective attention is timely, considering the evidence base underpinning both the ECF and the reformed NPQS. Perhaps the challenges for systems leaders lies in how best to mobilise clusters of expertise, within one context, across diverse contexts in a way which not only develops knowledge and motivates, but also develops teaching practice so that it sticks. Knowing the mechanisms for any piece of effective professional development can go a significant way in making success here more likely.

Recommendation 3
Implement professional development programmes with care, taking into consideration the context and needs of the school.

For those familiar with the EEFs implementation cycle, championing context as an important aspect of professional development is a fundamental aspect of professional development. The recent EEF guidance explains that whilst seeking to retain the fidelity of both mechanisms’ and active ingredients’ is vital for securing implementation success, intelligent adaptations which are contextually relevant, can yield positive
results for professional development design. The real challenge lies in coming to a shared understanding of what an intelligent adaptation might look like, followed by clear criteria to test whether such adaptations are undermining the very mechanisms we might be seeking to preserve.

Vina Sharma is a Leadership Design Associate for the Teacher Development Trust, London. She is a former school improvement advisor for both Coventry local authority and multi-academy trusts with a national reach.

References and further reading
• Bandura, A. (1989). Social cognitive theory. In R. Vasta (Ed.), Annals of child
development. Vol. 6. Six theories of child development (pp. 1 – 60). Greenwich, CT:
JAI Press.
• Bandura, A. (1982b). The psychology of chance encounters and life paths.
American Psychologist, 37, 747 – 755.
• Schempp, Tan and McCullick (2002) The practices of expert teachers. Teaching
and Learning. Vol. 23, No. 1
• Teaching toolkit (2021) Available from: Teaching and Learning Toolkit | EEF
(educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk) Accessed: 08.03.2022
• ECF Early Career Framework (publishing.service.gov.uk)
• NPQS National professional qualifications frameworks: from autumn 2021 -
GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

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