by David Gibbs | Senior Computing & Technology Specialist at STEM Learning | @adgibbs


Professional development can be nice – nice food, nice company, nice surroundings and a nice break from the day-to-day teaching routine – but the benefits to students may not always be so obvious.

By feeding your passion for your role through continuing professional development (CPD), you are keeping up-to date with changes that affect curriculum, teaching and learning, leadership, and developing new and improved practices – all methods that benefit your students.

CPD also provides time and space to reflect on the needs of your students and how best to meet them, with expert guidance, collaboration and professional dialogue with peers.

Participation in CPD is an investment of time, effort and sometimes money, and it is in everyone’s interest that it generates maximum impact – principally in the classroom.

So, what is 'impact'?

Impact mainly relates to improving student outcomes, and understanding the conditions in which this occurs. While attainment is of massive importance, there are a multitude of student outcomes that can be improved through implementing new practices, for example:

  • improved attitudes towards learning might be demonstrated through greater engagement in lessons, or opting to follow subjects when the choice is offered. This can, in the long term, translate to changed career aspirations and motivation to succeed
  • students may develop transferable skills, deeper understanding or flexible knowledge, where the impact is more widely felt over the medium to long term
  • students may change their behaviours by improving the quality of discussion, acting in safer or more efficient ways, or other observable actions
  • learners’ beliefs may be affected, be that greater belief in themselves, in their teachers or the place of a subject in the wider world. If students see a subject as important, and can see themselves remaining connected to it, then they are more motivated to engage with it, displaying curiosity, optimism and other positive traits that lift the whole room

Curriculum change, improved subject leadership, subject knowledge enhancement… these are deeper undertakings that remain focused on improved student outcomes in the long term.

The most immediate impact of CPD is on the participants themselves, with the ripples extending outwards to their colleagues, students and the wider school community. We work hard to develop relevant and impactful CPD content, then to support participants to identify their pressing needs and take away the most relevant solutions. But it’s not really about us…

Creating the right conditions for impactful CPD

When teachers apply new approaches in the classroom, it’s vital that these are based on evidence. What works is important, but what sometimes remains unsaid is that educational research is carried out in a specific environment, and should be considered with a critical eye. Impactful CPD must help teachers to establish what works for them based on their experience, subject knowledge and the context of the school or trust in which they teach.

The facilitators of great CPD are trained to expertly challenge assumptions, misconceptions and myths in ways that aren’t always comfortable, but that are necessary for real progress to be made. They also assist teachers to develop their own action plans, with defined outcomes and timescales – the simple things that, if not done properly, can result in professional learning sitting in a folder, untouched and forgotten.

Knowing what works in one’s own context is a skill in itself. Teachers are immersed in the teaching environment and it can be hard to get an accurate view of the success, or otherwise, of a teaching practice from within. Our facilitators and complementary video guidance, developed in collaboration with the Institute for Effective Education, guide participants through the process, helping them to focus and to make informed, communicable evaluations.

Support for professional development

There are quick and simple changes in the classroom that can have an immediate effect, but significant improvement requires a more substantial commitment to professional development over a sustained period of time.

Our school system is a lean machine, with little spare capacity, so it’s important that CPD is provided in a variety of ways that make participation possible. Teachers may need to negotiate for the opportunity to participate in CPD, so it is vital that the outcomes are clear, relevant and timely. We aim to support – through the unique Impact Toolkit – a conversation with other stakeholders to ensure the aims of CPD align to school priorities and the benefits are experienced beyond the individual teacher.

This process extends well beyond the CPD session itself. Of course, developing a clear view of the effectiveness of implementing CPD, and sharing this with decision makers, creates a virtuous circle where CPD is prioritised, resulting in further improvement. The most successful schools take this cycle and the strategic planning of CPD seriously, resulting in better teacher retention and improved student outcomes.

We hope that it’s not just us telling school leaders about the importance of CPD but that, by raising expectations of quality and impact, it is self-evident.

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