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Delivering effective professional development

Published: Nov 22, 2021 5 min read

Wayne Jarvis

Senior Network Educational Lead

National STEM Learning Centre

We have all, at some stage of our career, been subjected to continuing professional development that has not been a constructive use of time or, more importantly, has had little or no impact on the students we teach. Teachers make a difference to children. This is most impactful through the provision of high quality teaching. Teaching quality is not a fixed entity, teachers can be improved, and the means of improvement is through effective professional development.

The EEF’s new Guidance report on effective professional development is a meta-analysis of over 100 evaluations of professional development programmes and additionally draws on the expertise of an advisory panel of practitioners and academics. One very clear message in the report is what professional development is – “a structured and facilitated activity for teachers intended to increase their teaching ability”. This means that the report considers those activities which enhance instructional capabilities (e.g. using smart boards) are not classed as professional development.

The guidance report focuses on three recommendations:

  • When designing and selecting professional development, focus on the mechanisms
  • Ensure that professional development effectively builds knowledge, motivates staff, develops teaching techniques and embeds practice
  • Implement professional development programmes with care, taking into consideration the context and needs of the school

The mechanisms of professional development (highlighted in the first recommendation) are defined as the core components of professional development. These cannot be removed without making the professional development less effective. The mechanisms themselves are split into four groups in the second recommendation, with each group of mechanisms fulfilling a different role within the professional development. A key finding of the review was that the more mechanisms a professional development programme has, the greater the impact on student attainment.

The four groups of mechanisms are:

  • Build knowledge

This group is about designing and delivering professional development in a way that supports learning. Just as a teacher would design a lesson for their students, consideration needs to be made to build on prior learning and to ensure that learning is built using manageable units of information.

The two mechanisms in this group are therefore, managing cognitive load and revisiting prior learning.

  • Motivate staff

The second group of mechanisms takes the built knowledge and ensures that teachers are motivated to implement on their learning. This is done through the three mechanisms of setting and agreeing on goals, presenting information from a credible source and providing affirmation and reinforcement after progress.

  • Develop teaching techniques

Having been motivated to act upon that their new knowledge, there need to be tools and techniques that are put in place to action and change the teacher’s practice. The mechanisms in this group are about how techniques are developed through  instruction of how to perform a technique, arranging practical social support, modelling, monitoring and feedback and providing opportunities for technique rehearsal.

  • Embed practice

The final group, at the end of the process of building knowledge, motivating teachers and providing the tools to implement the changes, considers how to embed the practice, thus ensuring that behaviour is changed and teaching is improved. The four mechanisms which support this group are through providing prompts and cues, prompting action planning, encouraging monitoring and prompting context specific repetition.

For the professional development to be effective, there should be at least one mechanism from each group (see the summary poster here) embedded within the activities being designed and delivered.

The mechanisms are designed to take you through a journey in the professional development with the end goal being that teachers should learn from the engagement, be motivated and provided with the tools and strategy to implement the learning and to change their behaviour and practice. From a school context, those inset days and staff meetings should therefore not be an hour talking about assessment for learning or a new initiative the school is considering adopting without giving the teachers time to reflect on how they will plan to use it. Otherwise, it is unlikely to be a mechanism that will lead to a change in behaviour and have an impact on student outcomes.

Usefully, the guidance document gives exemplifications of all the mechanisms and this begins with a discussion around pedagogy (and in particular andragogy) that we use to support teachers to learn.

At STEM Learning, our CPD is designed to motivate teachers to change their practice to impact students (and to evidence this impact, whether it is a hard measure such as exam grades or something more subtle such as student voice or engagement in lessons). We also build our CPD in a way that sessions build on each other and through our impact toolkit can extend the engagement of CPD over time. Most importantly, we develop teachers’ learning and understanding, providing them with tools and strategies to embed their learning into their practice to bring about developing great teaching.

Many of our courses have bursary support available too. For more information about the subject-specific CPD we offer please visit: https://www.stem.org.uk/cpd and for Teach Computing courses visit: https://teachcomputing.org/courses

Join in the discussion on STEM Community in the Teaching 11-19 Science group here , in the Primary STEM group here and in the Facilitators group here.