Conferences CPD ResearchED

On our #EducationFest presentation: Making the Most of CPD Part 1

Yesterday, Claire and I presented at #EducationFest – a year after co-presenting for the first time together at the event last year on practical approaches to bringing researched-informed practice into the classroom. This year we presented on making the most of CPD which is something we’re both really interested in.

We first delivered this presentation together at #rEDDurrington back in April.

We decided to #bemoremary (as in Mary Myatt) and used a very minimalist PowerPoint presentation. Consequently, we’ve put this blog together for those that came yesterday (so that they can access the links and resources we mentioned) but also for anybody else who’s interested in topic.


There is a clear imperative for schools to prioritise high-quality professional development because improved practice leads to better pupil outcomes. Improving teaching practice is a powerful lever for school improvement because, to quote Dylan Wiliam, ‘Once a teacher gets better, even if only slightly, the benefits … are experienced by every student that teacher will ever teach.’

So… if the professional development we provide in-school actually improves a teacher’s practice, the impact of that is career-long (which is pretty bloody exciting). Research also suggests that good CPD can also help to improve retention in the profession and there’s a very real need to keep hold of as many teachers as we can right now!

In 2015 the Teacher Development Trust published findings of their review of the international research into what constitutes effective professional development for teachers: Developing Great Teaching – Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development. Their key finding was that professional development opportunities that are carefully designed and have a strong focus on pupil outcomes have a significant impact on student achievement.

Central to designing effective CPD is tracing the golden thread between what we’re doing for CPD and the effect on student outcomes.

Sadly, too often CPD is an opportunity missed by schools with the time allocated to professional development not being sufficiently well-planned or too much of it being given over to briefings, administrative tasks or performance management. Whilst performance management might give you a starting point for professional development (e.g. by identifying an area/target for development) in and of itself it is NOT professional development. In a lot of schools, for example, data targets for PM still abound. What does giving me a target that 100% of my year 11 class need to achieve their FFT50 target have to do with my professional development?

So, how can we make the most of CPD?


We suggested that a good starting point might be this standard for teachers’ professional development.

In 2015 the DfE asked the Teachers’ Development Expert Group (made up of the likes of David Weston, Dame Alison Peacock and Alex Quigley amongst others) to create a standard for professional development in schools. The group were determined that the standard needed to be based on the best available evidence about what makes professional development effective.

The standard and implementation guidance, published in 2016, gives a really good guideline for making the most of CPD and underpins a lot of what we shared yesterday.

CPD should be about celebrating and developing our expertise as teachers. There have been a number of initiatives such as restrictive 4, 5, 6 part lesson plans or enforced reduction of teacher talk that have de-skilled and de-professionalised teachers. On top of this, we’ve had any number of fads and gimmicks such as VAK and Brain Gym that suck time and don’t improve teaching: good CPD can act to counter that.

However, after you’ve seen different gimmicks come in and out of schools with little discernible impact it’s easy to become jaded and cynical when you’ve been subjected to a constant cycle of bringing in the ‘next big thing’ the ‘next silver bullet’ only for it to be dropped or, worse still, have layer after layer of new initiative added to an often already burdensome workload.

Research-based practice isn’t that. There are no ‘silver bullets’ there are just ‘best bets’. For this reason, it’s not about lots of gimmicks, it should be about doing a few things we know enough about, really well. It’s a way of stripping back and reducing workload by saying we know that X, Y, Z are our best bets, so let’s do those really well and keep refining those aspects to improve practice instead of trying to do lots of different things that get constantly added to or replaced.

One of Claire’s favourite approaches for deciding what we bring in, is Ros McMullen’s test of whether any initiative ‘accelerates progress and reduces workload’. Anything you bring in must pass both tests. For Claire, the best bets that pass these two tests are: using retrieval practice through low stakes testing, application of cognitive load theory and an understanding of effective feedback. These three aspects of research then become the foundation for developing teacher expertise because an understanding of these helps to make an expert teacher.

Once you have identified just a handful of key research or ideas, it’s about introducing, implementing, sustaining and refining. But to do that on a level outside of your classroom, you need to get buy in. One of the key ways to encourage this is to highlight how it will save time for busy teachers. For Claire, understanding the research behind how children learn made her a more effective teacher, thereby saving her so much time she would otherwise have wasted on ineffective practices – from moving from written comments to task-based, whole group feedback; to spaced practice for long-term retrieval, to cognitive load theory to support more effective modelling and resourcing. Having an understanding of these methods meant Claire didn’t waste time writing long comments on every individual piece of work or on designing activities or resources that wouldn’t have much impact.

How do we make this form of research-based CPD help busy teachers? We need to ensure it’s manageable, accessible, transferable and that it decreases rather than increases workload. Where do we start?


Firstly, whilst there is a lot that leadership can do to support effective CPD, sometimes grassroot, ground-up initiatives can be incredibly powerful and can often be a really good place to start.

A really effective way Claire’s school began tiptoeing towards being a more research-engaged school was by setting up a research group. All of the information about the group including how it what set up along with some of the resources used can be found here.

One of the reasons why grassroots movements prove so popular in schools is because it’s about teachers taking ownership of their own development. One of the ways to make the most of CPD for individual teachers is to recognise teachers AS individuals with different starting points and different professional development needs. There’s nothing worse, is there, than sitting in a CPD session that is meaningless to you and your practice?

It’s important to nurture a culture of trust in which teachers can reflect on their practice (with the support of others) and identify personal areas for development. If a teacher identifies an area for development e.g. they want to improve their explanations, then they need access to resources, training and time to develop that aspect of their practice. There’s little point them sitting in a session about something else altogether.

Of course it’s not possible to design a CPD package made up of twilight sessions that’s going to meet everybody’s individual needs which is why coaching is a useful strand of a well-designed professional development programme.

With a coach, once a development need has been decided upon, a teacher can receive support in finding relevant resources and then receive feedback on the changes made in the classroom. Making a lasting change in the classroom practice is one of the hardest things to do.

We KNOW that teachers are creatures of habit – we sit in the same seat in the staffroom with the same mug – and we all have a set of teaching habits. Habits are formed because we have behaved in the same way frequently in the past. We begin to associate certain situations (or cues) with certain actions (or behaviours) to the point that when the cue is encountered the behaviour is performed automatically and without thinking.

In the classroom this might mean we automatically ask for hands up after we’ve asked a question or end an explanation with ‘did you all understand that’ to be met with a sea of nods because nobody wants to say ‘no’. Even when we want to adopt a new behaviour and change these teaching habits, it is incredibly hard.

A 2009 study by Phillippa Lally, a Health Psychology Researcher at UCL, found that on average it takes 66 days to form a new habit. It was a small study with only 96 participants but each of the participants chose which new habit they wanted to adopt (from drinking a bottle of water with lunch to running for 15 minutes before dinner). But, interestingly, whilst some participants formed a new habit within 3 weeks others took the best part of a year!

The participants in Lally’s study were choosing a new habit they wanted to form – a relatively easy lifestyle change. Imagine how much more difficult it is to change an embedded teaching habit in the complex environment of a classroom. Imagine further how much more difficult it might be if you’re being encouraged to make a change that you’re not fully on board with.  Even when you identify a change you want to make it takes time before a new behaviour becomes a habit.

How often have you attended a one-off CPD session and then been expected to change your practice with no follow up sessions or support? When we were discussing this idea when preparing for the presentation, Claire remembered a David Weston analogy for one off CPD sessions which illustrates the idea. Imagine a lake in which you are throwing pebbles (the pebbles are your one off CPD sessions). When you throw a pebble into the  lake it makes a few ripples but the ripples soon dissipate. Using one off CPD sessions is akin to throwing a pebble into a lake and expecting it to do more than cause a few ripples on the surface of the water.

If we’re going to make the most of CPD, we must move away from one-off CPD sessions to a more iterative programme.

CPD often fails to bring about sustained changes in teaching because insufficient time or support is given to allow teachers to adopt a new behaviour until it becomes a habit. If we want individual teachers to make a real change and improvement in their practice then we must give them plenty of time to practise new techniques in their classroom.

Implementing a change is a process not an event.

Part 2: Making the Most of CPD (Department and Whole School) here.



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