Conferences CPD Middle Leadership ResearchED Whole School

On our #EducationFest presentation: Making the Most of CPD Part 2 (Department and Whole School)

In the first part of our talk we considered the imperative for prioritising well-designed, high-quality CPD that had a strong focus on pupil outcomes. In this second part of our talk we share how to make the most of CPD at both department and whole-school level.

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Middle Leaders play a significant role in supporting teachers to implement new approaches in the classroom. One of the most important aspects of the role of a middle leader is to develop your team and take responsibility for the CPD of those in your department. One of the easiest wins can be through ensuring all meetings are strategic and subject/CPD based and not operational.

Take, for example, a one-hour department meeting with five teachers. That’s 5 hours of stuff that could get done if not sat around a table talking about something that could be dealt with in an email. The opportunity-cost of a wasted meeting is something we need to keep in mind. The most powerful use of a department meeting is for subject-based CPD. As middle leaders, this should be a far greater part of our role.

One of the best uses of department meetings is for collaborative planning. However, what this does not mean is booking the computer room or bringing laptops and sitting in separate corners of a classroom making your own resources. What it may mean is discussing and breaking down the procedural knowledge required for students to complete a task or a question – for example, how do we break down how to analyse a poem or apply an equation? Or it could be how to we explain a concept.

As example from Claire’s English department is that the team agreed upon a specific way to explain the different form of contrasts and positioning in a text i.e. explaining the difference between contrast/juxtaposition/antithesis/oxymoron by using a line on the board with the terms at different positions on the line. It’s a very simple but effective way of explaining the concepts and helped to deal with students’ misconceptions regarding the nuances of the different terms.

Department meetings could also be used to analyse a text or a historical source, thereby modelling the process, developing subject knowledge and discussing common misconceptions and how to avoid them. Identify misconceptions that are likely to crop up in teaching is a particularly beneficial for less experienced teachers.

Using department time in this way offers ample opportunity for collaboration and expert challenge of ideas and practices (see the DfE standard for teachers’ professional development). In addition to this, the benefit to the individual teacher is two-fold: it develops subject knowledge and teaching practice plus it saves teachers’ time by helping to plan more than one resource and focuses on a teaching approach that may have multiple applications – an approach to CPD that passes our test of accelerating progress and reducing workload.

There’s a lot of interest at the minute about curriculum design – and it’s true to say that designing an effective curriculum for any subject ought to be done by subject specialists; department time is a really good time in which to start the process.

But, even if it were possible to design the perfect curriculum in the time your school allows you to work together as a department (ha!), what good is the perfect curriculum if your department teams aren’t supported and developed to deliver it effectively?

If we want effective implementation then we need to ask some important questions:

What do your subject teams need to know to be the best subject specialists they can be? What are you doing about it?

It’s no good saying ‘Sarah hasn’t got a bloody clue about Dracula so let’s not give her year 9’. Instead we should be identifying subject knowledge gaps and doing what we can to make sure that Sarah really knows her stuff so that she can teach any year group.

What do your subject team need to know about the most effective methods for teaching the topics on the curriculum?

It’s no good assuming that Sarah (sorry Sarah) has picked up enough from the one hour twilight session on retrieval practice to be embedding it in her lessons. What does this look like in her subject? Assuming Sarah is now a Maths teacher, what does retrieval practice look like in a Maths lesson? Where can Sarah be directed to go and see this happening in a Maths lesson?

What ongoing support do your subject teams need to ensure their delivery of the curriculum keeps improving?

If you don’t know what your subject specialists’ needs are then you can’t support them. Key to a well-designed CPD programme is building in flexibility to respond to the needs that arise in the year.

Sarah needs a forum to be able to share what she needs support with to be the best teacher she can be and, given enough department time, her head of department will be able to support her professional development more effectively.

cpd school

Two years ago Rebecca attended the Leading Learning Course at Huntington Research School. Three times she made the journey up to York from Salisbury and it was some of the best professional development of her career. Following the course, Rebecca made a proposal to SLT about the whole school CPD offer and the key change she wanted to implement was the introduction of Disciplined Inquiry.

If you ask teachers this question, what would they say?

When was the last time you learnt something about teaching and learning which inspired you to change what you do in the classroom and, having made that change, your students’ outcomes improved?

What would you say?

Whilst teachers most teachers can talk about changes they’ve made in their teaching, it’s often far more challenging to say whether those changes have really had an impact on student outcomes. Why? Because we hadn’t evaluated the impact.

We’re all a bit guilty of this. We’re magpies: we see shiny ideas, give them a go in our classroom and if we like them we stick with them and, if we don’t, we abandon them when the next shiny idea comes along (or when SLT move onto a new focus and we don’t feel obliged to keep doing it) but we don’t necessarily take the time to evaluate the impact on student outcomes.

Disciplined Inquiry offers a clear structure and process for teachers to evaluate the impact of what they’re doing in the classroom. In that way, it’s a really powerful tool for driving professional development because it guides us to improving the most effective aspects of our practice.

Over the course of last year, teachers at my Rebecca’s school developed and worked on an inquiry question for the whole year. An inquiry question requires you to select a specific teacher intervention e.g. dual coding, a specific outcome e.g. improved performance in knowledge quizzes and a targeted cohort of students e.g. a group of boys targeted grade 4 in your year 11 Geography class.


How does <teacher intervention> have an impact on <specific outcome> for <cohort of students>?


How does dual coding when introducing new concepts in Geography improve the performance in knowledge quizzes of boys targeted grade 4 in my year 11 Gegraphy class?

Teachers devised their own inquiry question based on a specific need of a specific group of students that they identified. They then researched best bets for which intervention might have an impact on student outcomes, designed appropriate pre- and post-tests to enable them to evaluate the impact and then set about implementing their chosen strategy for a period of at least one term (12 weeks or so).

We had MFL teachers inquiring about the impact on a group of year 11 students of translating key verbs into French; Maths teachings inquiring about the impact of interleaving on retention and English teachers inquiring about the effect of self-quizzing on knowledge retention.

One of the most powerful things about this form of CPD is that it is context driven. What’s the specific need of students in this particular class and what intervention do I think is going to have an impact? It’s also fair to say that lots of this thinking is being done by teachers anyway – we’re always trying to figure out what works – but the disciplined nature of the inquiry and the evaluation is key to being better able to work out if something did work or not.

At the end of the year Rebecca held an Inquiry Question Festival (which maybe sounds more glam than it was – she organised biscuits, display boards and tea for the main hall…) in which teachers shared their disciplined inquiry posters (with rationale, findings, next steps etc). A few teachers presented and then we had time to walk around, read other people’s posters and discuss with them what they’d discovered over the course of the year.

The aim of Disciplined Inquiry is not that the intervention is successful (though of course that’s desirable). It’s valuable for teachers to discover, through evaluation, that an intervention has had no impact or a negative impact because that way they can abandon that intervention when they might otherwise have continued with it.

The real value in DI is the process: developing professionals who question, challenge, understand and know deeply about teaching and learning.

Critical reflection on our practice enables us to challenge our assumptions, see our practice differently and make informed decisions about our teaching. We want teachers to question their own practice: What am I doing? How am I doing this? Why am I doing this?

If we have teachers who are inquiring professionals then they’ll be shaping their own professional development and evaluating the impact on their students.

It can be quite easy to ensure that Department CPD is based on subject discipline and therefore is relevant and specific. But what about whole-school CPD provision? We know how important it is for CPD to be personalised, specific and not generic as we know that some teaching and learning approaches are irrelevant to other disciplines and trying to transfer one to another can do more harm than good. Choice is powerful and more likely to achieve buy-in. But how do we manage creating provision for these different needs whilst ensuring some coherence in a whole-school approach?

One of the ways Claire’s school has tackled this is by finding a little bit of time each week for teachers to engage in CPD with an almost pick ‘n’ mix approach. As a school , they’ve identified retrieval practice, cognitive load theory and effective feedback as the areas they want to better understand and develop. Every Tuesday before teachers go to their form groups, everyone gathers in the Hall for a 10 minute session on a strategy or resource teachers are using in their lessons based on these three key strands.

Sessions are sequenced so that at the beginning of each sequence of 4-5 sessions, the research or approach is reintroduced with an explanation reiterating why we are focusing on this aspect. This is important as it ensures the research and the ‘why’ is kept in mind by over communicating these ideas to ensure they’re embedded. This also helps to stop a good idea being badly implemented due to a lack of understanding.

Take for example Knowledge Organisers, which are now quite often used in a way far removed from their original purpose and in some cases have become little more than glorified revision posters. That’s not what we want. So research is reiterated with the purpose of trying to avoid these lethal mutations.

The sessions that follow are led by teachers from different subjects explaining what this looks like in their classroom and providing adaptable resources that go with it. Some of these sessions are then used as ‘tasters’ for longer workshops.

For INSET day at Claire’s school, they ran a number of workshops that teachers could choose from with taster sessions for each one delivered in the weeks leading up to the INSET day so that teachers and support staff could make informed choices about which session they would attend. This ensured that the INSET was personalised and relevant for all staff and it drew on the expertise within the school which assisted with buy-in and an assurance that what was delivered was based on ‘what works’ in their context with their students.

In addition, Claire’s school have flexible INSET and CPD hours. The idea is that teachers are expected to engage in a certain number of hours of self-directed CPD with the view that no staff will need to be in school for the last two INSET days of the term. The CPD Tuesday sessions add up to one of these days whilst the second day can be earnt through attending one Saturday event or can be accrued with 6 hours of after school CPD either hosted by in school or at one of local schools e.g. there was an in-school Middle Leader course for 5 sessions over the year which included required reading which was then the equivalent of a day off in lieu at the end of the school year.

As part of Performance Management staff are encouraged to read and reflect in a journal, this time can also be accrued for the day off in lieu. Not only is this approach highly personalised but it rewards people for the time they spend engaging with their own development and places a value on self-directed CPD.

To help with this aim, Claire’s school redesigned their approach to Performance Management to make it far more focused on teacher development, ensuring this became the starting point for CPD rather than having targets that seemed to be in addition to the ‘main thing’.

They decided that focusing Performance Management on developing specific areas of teaching and learning would be more likely to have a positive impact on pupil outcomes long term, than short term projects such as running a club or a revision class. Therefore, they decided that they should focus more on development than performance, as developing teaching would, by its nature, improve outcomes.

Taking the focus key areas, teachers were asked to choose which aspect they would like to develop over the course of the year. Their PM target would then be something like: to experiment with feedback strategies using research to inform the approach. As we’d already identified key strands, it was then simply a case of providing time, resources and training to support these.

This included having a CPD website that is divided into categories based on aspects of teaching that were a whole-school focus: classroom routines, feedback, questioning, explanations etc. and offers resources in the form of blogs or indicating chapters in books in the CPD library that could be used for to improve an area of T&L. ( which needs credit to Jack @GeogMarsh whose original blog Claire shamelessly copied and simply rebranded).

The approaches that came from this focus are then shared in the Department or in Tuesday sessions or evaluated through drop-ins if the teacher would like to show what they have been working on.

These year-long targets focused on improving a specific area of practice thereby meeting the requirement that CPD should be sustained over time rather than a one-off. PM meetings then become discussion of T&L rather than data, often based on notes made by teachers in journals/notebooks based on reading, department meetings and reflections.

These meetings are not confined by forms or checklists or data but genuine discussion of professional development that is more likely to have a positive impact on teaching and learning than any discussion of the percentages of students achieving grades.

The school ensured that professional development was at the heart of everything by having a coordinated whole-school approach that was both personalised and coherent.


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