Reflecting on Professional Development

I have a funny relationship with professional development (PD). I have been told by many of my colleagues that I am extremely critical (to the point of self-loathing) when it comes to my own teaching.  Often at times I am too harsh on how a lesson went, or too sceptical about my own teaching ability. I guess this is not unusual for someone like me, who is only in their third year of teaching.  As a result, I find myself always searching for the next way to tweak or improve my practice.  But teaching is a busy job, and as a consequence, finding the time for effective professional development can be challenging.

As teachers we understand the importance of professional development, especially within the culture of our school. We will often we find ourselves sat in PD sessions ready to engage and find new tools for our utility belt.  However, due to the various levels of experience in the room, more experienced colleges may not always find themselves with as much to gain as newer colleges.  It can be hard to tailor PD to all colleagues. I myself have felt the anxiety of trying to help train my science department on how to teach physics topics effectively – my specialism.  This will include teachers that not only trained me how to teach, but also teachers that have been teaching for longer than I’ve been an adult – quite a daunting prospect for someone who is only in their third year of teaching.  For this reason, we find the need for a greater quality of PD training, not only to ensure that new colleagues find a means to improve and develop, but also so that the seasoned veteran can also find themselves a means to sharpen their tools ready for the next opportunity to flaunt their expertise. With this objective in mind, the EEF have recently released a guidance report on effective professional development. The report aims to give more support to schools in not only knowing how to select quality external PD, but also to help design and deliver their own. The guidance report does this by focusing on three main approaches.

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 report identifies 14 ‘mechanisms’ that drive an effective PD programme and describes them as ​“the core building blocks of professional development. They are observable, can be replicated, and could not be removed without making PD less effective.” These mechanisms help us to understand the fundamental value of what should be incorporated into PD sessions and thinking about the tools to ensure they’re done most effectively. The report outlines numerous mechanisms, and by incorporating multiple ones into a PD suggest the best outcomes for teachers and, inevitably, pupils. 

The report further sub divides these mechanisms into four categories outlined in recommendation 2 which should be considered when designing PD:

Building knowledge

Motivating staff

Developing teaching technique

 Embedding practice

By categorising these mechanisms, it can help PD planners structure and tailor their programmes to ensure they cover each of the main criteria of valuable PD. Ensuring that the support is there to not only ensure the knowledge is delivered, but also ensure that staff understand why they are being told to adopt changes to their practice as well as to understand how they can integrate these new practices into their teaching to ensure that we can embed these principals for the best possible outcomes. This includes often incorporating ideas that we know works with the students, for example managing cognitive load, revisiting prior learning, modelling, and feedback. As evidence supports that these concepts can be very effective in our classroom, it seems almost absurd we if we do not consider incorporating them into our development as professionals.

Finally, the last recommendation is that PD planners should ensure they take measures to ensure the PD is implemented well into the new target school by providing guidance on how participants can adapt what they’ve learnt to their own educational environments. Programme developers should identify to those selecting and delivering PD programmes where adaptations can be made, ensuring that the mechanisms are protected and prioritised, but more appropriately tailoring the situation to the individual needs.

It appears with the onset of this new guidance, that more consideration is being make to ensure that each aspect of PD is being met with the same levels of care and scaffolding that we would expect to give to students. It would be absurd of us to teach a topic once and expect students to come away in their assessments with mastery. Similarly, we as teachers need to ensure those participating in our PD programmes are met with the same level of support our students are met with. We would struggle to find success with our students if we just showed them the answer to an exam question and expected students to achieve the same levels of success with every exam question. Students needs to understand why they are doing this exam question, what techniques do they need to implement, what slight changes need to be made to their current practices, in order to give themselves the tools to be able to achieve similar amounts of success in all their exam questions. The same goes for the participants of our PD sessions. With support from the new report we can hope the culture around PD development shifts from general housekeeping and a tick-box exercise, to a means of ensuring that we as teachers seek to always improve and ensure that we are providing the best possible outcomes for our students.

Fahim Rahman

Science Teacher – Durrington High School

Research School Associate

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