New Year – Thinking About Professional Development

Now we are back at school and into the new year, many of us will have been thinking about a renewed focus on our teaching (or that of the team we lead) and how we can be supporting the development of this through highly effective professional development. The EEF have made this easier for us, with the publication towards the end of last year of their Effective Professional Development guidance report. There are many things that this report can be applauded for, but one of the most useful aspects is the focus on the ‘mechanisms’ of effective CPD. There are 14 of these mechanisms divdided into four groups. They provide a really useful framework for leaders to use when reviewing their current CPD provision.

Whilst I strongly recommend you read the whole report, this blog will give a brief overview of each of the mechanisms.

Mechanism 1: Managing cognitive load

When presenting new information as part of professional development—when teaching teachers new knowledge—careful thought should be applied to managing the cognitive load of participants. To avoid ‘overloading’ participants, programme developers and deliverers should either:

• remove less relevant content;
• focus only on the most relevant content;
• vary their presentation via the use of multiple examples; or
• employ strategies such as dual coding—the combination of verbal and visual instruction.

Mechanism 2: Revisiting prior learning

Another important consideration when structuring the knowledge taught to teachers in PD is the relationship with previous and future learning. PD is more likely to be effective where designers:

• revisit previous topics or techniques later in the programme;
• quiz participants on information provided in past sessions; or
• use tasks that require teachers to draw on past learning.

Mechanism 3: Setting and agreeing on goals

Across a variety of behaviours, reviews have demonstrated that setting goals substantially increases the likelihood of behaviour change.21 When conscious, specific, and sufficiently difficult goals are set, they make it more likely that performance will improve. It may therefore be fruitful for professional development facilitators to set or agree upon specific goals for teachers to act on.

Mechanism 4: Presenting information from a credible source

Where information is derived from impacts how motivated teachers are to use it. The more credible the source, the more likely they are to change their practice. PD facilitators should, therefore, think carefully about how they present and make the case for a particular change in teacher practice. Useful methods that make teachers more likely to follow suit may include:

• supporting a suggestion with published and robust research;
• featuring a prominent education academic to advocate for a change; or
• using an expert teacher to promote a particular practice.

Mechanism 5: Providing affirmation and reinforcement after progress

Providing affirmation and reinforcement after a teacher has made an effort to alter practice—or shown progress in performing a new skill—may improve teachers’ motivation to act upon professional development. This should come after the change has been attempted (rather than before).

Mechanism 6: Instructing teachers on how to perform a technique

Of course, at the centre of any effective professional development programme there is likely to be the delivery of well-thought out, clear, and guided instruction, which supports teachers in developing effective techniques. As discussed in Recommendation 1, this should be underpinned by evidence and drawn from trusted sources.

Mechanism 7: Arranging practical social support

In various contexts, both within and beyond teaching, peer support may support development. Peers often share a common language, culture, and knowledge regarding the problems they face and are often able to provide emotional or informational assistance that supports a trainee in improving their practice. PD that arranges social support is, therefore, more likely to improve pupil outcomes and this could be offered using a variety of methods. For instance:

• support could be provided via a coaching relationship, where an expert coach provides peer support and assistance;
• it could be offered via regular conference calls between a number of participating teachers who could discuss how they are finding the PD programme and
• at the most basic level, it could just be a programme requiring at least two teachers from each school, phase, or department to participate in training so that, subsequently, these colleagues can support each other throughout.

Mechanism 8: Modelling the technique

Modelling is the provision of an observable sample of performance, either directly in person or indirectly (via film or pictures), for a teacher to reflect on or imitate. This can support in learning a technique.

Mechanism 9: Providing feedback

Monitoring the performance of participants and offering feedback to support their improvement may also support better professional development outcomes and subsequent pupil performance. Supportive observations, with formative feedback, should be clearly differentiated from notions of high-stakes lesson observations linked to appraisal targets.

Mechanism 10: Rehearsing the technique

Prompt practice and rehearsal of a technique, at least once in a context outside of the classroom, may support teachers in enhancing their skills and embedding habits.

Mechanism 11: Providing prompts and cues

To ensure that teachers continue to alter and improve their practice, PD may choose to provide a series of prompts and cues that nudge and remind teachers to carry out certain behaviours.

Mechanism 12: Prompting action planning

Action planning is where a teacher plans how they will perform a technique, and their plan includes at least one of the context, frequency, duration, and intensity of the technique. It can include lesson planning, where teachers may attempt to use a technique learned in PD, in a specific lesson.

Mechanism 13: Encouraging self-monitoring

PD may be more effective if it establishes a method whereby teachers can monitor and record their own performance. For instance, teachers could be provided with reflective journals where they record their actions towards a specific goal and reflect on the success of them.

Mechanism 14: Prompting contextspecific repetition

The final mechanism involves teachers rehearsing and repeating behaviour in the same context as it would usually be delivered—in the classroom. Repeating the same action in the classroom, at least twice, can support the embedding of practice.

Below is a video of Fran Haynes talking about this guidance report.

Shaun Allison

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