Effective Professional Development in schools

Effective Professional Development in schools
‘Just 4 in 10 teachers found their last Inset day useful’ so ran the headline from TES 24 January 2024 quoting a TeacherTapp survey of around 9,000 teachers in England during autumn 2023.

TeacherTapp showed that of the 9,025 respondents, 33% of teachers (3,128 respondents) and 31% of middle leaders (3,601 respondents) described their last Inset as not particularly useful. 42% of teachers and 45% of middle leaders described their last Inset day as either somewhat useful or very useful.

The TeacherTapp research was commissioned by The Gatsby Charitable Trust to inform its report The Current State of Professional Development for Teachers. The report concluded that teachers understand and are committed to improving their practice, around 90% have a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their instructional practice, and this self-awareness grows with years of experience. The report also found the majority of teachers are reflective about their practice, with most reflecting weekly and around 80% reflecting on at least a monthly basis.

The area of professional development that teachers are highly sceptical of is the traditional ‘Baker days’, the Inset days often delivered at the start of term which tend to focus on policies and procedures. The missing ingredient for many of these sessions is the absence of classroom practice, which often means that the Inset day is more effective at meeting the needs of the headteacher and senior leaders, rather than those of teachers.

The teachers surveyed wanted greater autonomy in the choice of professional development (PD) and for that PD to be applicable to their classroom practice. Interestingly, the report identifies that teachers don’t necessarily want PD to be shaped by the areas they want to improve in, with many teachers identifying PD on curriculum mapping to be desirable despite this being identified as a strength.

Perhaps this ties in with teachers’ lack of clear improvement goals: we don’t always know what we need. And/or it may be linked to teachers’ perceived efficacy of the CPD on offer. For example, only 4% of teachers felt that training in behaviour management would improve their practice in this area, despite 24%t stating they wished to improve managing behaviour and classroom routines.

Teachers want PD that fits around their lives and therefore have a preference for online PD, particularly when this can be completed at a time of their choosing. Yet despite this preference for online PD, teachers are social beings, with an appetite for attending after school sessions with colleagues including those from other schools particularly if the topic interests them or they work in a specialist curriculum area where they have a limited number of colleagues to collaborate with.

Policymakers, school leaders and teacher educators seem to have a challenging prospect ahead of providing the right PD on the right topic, at the right time and with relevant impact measures to support teachers’ constant development of their practice.

As Sims et al (2021) opined in ‘What are the Characteristics of Effective Teacher Professional Development? A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis’:

‘Teachers have an important influence on pupils’ academic progress, yet the quality of teaching varies widely (Lee, 2018). Policymakers, school leaders, and teacher educators therefore face the challenge of designing and commissioning professional development (PD) to help all their teachers become as effective as the best teachers.’

The systematic review and meta-analysis saw the authors searching ten scholarly databases and other resources covering the field of education for evaluations of PD programmes published between 2002 and 2020, screening 3,140 abstracts and reviewing 347 papers. Papers were included if they reported an experimental evaluation of PD, delivered to qualified teachers of pupils aged 3–18, and reported a standardised test-score outcome. Ultimately, a final dataset included 104 papers reporting 205 effects, which were coded to provide the characteristics of the study, indicators of study quality, and the impact of the PD programme.

Crucially, each PD programme was coded on its incorporation of 14 ‘mechanisms’. Mechanisms are empirically evidenced general principles about how people learn and change their practice, leading to habit change in teacher’ practice, therefore.

The 14 mechanisms were grouped around four purposes of PD:

  • Helping teachers gain new insights (I).
  • Pursuing new goal-directed behaviours (G).
  • Acquiring new skills or techniques (T).
  • Embedding these changes in their practice (P).

Balanced PD designs, incorporating one mechanism addressing each of insight, goals, techniques, and practice have larger average effects. The analysis described in the report suggests that PD is more likely to be implemented with fidelity when interventions are aligned with schools’ needs and existing practices, and when planned around the limited time available to teachers.

The report informed the EEF Guidance: Effective Professional Development and a set of resources for PD leaders in schools.

SSAT have utilised this thinking around effective PD and the needs and desires of teachers for relevant PD, in developing the Teaching and Learning Toolkit; a collection of stimulus materials and resources to support professional development (PD) leaders who wants to improve teaching and learning within the context of their school or MAT.

The Toolkit includes an online collection of videos that demonstrate exemplary teaching and learning portfolios from SSAT accredited lead practitioners. Each video features ‘top takeaways’ designed to stimulate the viewer to adopt changes in teaching practice, reflect on their effectiveness and relate to the underpinning evidence base. They provide valuable insight into a range of teaching and learning approaches that have been validated by lead practitioners, so not a purely theoretical approach, but one where the LP has proven impact.

The process of professional learning described by the toolkit and supported by a suite of materials, including a professional learning journal, meeting agenda and slide-deck are aligned with the recommendations set out by the EEF in their guidance: Effective Professional Development. As such the toolkit will serve to set out a coherent plan for professional development beyond the LP video extracts.

The five-week cycle described and supported in the T&L Toolkit consists of:

  • Week 1: Workshop 1 introduces a school improvement priority.
  • Week 2: Actions following workshop 1, including trialling and evaluating changes in practice of teachers, support staff or leadership.
  • Week 3: Further actions or consolidation following workshop 1, including trialling and evaluating changes in practice of teachers, support staff or leadership.
  • Week 4: Workshop 2 which reflects on changes in practice, next steps in embedding change and future impact measures.
  • Week 5: Cycle repeats.

Find out more about the Toolkit and download a copy of the T&L Toolkit guide.

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