This blog first appeared on the Pearson School Model blog
Professional development of staff should be the number one priority for every head, according to the attendees of the fourth Big CPD Debate series of webinars. David Weston from the TDT outlines why participants thought that:
Philippa Cordingley, author of the latest research summary in this field, explained to delegates that a large scale and well regarded study by Vivian Robinson showed that a leadership focus on developing teaching and learning resulted in significantly larger gains for a school’s pupils than focusing on any other area (such as organising the curriculum, reducing bureaucracy, staff recruitment, etc.)
During the discussion, participants contributed stories from their own schools, and it became clear that the quality of leadership in this area is very patchy. In many schools it would appear that senior leaders have only a superficial understanding of the processes that create effective staff learning, with plenty of examples of schools who simply lump teachers together in teams without any clear focus on pupil needs or an understanding of how to collaborate effectively and challenge each other.
The key points for leaders that came from the debate were that they need to:
● Ensure that all professional development is underpinned by rigorous pupil needs analysis, and that a broad range of evidence is available for all staff to identify issues and then evaluate the success of any new strategies
● Support staff to engage in teamwork successfully and model collaborative behaviour themselves, including the use of peer observation and video tools rather than simply top-down observation
● Maintain a clear school-wide focus on aspiration goals for students, building teachers’ belief in their ability to make a meaningful difference
● Develop a culture where experimenting, reflecting and adapting are the norms while cautious, unimaginative practices are less valued
● Demonstrate that they value external expertise and ideas, whether from consultants, teachers at other schools, high quality courses, books, videos, Twitter, or many other sources.
The debate about top-down accountability versus teacher-led collaboration came up a number of times during the discussion. Philippa suggested that both are vital within a successful school and likened accountability to summative testing while teacher-led enquiry was more similar to the formative assessment processes that we know students need to progress. Indeed Sir Michael Wilshaw has stated on a number of occasions that he feels that Headteachers must be leaders of learning and development.
On a related point, the issue of schools leading improvement through internal inspection processes was raised. One teacher complained that he had been judged to be satisfactory on one single half-hour observation and then been paired with a teacher who had been rated outstanding on similarly flimsy evidence. This undermined trust within the school and left many teachers feeling powerless over their own self-improvement. The advice for leaders in schools is that these internal processes are much more powerful when they complement existing peer-observation, when they are used to cross-check existing self-evaluations and help provide evidence for teams of teachers to use in their own enquiry.
The webinar debates will continue on Mondays at 4pm and Thursdays at 7pm until Monday 16th July. They’re open to anyone and you can sign up here. There will be an ongoing disucssion on Twitter using the hashtag #bettercpd.
The slides used in this debate are available here.