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Challenging the status quo: A coherent approach to teacher development

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Virtually everyone working in schools would agree that CPD is important, but in a Teacher Tapp survey, 40 per cent of secondary classroom teachers claimed that it ‘had little or no impact on their classroom practice’ (Allen, 2019). Over the past five years, we have attempted to develop a more fertile environment for teacher professional growth by improving the following features of our school:

  • inset
  • lesson observation
  • appraisal.

As well as consulting evidence from research, a key theme of our work has been to avoid piecemeal change. Instead, we have worked coherently, aligning different policies so that they complement each other.

Inset

We started by identifying aspects of the inset programme that we wanted to improve:

  • CPD was too generic and subject-specific improvement was not prioritised
  • Too much time was used simply to pass on information
  • There was too much focus on Ofsted
  • Ideas were not given sustained attention.

In order to make educational research easily digestible for all, we made use of our well-established Teaching and Learning Team. This team comprises a small number of expert teachers who are paid to lead most of the whole-school inset. They read about and develop expertise in a particular field, before delivering training on it to everyone else.

Much of our inset programme is disaggregated into short sessions that run over the school year on consistent themes, such as memory and vocabulary, allowing staff ‘to focus strategically and meaningfully on particular areas of learning and practice over time’ (Higgins et al., 2015, p. 12). Additionally, in the light of the strength of evidence for the impact of pedagogical content knowledge on student outcomes (Coe et al., 2014, p. 2), we allocate approximately half of our inset time to departments, asking them to use it to consider whole-school CPD in the context of their curriculum.

Lesson observation

In order to align lesson observation with the improved inset programme, we wanted to move away from a protocol where its purpose was to grade the lesson. This system encouraged one-off performances, caused stress and only provided limited feedback, when we wanted teachers to receive coaching for long-term development.

Most observations are now carried out by a team of trained, experienced volunteers from the teaching staff, rather than line managers, which goes some way towards addressing the unequal relationship between observer and observee. The observer is kept consistent within an academic year, so that trust can build and issues can be considered in a sustained way.

Teachers identify a specific focus for feedback in advance of the lesson, giving them more control over the process. Since we want them to be ‘independent learners’ (Coe et al., 2014, p. 41), it is very important that this is a free choice, rather than being imposed, although they are encouraged to draw on themes from whole-school inset. Instead of a grade, we have a range of aspects of practice on which observers can comment and identify expertise. The feedback conversation revolves around the selected focus, and observers are guided to use open questions to foster a professional dialogue, rather than to pass judgement. The whole process is overseen by an assistant headteacher, who reports to the rest of the leadership team and the governing body.

Appraisal

Teacher appraisal is the third strand of school policy that we have reformed as part of this process. The biggest change has been the removal of objectives based on pupil attainment data for exam classes, which we did in accordance with the recommendation that ‘Teachers should have goals that are within their control, that are closely tied to genuinely actionable behaviours, and that are aspirational yet achievable.’ (DfE, 2018, p. 17) As well as being potentially unfair, we also felt that the pupil data objective was unhelpful for the following reasons:

  • It placed too much emphasis on Years 11 and 13, devaluing other year groups
  • It encouraged teaching to the test and last-minute intervention, rather than longer-term approaches
  • It did not promote deep reflection on the part of teachers.

We have established a new framework for appraisal objectives, revolving around professional knowledge, teaching practice and team contribution. For example, a teacher might choose to develop the subject knowledge to deliver a new syllabus, to work on the use of hinge questions and to write a new scheme of learning for the whole department. Recent research (Worth and Van den Brande, 2020) highlights the connection between job satisfaction and autonomy over professional development goals, which validates our decision to allow teachers to choose their own objectives within this framework.

A community of professional learning

By examining these three issues in the light of the research available and addressing them coherently, we have sought to develop a community of professional learning. The job is never finished and we are prepared to make further changes: for example, we are considering how to match more teachers with observers from the same subject. We are convinced that teacher improvement has the potential to make a huge difference to student outcomes and are determined to buck the trend whereby it hits a plateau after a few years in the job (Allen and Sims, 2018). Therefore, we see it as a central responsibility of senior leaders to create an environment in which teachers can and do get better consistently.

References

Allen R (2019) If CPD is so important, then why is so much of it so bad? In: Becky Allen Musings on education policy. Available at: rebeccaallen.co.uk/2019/01/16/if-cpd-is-so-important-then-why-is-so-much-of-it-so-bad (accessed 3 January 2020).

Allen R and Sims S (2018) The Teacher Gap. Abingdon: Routledge.

Coe R, Aloisi C, Higgins S et al. (2014) What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research. Available at: suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/What-Makes-Great-Teaching-REPORT.pdf (accessed 3 January 2020).

Department for Education (DfE) (2018) Making data work: Teacher workload advisory group report. Available at: assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/754349/Workload_Advisory_Group-report.pdf (accessed 3 January 2020).

Higgins S, Cordingley P, Greany T et al. (2015) Developing great teaching: Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development. Available at: tdtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/DGT-Summary.pdf (accessed 3 January 2020).

Worth J and Van den Brande J (2020) Teacher Autonomy: How Does it Relate to Job Satisfaction and Retention? Slough: NFER.

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