Improving Teaching & Learning – step 2: build and implement a CPD curriculum that is right for your context

Getting CPD right is hard. You must plan and account for:

  • The individual and their level of expertise, experience, and motivation
  • Each department and their differing levels of expertise, experience, and cohesion
  • Whole school development needs – how do you know what the priorities are? How do you know what is right for your context right now? And in the future?

How does a school make this happen and make this happen well for all stakeholders?

In my last blog I talked about defining the right teaching and learning principles for our context. And speaking of context, in this blog, I talked about our progress towards implementing an instructional coaching (IC) programme by first training teachers in the art (science?!) of deliberate practice (DP). Teachers were exposed to a model of best practice and asked to decide what made it successful. They were then asked to script their own version of this before practicing and feeding back in pairs.

But this approach lacked focus. In fact, after posting this blog, Kat Howard reminded me of a question I’d asked myself about how DP could work across departments – each with their own domain specific pedagogical approaches. At this point, I didn’t have any answers.

So last summer I spent a lot of time reflecting, reading, and constructing a CPD curriculum model that:

  • Continued to grow our culture of deliberate practice
  • Built on the T&L principles appropriate for our context
  • Accounted for the development needs of the school
  • Accounted for the domain specific pedagogical development needs of each department
  • Accounted for the development needs of individual teachers

This blog outlines the process (more like a story) of the design, early implementation, and any early signs of impact of our CPD curriculum.

Intent

As I’ve already stated, our CPD offer in 2020 lacked focus. We needed a long term plan/curriculum for staff development. My thinking on this was heavily influenced by the work of Zoe and Mark Enser and their book ‘The CPD Curriculum’. Ultimately, we wanted a context specific and responsive CPD curriculum.

What do I mean by context specific? A curriculum that accounts for:

  • The experience and expertise of all staff (including at department level, the individual and those who aren’t teachers but play a crucial role in the education of our children).
  • The community we serve (top 10% most deprived in the UK with it’s own unique challenges, including parent engagement)
  • The Trust we are part of (trust wide curriculum)
  • The impacts of covid (on attendance, behaviour, online learning and staff absence)

What do I mean to responsive? A curriculum that adapts to the needs of our staff and community, the requirements placed upon us by our Trust, the progress we make and any obstacles we may encounter along the way!

And finally, what do I mean by curriculum? A programme of development that is logically sequenced, coherent and accumulates/builds on knowledge in small steps at a sustainable pace.

So, where to start then?

Fortunately, we had some solid foundations on which to build in the form of our teaching and learning framework. At this point in time, our greatest need as a school was to focus on the development of our culture, especially the practice of whole school routines such as threshold. After this, we created a logical sequence that was right for our context at that time. Of course, arguments can be made for other priorities or a different sequence, but we had to make an informed decision based on what we thought was right at that time. You can see a very rough curriculum overview below.

You can see that we haven’t really attached arbitrary time limits on our key foci. Our CPD curriculum isn’t about coverage, it’s about ensuring that we have learned and embedded what we need before moving on. For us, this is about effective habit formation, not a tick box/compliance approach to CPD that I’m sure you are familiar with! We have a duty to our staff and students to learn and grow sustainably, rather than ‘oh we did retrieval practice last week’ and then wonder why we aren’t seeing any impact in the classroom.

What about those expert staff that are bored of routines and who’s development may well be stunted by not moving on? Well, we have two answers to that question. Firstly, we have an instructional coaching programme (more on this in the next blog). Secondly, I think sometimes we can oversimplify teaching when we talk about the notions of being a novice and an expert. Teaching is both a craft and a science that involves using hundreds of granular skills on a daily, perhaps hourly basis. We are all experts at some of these skills and novices at others at the same time. I shared the graphic below when sharing our CPD curriculum with staff.

Teacher A could be an expert at designing students to recall prerequisite knowledge but could be a real novice when it comes to planning appropriate retrieval cues. At the same time, despite saying that Teacher A is a novice at routines, could be an expert at threshold and uniform, but a novice at obtaining silence and using a 3,2,1 countdown. Essentially, what I’m saying is, there is always something we can work on in a particular pedagogical domain as we can never be experts at everything!

Guidance documents

In order to best support our teachers with each principle focus, we produced a guidance document for each of our ten principles. This was to flesh out each principle and bring it to life. Each guidance document contains:

  • A concrete definition: having a shared definition minimises ambiguity and maximises whole school understanding
  • Why this principle is beneficial for learning: this was to obtain buy in from staff. How often are we asked to do something without necessarily understanding why we are being asked?
  • What this might look like: this section provides clear pedagogical strategies for implementation in the classroom e.g., cold call
  • How this could look in the classroom: this section tells teachers how they might implement a particular strategy e.g., implementing cold call by posing a question, giving wait time, then selecting a student to answer by name.
  • How this shouldn’t look (non-examples) and why e.g., when using cold call, don’t pose the name before the question as this reduces think and participation ratio.
  • Hyperlinks to specific action steps in our coaching programme that relate to this principle
  • Links to wider reading on this principle

Intent: summary

  • We have a basic CPD curriculum overview based on our T&L Framework
  • It is sequenced logically based on current needs
  • No time is attached to each focus – we move on when we are ready
  • It is adaptable to the changing needs of the school and our context
  • We provide guidance documents to flesh out and support each CPD focus

Implementation Part 1 – A typical CPD session: How does this look in practice?

We have a timetabled CPD slot every Tuesday afternoon immediately after school. they are short, 30-minute sessions that typically look like:

  • A brief, 10-minute input. There are many reasons to keep this short, mainly because our attention span at the end of the day is limited. Furthermore, we are a time poor profession. All teaching staff meet to listen to the CPD session lead talk about a named strategy/principle, a concrete definition, why it is important to learning, what it might look like and how it can be implemented in a classroom, how it shouldn’t look and a clear success criterion for all to use.
  • 20 minutes of practice or discussion. This either takes the form of deliberate practice or department co planning – dependent on the focus.

Typical ‘culture focus’ session:

Input: All together (10 mins)

  • What is the strategy/approach?
  • Why is it beneficial to learning?
  • How do we implement it? Model + success criteria
  • How not to implement it e.g.  lethal mutations

Deliberate practice in small groups of 8 led by DP lead (20 minutes)

  • DP lead models strategy 3 times
  • DP lead shares the success criteria
  • Individual teachers script in silence
  • Paired practice and feedback

A recent example we have practiced is managing attention. We had a brief introductory session on why managing attention is crucial to the learning process looking at a basic model of learning e.g., attention is the gatekeeper of thought and thought is the gatekeeper of learning etc. We provided staff with the success criteria below. The DP lead would then model a scenario where they needed to model attention in their own classroom. The DP lead would then share the criteria again and ask staff to choose a scenario in their own classroom, using the success criteria to write their own scripts. DP leads then put teachers in pairs where they practice and feedback to each other.

example of success criteria all staff use in deliberate practice sessions

Typical ‘pedagogical focus’ session:

Input: All together (10 mins)

  • What is the strategy/approach?
    • Why is it beneficial to learning?
    • How do we implement it? Model + success criteria
    • How not to implement it e.g.  lethal mutations

Practice: In department/subject teams (20 mins)

  • How much of this are we doing already?
    • What are we doing well?
    • What aren’t we doing as well as we’d like?
    • How can we use this strategy to benefit learning in our subject?
    • Agree next steps e.g., all year 9 lessons
    • Co planning time

Heads of department lead on these sessions within their own departments. Again, whilst shared understanding of pedagogy and how it can be effective is important, implementation in Art might be different to History, or Maths for example. CPD shouldn’t infringe on subject specificity, it should provide the appropriate scaffolds to allow it to flourish.

An example used recently was retrieval practice. We gave a ten-minute input on the importance of retrieval and some general principles/success criteria to consider ensuring retrieval is a successful tool for learning. After this however, it was down to the department teams to discuss how they might use these principles/success criteria effectively within their own domain.

example of retrieval practice success criteria from recent pedagogy focus CPD
example of prompt questions to scaffold department discussion

We also value the importance of reflection time. So rather than moving on to the next shiny thing the following week, we either repeat the session (culture focus) or build in time for departments to reflect on the implementation within their subject (pedagogy focus). This approach is sustainable and provides solid foundations to build on, rather than a ‘we did that last week’ approach.

Implementation part 1: summary

  • We have a weekly, timetabled 30-minute slot for whole school CPD
  • We keep input short to optimise attention and maximise practice/discussion time
  • We use success criteria to ensure consistency of approach across the school
  • We don’t practice until we get it right, we practice until we cant get it wrong
  • We create time for subject discussion and co planning – don’t undermine subject specificity
  • We create time to reflect, tweak and embed – we don’t move on until we are happy that the strategy is embedded consistently across the school. more on this in the next section!

Implementation part 2: Drop in circles and feedback

How do you ensure that staff use what they have practiced/discussed in a CPD session and not just leave it at the door at the end of a long Tuesday?

How can a school build a culture of continuous professional development?

These are the questions we asked ourselves once we had established our Tuesday afternoon CPD slots. We knew that staff were getting a good diet, but were they making the most of it? Were they improving their classroom practice? And how would they know if they were improving?

Borne out of these questions were department drop in circles (DDC).

What are department drop in circles?

Once per week, each teacher drops in on another teacher in their department and offers them feedback using the success criteria provided from the most recent CPD session. We have kept int in departments as not to undermine subject specificity. Below is a typical example of how the circles work in our school.

Staff were given training on how to give effective feedback. We used many of the principles from our IC programme. Essentially, each teacher needed to provide one thing their colleague did well against the success criteria, using the sentence stem “it was effective when…” and then one specific, granular action for improvement against the success criteria using the sentence stem “next time consider…”.

This system is far from perfect and has encountered many bumps since September, but we have found it helpful because:

  • All teachers receive weekly, personalised feedback informed by shared success criteria
  • The success criteria from the CPD session increases the accuracy and staff confidence in identifying effective practice
  • Providing an action step increases teachers’ confidence and competence in giving actionable, granular, and specific feedback
  • It builds a sustainable ‘open door’ culture within the school where staff see feedback as a gift, and not a threat.

What have some of the bumps been?

  • Compliance – some weeks have seen less than 50% drop in completion. We put this down to a variety of reasons, mainly covid related! E.g., high levels of staff absence meaning that staff either couldn’t complete their drop in or be dropped in on. The subsequent increasing levels in cover also created the same problem
  • Quality of feedback – initially, there was an inconsistency in the feedback we were seeing. For example, not using the success criteria and not using our agreed shared language of “it was effective when…” and “I noticed that…”

Fortunately, we have been able to iron out many of these bumps with regular staff training and increased support/accountability mechanisms. I will talk about this next!

Implementation part 2: summary  

  • Each teacher receives weekly actionable, granular and specific feedback from a colleague in their department
  • Each teacher uses the success criteria from the current CPD session to inform their feedback
  • Each teacher is expected to drop into 1 lesson per week – this takes less than 5 minutes
  • This has been helpful in taking small steps to improve the quality of teaching in all classrooms
  • There have been some teething problems with the system, especially around compliance and quality of feedback given

Impact?

How do you know if your teachers are ready to move on to the next focus?

How do you know if your CPD is have the intended impact across all classrooms?

These are questions I’m sure every CPD lead across the land asks themselves regularly. They are perennial problems that don’t have perfect solutions. However, we can implement systems where we can make informed inferences about the quality and effectiveness of our CPD offer.

The data gathered from each drop in is recorded on our coaching platform. This provides SLT with a useful overview and informs the decision as to whether we stick or twist. It also provides each subject leader with an overview of what is going on in their own departments.

The diagram below explains how the drop in process works at our school:

This is all well and good, but the inferences we make are only as useful as the amount (and quality!) of the data we collect. I talked in the last section about improving the quality of drop ins, and this section focusses on how we have increased the number of drop ins completed. So, how did we do this?

  • Every week, we ask each subject leader to provide a brief overview of the number of drop ins completed within their team. We ask them to provide a very brief rationale about who completed, who didn’t complete and why they might not have completed. This helps us to identify those staff that may need some more support in completing their drop ins
  • We publish the weekly data (total number of drop ins + department break down) to SLT and the subject leaders. This includes shout outs to departments with 100% completion
  • We then publish data to all staff (just total number of drop ins), including shout outs for best practice and tweaks we may need to make in the following week.

Impact: summary

  • Each drop in takes place within subject areas
  • Each drop in is recorded on our coaching platform
  • This data is used by SLT and subject leaders to inform next steps
  • The more drop ins completed, the more accurate our inferences can be
  • Drop in completion is encouraged through a system of support and light accountability
  • Drop in completion is currently 66% and is getting better weekly!

Conclusion

Getting CPD right is hard. Have we stuck to our original plan? No. Is this ok? Yes. Progress isn’t linear and learning is messy, and this is just as true for teacher development as it is for the students that sit in our classrooms each day. And just like those students; teachers, departments and schools everywhere have their own levels of experience, expertise, and motivations. A CPD curriculum can’t successfully account for all of these. That would be unrealistic. However, a CPD curriculum that is designed and sequenced with context in mind is more than likely to ensure everyone moves in the same direction – forward – regardless the starting point of each key stakeholder.  

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