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The expensive conference day is dead: long live sustainable models of CPD!


The research

Why are so many colleges not paying attention to staff development research on effective CPD?

Joyce and Showers in 2002 highlighted that:

 • Effective staff development involves experimentation by teachers followed by discussion with colleagues over time (peer coaching).

 • The experimentation phase requires repeated practice and discussion, to maintain momentum and motivation of teachers.

 • With training followed by peer coaching, implementation rates can reach 95%, whereas without this combination it can be as little as 5%

(Joyce and Showers, 2002, “Student Achievement through Staff Development”)

 This message was reinforced by Timperley et al (2007) in the research review “Teacher Professional Learning and Development”

 • The aim of training should be sustainability – to improve teachers’ planning and problem-solving for the long term. It should help teachers to regulate their own learning so that they can self-monitor to diagnose issues and monitor students to assess impacts of interventions.

 • There should be opportunities for teachers to talk about the implementation over time, at least for six months to two years but ideally longer (professional dialogue).

The problem

So two influential research reviews lead us to the same conclusion – one-off CPD events alone rarely alter practice. Yet many colleges still make the same mistake of putting considerable resource behind large scale CPD days with expensive speakers. But where is the follow up and the integration into practice, the return on investment?

In many cases CPD planning does not join up into a sustainable whole to make this happen. Without adequate attention to processes, communications and resourcing (time and people), the useful learning from the big day rarely transfers into action. Key points are forgotten, handouts filed away. Staff end up feeling valuable time has been wasted.

The solution

In wiser colleges, whole organisation staff development days are used in one of these ways:

1. The sharing good practice model

This facilitates the sharing of good practice in and between departments through a workshop programme followed up with an action planning session. This obviously works best if scheduled early or mid term and not in July when practical application is too far away to really engage tired teachers. Primary and secondary schools have a model of inset days near the start of term or attached to a half term when teachers are fresh and focused on planning and it would make sense for more colleges to embrace this model and reduce the amount of development time allocated to July.

This is followed up by:

• 1:1 or group coaching sessions to help support the change by working on action plans and maintaining momentum.

• Individuals having a real living CPD plan that is relevant and reviewed regularly with their coach or manager, both formally and informally.

• Bite-sized training sessions to share nuggets of useful practice drawn from observed lessons, CPD logs, training attended etc

2. The CPD conference plus projects model

If a large scale CPD conference is scheduled, with visiting experts, it links to core strategic objectives and is followed up with tailored projects of relevance to each team.

This is followed up through:

Sessions for reporting back on project progress, scheduled into the calendar from the start of the project.

• A mechanism for sharing resources and reflections from CPD work across the organisation.

• A contribution from the visiting experts to support the follow up process. External experts often have additional information or insight that can be of use to the organisation and this doesn’t always get mined.

Making it happen 

For this kind of responsive, sustainable CPD to work, you need to build and utilise certain skill sets:

1. Coaching skills to help staff develop useful action plans and keep up momentum in changing their practice. The use of Advanced Practitioners is becoming common and can really assist with providing targeted support across the organisation. For more information on how to deploy them, click here. For tailored training to develop their skills, click here.

2. Project management skills to ensure initiatives are planned well and can deliver outcomes. Project management thinking is a real aid to effective planning and helps you to join up elements of the work to deliver the whole. For information and introductory training, click here.

3. Action research skills like those developed on Supported Experiments projects, which encourage innovation and sharing of good practice. This model is being used extensively across the UK to encourage a strong focus on teaching and learning and foster a spirit of experimentation and sharing. For more details, click here.

In terms of investment, colleges would do better to focus resources (time, money and people) on improving the join up of CPD and the skills of key staff. In this way they would be investing in building internal capacity for improvement in a sustainable way, instead of paying for expensive CPD days that create little change.

Written by Joanne Miles, Managing Consultant, Leadership & Management Unit 

To discuss any of the points raised here or for support for your organisation, please contact Joanne Miles on:

T: 020 7492 5391
M: 07920 291 383 



Joanne Miles and Bob Craig joined the Leadership and Management team at LSN from a lead role in Professional Development at a large London FE college. They are teacher trainers and coaches and recently delivered a very successful Supported Experiments action research project in the FE sector.

Follow Jo on Twitter

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"Joanne is the foremost expert in the UK on how to embed Supported Experiments into an organisation as a continuous improvement strategy. She has done it very successfully herself in a very large college. Research reviews by Joyce and Showers and by Helen Timperley have shown that pretty much the only way to improve teaching, in a way that affects student achievement, is through Supported Experiments or something very, very like them. She is a vital resource and is great to work with!"

Geoff Petty, author of Britains best selling teacher training text: Teaching Today: a practical guide, 4th edition 2009.

> Find out more about delivering effective Supported Experiments

Want to know more?

Click on the links below to read our blog articles:

> Supported Experiments showcase at John Ruskin College

> Leading Learning and the role of Supported Experiments

> How many times have you watched a good idea come to nothing?

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