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5 Top Tips for Implementing Effective Teacher Professional Development Plans

“Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better." - British Educationalist, Dylan Wiliam

Effective Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for teachers is fundamental in maintaining the high standard of teaching in schools. However, it’s not just about improving the attainment of students - it also plays a vital role in job satisfaction and the retention of staff.

Here, we share our five top tips for implementing teacher professional development plans with maximum effect.

  1. Start with clarity

The most important starting point is having clarity on what an effective professional development plan looks like.

It is essential that school leaders, headteachers and even governors have an in-depth understanding of what goes into a professional development plan to make it impactful. Anyone can create a list of online CPD seminars and expect teachers to do these in their own time, but this won’t have the desired effect.

First, leaders and teachers must be clear on what teacher professional development is and understand why it is important to have professional development plans in place. Leaders must know so they can develop staff successfully; and teachers must have clarity about why they should engage, rather than feeling like it is “yet another thing to do”.

The whole purpose is to support teachers and to equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to keep pace with a rapidly changing professional and educational environment. It’s all about helping teachers to thrive, not just survive.

So, what does effective CPD planning look like?

The government’s standard for teachers’ professional development states that teacher CPD needs to be:

  • Focused on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes
  • Underpinned by robust evidence and expertise
  • Include collaboration and expert challenge
  • Sustained over time
  • Prioritised by leadership

  1. Understand individual needs

What decides the effectiveness of a development plan won’t be the same for all teachers. Each plan should draw on a variety of learning and development resources to suit individual needs.

Understanding a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses and identifying where they need support, along with their preferred learning methods, is essential. Career aspirations amongst teaching staff will also differ and this must also be considered.

There should be a balance between challenging learning experiences for growth and those that give teachers a break from a pressurised classroom environment.

Teacher development plans can include all or some of the following:

  • Teacher training courses and workshops
  • Studying for a qualification or accreditation
  • Online courses/webinars/podcasts
  • Observation and shadowing
  • Mentoring
  • Peer group exchanges
  • Attending exhibitions and conferences
  • International exchanges
  • Self-reflection, personal reading or research

A programme of continual feedback is also essential. Maria Cunningham, Head of Education at the Teacher Development Trust, says, “high-impact CPD requires leaders to plan how teachers will receive regular and accurate feedback, and be supported to reflect and enact on it. Pedagogical coaching can be a particularly powerful vehicle to drive this.”

  1. Use evidence-based training and development resources

Not all professional development is equally effective. Recommendations in development plans should always be based on evidence-based research to establish best practice and ensure the most likely positive outcomes.

CPD UK, a leading CPD accreditation service, says evidence shows that the most effective CPD is:

  • Personalised
  • Relevant
  • Sustained
  • Supported
  • Collaborative

These five pillars ensure that teacher development plans are built to suit needs, relate to teaching theory and any necessary subject specialism, and ensure new skills and ideas are practised in the classroom and are given time to embed. The plan should include coaching, mentoring and support from more experienced colleagues, as well as opportunities for collaboration.

CPD is more effective when it occurs in the context of a teacher’s daily work.

  1. Make it practical and easy to implement

Teachers must be motivated to engage in the continual learning process. This is facilitated more when teachers are involved in the development of their own CPD journey. Teachers should lay out goals, aspirations and a timeline and see how progress matches up to plans. They will need to learn how to easily track their growth over time.

On ensuring professional development plans are implemented, TeacherToolkit recommends that professional development is protected and treated as a non-negotiable part of school life. It is important that school headteachers ensure CPD is calendared in advance for the academic year, and the schedule is adhered to without fail.

Holding regular performance development reviews makes teacher CPD a part of the learning culture.

  1. Affordability and the appraisal process

At a time when budgets are tight, affordability will impact both in-house and external training. Even managing internal resources to enable mentorship and collaborations will pose challenges, but they are important. It means school leads must be even more adept at creating targeted, impactful professional learning opportunities.

So how can this be achieved?

Phil Naylor, Assistant Director of the Blackpool Research School, and Expert Adviser, Blackpool CPD Hub, for the Teacher Development Trust, argues that professional development in teaching should be at the heart of teacher appraisal and that we should make CPD the main target for teacher pay.

Naylor says, “most – if not all – schools will have a CPD target as part of the appraisal process. But this target is often additional and not directly related to the data target on student performance. The target may be about gaining a leadership qualification or attending a course or conference, the completion of which merely amounts to a tick in the appraisal.” Naylor poses the question: “What if we make professional growth and development the target instead?”

This, he argues, is also the most effective way to improve outcomes for students. It can be achieved through a process of disciplined inquiry where teachers are asked to consider an aspect of their practice they would like to evaluate, carry out a small-scale enquiry and report back on the outcomes.

This view is echoed by Dr Emily Perry of Sheffield Hallam University, who argues for more value-based approaches to teacher professional development. Teachers need to identify their purpose as a teacher and explore what they want to gain from their professional lives. This, Perry says, would support teachers to feel more comfortable with their own unique approaches and help them to understand what makes them feel positive in their roles – an important aspect of personal growth.

The benefits of effective teacher development

Implementing and maintaining effective teacher development plans brings many benefits. These include:

  • Building teacher confidence
  • Increasing knowledge (teaching methods are continually developing)
  • Helping teachers progress into senior leadership roles or specialise in a preferred subject
  • Boosting teacher morale
  • Developing a culture of excellence
  • Improving teacher retention

Teacher retention has long been a challenge, but a new crisis in attrition looms. A recent study by the Education Policy Institute found that since the pandemic, teachers are now twice as likely to leave the profession. The development of new and existing teachers is critical, as those who feel their future is being invested in are more likely to stay.

For more information on supporting teachers in schools, download the IG Schools Workforce Handbook below:

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