Continuous Professional Development

As a teacher, you want a lot, but probably at the top of your list is that you want your students to learn well and that you help them in that learning. After all, you’ve studied for this in college or at a teacher training institute, you’ve looked closely at your more experienced colleagues and learned a lot from them, you read books and blogs about how students learn and how good teachers teach, and you’ve reflected on your own experience like a good ‘reflective practitioner‘ (reflective practitioner; Donald Schön) is supposed to do. But a little upskilling (Continuous Professional Development; CPD) is also never wrong.

A look into the world of CPD providers shows that you can get further training on anything and everything such as stimulating executive functions, designing and using digital/physical escape rooms, yoga and mindfulness in the classroom, the I don’t know how many roles of the teacher, image coaching, effective use of feedback and so forth. The list is almost endless. In other words, there’s a hell of offered on very different topics and sometimes of very questionable content and quality. In this CPD jungle, how do you choose?

No stress. The Educational Endowment Foundation produced a so-called Guidance Report for this. In it, they give three recommendations when it comes to opting for – or even developing your own, in-service training. The recommendations are that you should pay attention to whether or to ensure that the CPD (1) is well-designed, (2) effectively builds knowledge, motivates you, and is anchored in practice, and (3) takes into account the context and needs of you and your school.

The design

When choosing CPD , you should first pay attention to the design of the training. Good CPD ensures, first of all, that what the teacher already knows is regularly retrieved and keeps coming back in the lessons (think of retrieval practice; practice tests and repetition). Second, well-designed CPD sets clear, observable, testable and challenging learning objectives. Third, good CPD provides rich and relevant feedback to the participants. And finally, good CPD has a clear lesson schedule (including all expected actions to be carried out). In other words, it’s just good education!

Knowledge building, motivation, teaching techniques and embedding in teaching practice

As far as knowledge building is concerned, the CPD’s cognitive load should not exceed the limits of our information processing capacity and should regularly refer back to what has been learned (or should have been learned) before.

The CPD must also motivate teachers to act on that knowledge. Good CPD (1) asks teachers to determine in advance what they are going to do with what’s being learned (in other words that they set their own learning and action goals), (2) uses reliable information sources, and (3) confirms/reinforces the learning and its progress.

Third, the CPD must ensure that the techniques learned are also further developed. Does the teacher receive explicit instruction in how they can/should carry out a technique? Are instructor modeling, videos, worked examples, etc., used? In addition, it’s also important that there’s (social) support from a coach or fellow student, preferably from the same school. In addition to monitoring progress, rich feedback is also necessary. And, finally, the CPD should provide plenty of room for practice, practice, and more practice. Skills development needs practice (i.e., you acquire a skill, you don’t learn a skill).

Finally, CPD programmes should support teachers in putting what they’ve learned into practice to ensure that they use what they’ve learned, continue to develop, and change their behaviour to improve their teaching.

Context and needs of the school

Finally, it’s about how continuing training can be adapted to the context and needs of the school. Standard programmes don’t work. Providers (and especially the instructors) must indicate where and how adjustments can be made to a course or programme to make it a better fit with the school and/or the teacher(s). If you, as a teacher, choose a course or program yourself, make sure that the professional development offered meets the needs not only of yourself but also of your school on the one hand, and that this training is supported by school management on the other. And if you’re a school leader (principal, headmaster…), recognise and take into account the time constraints teachers face in their day-to-day work and then adjust the proposed professional development accordingly. Those who design and select CPD must critically assess how a programme fits into the school routine.

In a nutshell: Continuous Professional Development should be nothing more and nothing less than just good education!

Collin, J, & Smith, E. (2021). Effective professional development: Guidance report. Educational Endowment Foundation.