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Jump In The Deep End!

Depth in continuous professional development is just as crucial as depth in learning? We in Scotland have recognised the importance of deepening pupil's learning and understanding, and this is reflected in one of the seven key principles of curriculum design underpinning Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). What this has allowed schools to do is to slow down in order for our learners to deepen their learning and understanding, to understand how the learning connects across the curriculum, into the real world and in different contexts. A well overdue recognition that it is depth of learning that is important, not just coverage.

Unfortunately, I don't think we are there yet in applying the same principles to CPD! I have long believed that in CPD we have also been too involved in encouraging staff and schools to do lots of different 'things' in terms of professional development, moving from one to another, with little regard to the impact all these activities actually had on practice and for learners. How often have we heard the lament from teachers that they have not had chance to draw breath, and embed a new development or initiative before they are moved on to the next one? We have all been guilty!

The result? Teachers who are constantly busy, because they are conscientious and committed, but frazzled and frustrated because they have not been given the time and space to embed, and therefore achieve and see the benefits, of some very useful and valuable developments. Sound familiar?

I believe that we are just beginning to recognise the folly of previous approaches. As with curriculum, we went for coverage rather than focusing on depth. Just as how we have begun, at least in Scotland, focus more on depth in the curriculum, we are need to adopt the same principles to CPD. We are now more focused on the impact of CPD that is evidenced in the classrooms through improved attainment and achievement in our learners. My own maxim is that if what we are doing does not have positive impacts for our learners, let's stop doing it and do something that will!

Key to new approaches is the recognition that all schools and staffs are different, and start any development from different positions. That is not to say that their focuses for development will not be similar, but I think that more people recognise that a 'one-size-fits-all' approach is no longer fit for purpose. Any development activity requires enough flexibility in its model of delivery to allow schools and staff to adjust and alter according to local circumstances.

When we have lots of areas to focus on in school and staff development, I feel it is crucial that we adopt a connected approach to developing these, rather than seeing them as individual aspects. So, we need to look at curriculum, pedagogy, learning experiences, assessment, planning and reporting to various audiences in a connected way, all crucial in the learning process. This is really important in helping staff and schools deal with vast change agendas in a managed and controlled way. After all, more people now understand that school and staff development is a journey with no end. It's a continuous process.

More schools are recognising that to really embed change and developments we need to slow down. It is no use rushing from one development to another, as was more common in the past. We need to give staff space and time to really engage with new learning and understanding. They need to try things. They need to make mistakes and learn from these. Crucially, they need time to talk together and to share. Anything less and, I would suggest, that you are just wasting staff development time and monies and will achieve minimum, if any, impact for learners. No-one aims for this with any development. We aim to have positive impacts for learners, so why not take the steps that will give us the greatest opportunity to achieve this?

The other change perhaps in our thinking around CPD is that it needs to start in,and be focused on, the classroom. The direction of travel should be informed by a schools' self-evaluation processes, including teachers own reflections and observations of their practice. The best CPD activities are those that school and staff identify themselves. The most effective development comes from within and is not imposed from outside.

The final key that I would say is vital in deepening approaches to development had to do with the culture and ethos within schools. This need to be open, challenging but also supportive and with high levels of trust. Staff need to see that leaders have high, but realistic expectations for staff and pupils. Those leaders should encourage innovation within an environment that makes it safe for staff to make mistakes and admit what they don't know or understand. This is what all learning is about and applies just as much to staff learning as it does to pupil learning.

So my advice is to jump in the deep end of learning and staff development.

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