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Let's stop doing CPD!

Obviously, I made the title of this post deliberately provocative, but there is a truth that I feel lies behind it. For too long we have seen Continuous Professional Development (CPD) as a matter of going on various courses and doing lots of 'things' to enhance our understandings and our expertise as teachers. Sometimes, we would identify these activities ourselves and, if you are in Scotland, use our CPD allowance to be able to attend them. Other times, they would be identified by senior management or the local authority as activities we needed to engage in. I personally hate the term 'manadtory', and I would only apply this to Child Protection training, and some Health and Safety training.

 All such CPD activities usually had to be signed off by the headteacher before you went, but not often were you required to explain, or show evidence, how they impacted on your practice, or on your learners, when you had completed them. I went on lots of such courses and events, and I like to think most helped improve my understanding and develop my practice but, especially early in my career, not many took much interest in whether anything had happened which was good for the school, or pupils, after I had completed them and gained my certificate for attendance. They were very much a requirement so that a box could be ticked to say that you had engaged in professional development. Not often did they even have to fit with school development priorities, during a time when not much of all the things we did in school was connected anyway, but we were, as ever, very busy. Such CPD activities were part of our busyness, which involved lots of 'things.'

I think we have, hopefully, moved on from the scenario I describe above. We are now more in a position where CPD and its impact is more likely to be measured in terms of impact for learners. We need to be able to demonstrate changes in understanding and practice that have direct and positive impacts for our learners. It is more likely that such activities are connected to school development, based on self-evaluation, and will be part of a planned process. In Scotland we have Professional Standards for Registration and Career Long Professional Learning administered by the General Teaching Council Scotland (GTCS) which set standards and expectations for professional development for all in our profession. These have been augmented recently by Professional Update which requires teachers to have their professional development validated by their line manager, and then GTCS, every five years. In this they have to be able to demonstrate their engagement with professional learning, and how this has impacted on learners, over time. This, I feel, is getting us closer to the situation where I think we really need to be.

This is one where all professionals see their continuous development as their personal responsibility and part of a career long disposition as an educator. Such development should be personal and individualised and should be aimed at improving professional understandings and developing practice as part of a continuous and ongoing process, no matter where in the system they are situated. It would see one key component as being an understanding that professional development starts from, and is informed by, each individual constantly examining their impact on learning in their role. All should be committed to continual development and improvement which begins from their own practice and on them having a deep understanding not only of that practice, but also of how it impacts on learning. They will see professional development as both an individual and collaborative process, so will commit to work with colleagues to help improve and develop everyone's practice. No longer will they see CPD as a matter of going on courses, though that might still be appropriate at times, but will view it as a professional responsibility that most often will be centred in their own establishments and clusters. Professional development will be regarded by all as something you engage in throughout you career and not something done to you by others. In such a scenario we may even stop talking about CPD, as the attitudes and behaviours required become subsumed into our professional identity. 

We will then stop 'doing' CPD and will then become self-adaptive and regulatory professionals who take responsibility for our own actions and development in order to improve as individuals, and to keep the whole system moving forward. Such improvement and thinking cannot be imposed from above, but policy, systems and structures can support and encourage. If they don't, we still need to have the professional courage and responsibility to take charge of our own development, and not to wait to be told what to do by others.

As in everything, to produce something new and improved, we have to change what we already do. Perhaps our first change is in how we think about professional development moving forward.


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