To be successful in advancing teaching and learning, staff development should follow a cycle, argues Sara Bubb as she looks at different levels of CPD activity and effective ways to develop these

To continually improve on teaching and learning, you need to ensure your staff are equipped and skilled at delivering the latest initiatives. This means they need regular and ongoing professional development opportunities so that their practice continues to advance to the next level. This month’s Case in Point explores how to go about developing a comprehensive approach to professional development so that you maximise its potential to improve T&L, with the case study school here sharing how it has developed a collective and collaborative approach that has brought benefits at many levels.

Teaching isn’t easy, and getting better at it isn’t just a matter of experience, of trial and error. Whether people are newly qualified, in their first three, 10 or 20 years; a head or teaching assistant; whether they’re superb or struggling – professional development is vital in improving the quality of teaching and learning (T&L).

An input or outcome?

A key issue is whether you see staff develop­ment as an input, something that you provide for others or an outcome, people’s learning and development. What do people in your team think? Is there a difference between those who have been teaching for different lengths of time? This strikes to the very heart of the matter: staff development must be an outcome not just provision.

A definition comes in handy so that everyone is speaking and understanding the same language. For myself and my co-author Peter Earley, staff development is:

an ongoing process encompassing all for­mal and informal learning experiences that enable all staff in schools, individually and with others, to think about what they are doing, enhance their knowledge and skills and improve ways of working so that pupil learning and wellbeing are enhan­ced as a result. (Bubb and Earley, 2007, p4)

What is the purpose of staff development for you – is it a treat, reward, a sanctioned skive or for the pupils?

Staff development is not something you do for people, it is an outcome of adult learning and growth, neither of which are easy or straightforward.

Professional learning community

In some schools or departments, the ongoing professional development of all staff is seen as integral, given great signifi­cance and is closely linked to the improve­ment plan. In other places, nothing could be further from the truth. In the most effective schools, the adults are learning and collabora­ting, as are the pupils – they are learning-centred communities. A professional learning community (PLC) is:

an inclusive group of people, motivated by a shared learning vision, who support and work with each other, finding ways inside and outside of their immediate community to enquire on their practice and together learn new and better approaches that will enhance all pupils’ learning. (Bolam et al, 2005)

Nobody would argue with the idea of schools developing as learning communities but getting there is difficult because it requires changing the culture. Think about how your school is doing against what Louise Stoll and Ray Bolam identified as the eight key characteristics of effective professional learning communities – see the box below.

Features of effective PLCs

  • Shared values and vision
  • Collective responsibility for pupils’ learning
  • Collaboration focused on learning
  • Individual and collective professional learning
  • Reflective professional enquiry
  • Openness, networks and partnerships
  • Inclusive membership
  • Mutual trust, respect and support

 (Bolam et al, 2005)

What about staff who don’t take responsibility for their development? We have all met people who see training as time off, who think they’ve nothing more to learn, who are unreflective, or who don’t consider how their professional development might affect pupils.

Professional development is a responsi­bility throughout teachers’ careers, as can be seen in the Teachers’ Standards Framework (available via: One standard that people have to demonstrate to achieve qualified teacher status (QTS) is that they:

Q7 (a) Reflect on and improve their practice, and take responsibility for identifying and meeting their developing professional needs.

All teachers have to meet the core stan­dards, and not just to pass induction. So they need to:

C7 Evaluate their performance and be committed to improving their practice through appropriate professional development.

C9 Act upon advice and feedback and be open to coaching and mentoring.

For those moving to or further on the upper pay scale, the post-threshold standards require people to continue to meet those standards but also:

P10 Contribute to the professional development of colleagues through coaching and mentoring, demonstrating effective practice, and providing advice and feedback.

A clear and shared understanding of staff development and how it works is vital.

Staff development cycle

You need to understand the staff develop­ment cycle. This involves identifying and anal­ysing team and individual needs, setting targets, planning how to meet them, carrying out the profes­sional development activities, monitoring pro­gress and then evaluating the impact on staff and pupils before starting back again at the beginning of the cycle and looking at new needs.

Although impact evaluation is the final part of the cycle, it is helpful if targets answer the questions, ‘what do we hope to achieve and how will we know we have?’

Ways to develop

There is a huge range of professional development opportunities – more than ever before – and it is difficult to keep up to date with what is available. The Training and Dev­el­opment Agency for Schools (TDA) webiste offers CPD resources and a directory of training opportunities.

The range of staff development activities is enormous: it is not just about courses. Categorising activities into four over­lapping groups – individual, within school, cross-school networks and external – is useful.

The box above gives more details about these four levels of CPD activity. The most successful learning is likely to involve activities from several or all of the groups in the box below: many staff say they learn best through on-the-job training and applying skills in real-life situations.

Levels of CPD activity

  • Individual – thinking; reading books, periodicals and the educational press; research and enquiry; self-study; watching programmes on Teachers TV; keeping a learning log or reflective diary.
  • Within school – working with others; talking to other staff; coaching/mentoring; development days; team meetings; being observed; discussing a lesson; observing; collaborative planning; team-teaching; listening to pupils’ views; observing pupils; tracking a pupil; action research; doing things differ­ently; taking on a new role; shadowing colleagues, training others; chairing a meeting; leading working groups.
  • Cross-school networks – formal and informal networks; training; visiting other schools, similar to or different from yours; reading and talking to others on online communities; working with people, such as ASTs; networks of local schools or ones set up for a specific project.
  • External expertise – one-day events; longer courses; blended learning programmes that involve some external expertise and school-based activity; conferences; working with community groups, consultants, local authorities, universities or subject associations.

(Bubb and Earley, 2010, p92)

Let’s have a look at some specific ways to develop.

Research and enquiry
Are staff keen to reflect on their work, explore different approaches, and try out new things in the classroom? Staff undertaking research and enquiry, especially when working collaboratively, make a powerful brew. This involves reflecting on your own practice, individually and collectively, finding out more, gaining new insights and making changes as a result.

Accredited courses often have a research element. Although research projects are undertaken by individuals, the impact can benefit many staff. As part of his research for a Masters degree, a teacher examined the impact of different elements of the ‘learning-to-learn’ programme on the early career teachers at his school. He said:

My research has made a difference to the way we do things at school. I found that staff really value discussing issues formally and informally so we’ve tried to build in collaboration as a key part of staff development. Now, the sessions we run are much more focused on working together. (Holbrook, 2009, p11)

But you don’t have to be on a Masters degree course to carry out research. In fact, the term ‘research’ puts some people off, which is why they talk about ‘enquiry’ when they try something that is closer to problem-solving.

Collaborative enquiry is a broader activity than school-based research or project work, which is usually undertaken as an individual activity and may lead to an accredited award. It involves staff getting together to investigate an aspect of their practice to enhance student learning. Then sharing findings with others can be a powerful motivator and an effective learning process because there is a real purpose to it. Research and enquiry often snowball: for example, one person finds that the younger boys in their class are underachieving, which gets others thinking about the pupils in their class.

If you want to use research and enquiry for staff development, the box below lists some questions to think about using.

Research and enquiry for staff developmentAre you or someone in school able to:

  • help identify topics for research?
  • predict what the impact will be?
  • access published relevant research?
  • find time for the research to happen?
  • help create productive research teams?
  • structure the processes and practices?
  • maintain an active interest in the enquiry?
  • involve pupils, parents and the community, where appropriate?
  • discuss findings with other staff?
  • share findings beyond the school?
  • find a more knowledgeable other to be a research guide?

(Bubb and Earley, 2010, p96)


Having someone to talk to and help you reflect on practice is a fundamental way to develop, so training staff in coaching and mentoring skills is a good move. These skills can be used in a multitude of activities such as feedback after observations, problem-solving, and performance management.

However, there is considerable confusion about the terms coaching and mentoring. Mentoring is mainly about advising and helping – giving people answers. Coaching is not about giving people answers or telling them what to do but asking questions to help them find their own solutions.

Mentoring is more embedded than coaching in schools, especially for new staff, but coaching is becoming more and more popular. There are different models of coaching such as GROW:

  • Goal – for the session and/or project
  • Reality – the current state of play
  • Options – possible ways forward
  • Will – commitment to planned action

Curee has developed some interactive materials covering a range of topics called the Effective mentoring and coaching suite.

In one school with large numbers of grad­uate trainees, beginning teachers and newly qualified teachers (NQTs), the coaching culture is so strong that hardly anyone mentions it: it has become implicit in all they do. The school uses its eight advanced skills teachers (ASTs) to develop individuals to be better through a six-week coaching programme that could include planning, modelling, observation, team-teaching and discussion. Because the support is developmental, even successful experienced staff want to be involved to help them improve their work and make pupils more independent, interested and engaged.

There is a great deal of lesson observation happening in schools. This can be simply for monitoring and preparation for inspec­tion, but where it makes a differ­ence, it is a platform for discussing specific T&L. There are many examples of peer observation being a valuable experi­ence when carried out in a mutually suppor­tive way that encour­ages staff to take risks. All manner of ses­sions can usefully be observed and for differ­ent lengths of time: so long as all parties know the purpose and focus. People learn a great deal from seeing strategies used in practice but it is the dialogue that takes place after the lesson where the development happens. Discussing T&L can boost staff and cause a snowball effect: observation and recognition breed even greater success.

Many schools have combined peer obser­vation and coaching by teachers and teaching assistants. Having a framework of agreed guide­­lines about giving and receiving feed­back, based on positivity, confidence, emp­ow­er­ment and clarity of action is vital – see the example below.

Case example: guidelines on feedback
Staff in one school have agreed that when giving and receiving feedback, they will:

  • stick to the previously agreed focus of the observation
  • listen actively to each other
  • steer clear of control-orientated behaviour by avoiding mentoring and the expression of personal preferences
  • frame questions to invite responses and empower colleagues
  • ensure next steps are clear.

(Bubb and Earley, 2010, p98)

Filming can be useful, and avoids the obser­ver-effect on pupils and staff. Filming a respected member of staff teaching has sev­eral benefits: the observers see some­thing authentic, in their own setting; for the person teaching, it can be a celebratory experience.

Teachers TV
People who use Teachers TV for staff devel­opment are passionate about its benefits. There are thousands of programmes that can be watched on their website, downloaded and even edited. It is a great way of getting into other schools and colleges and learning from other people’s successes on a global scale. Want to know how they teach respect and manners in Japan, handwriting in France, PE in China, and sex education in Holland? There are programmes to watch from the comfort of your own computer.

Some people have set up study groups with activities around programmes that deal with specific issues. This has been made easier by Teachers TV formalising this by designing materials for Teachers TV Clubs. These have a similar format to book-group meetings. Every month they supply you with four programmes and accompanying dis­cus­sion questions based on a whole-school issue theme such as bullying, ICT skills or personalised learning.

One of the most individualised, cheap and flexible ways to become better at teaching and other roles in schools is through reading (or listening).

People use reading to gain tips, ideas and inspiration – to be better at their job. Many people have also found pearls within fic­tion and auto­biography.

Reading children’s literature was the focus of the high impact ‘Teachers as readers’ project looking at helping teacher develop­ment, which in turn improved pupil out­comes.

Books such as John Hattie’s Visible learning (2009) can stimulate much thought and discussion. From extensive research of schools’ work, he reveals what makes the most difference: the teachers. Those that make most difference to pupil learning set challenging goals, seek feedback on the effectiveness of their teach­ing on students, and constantly pay atten­tion to improvement.

Listening to pupils
Pupils can be a fine source of development. Ask them what they think of your work and you may be surprised at the level of sophistication in their response. Some schools are training students to observe lessons and feed back to the teacher concerned. This is a rewarding experience for teachers because the students give them a lot of positive feedback as well as areas for development and suggestions of what to do to address these. The students are impress­ively knowledgeable about the learning process, and what works in the classroom.

Roleplay sessions using pupils could be a good way of demonstrating techniques for managing behaviour, for example.

But there’s no money!

Money is a precious resource that needs to be spent well. But some of the most powerful development happens at comparatively little cost. Looking at cost-effectiveness of different forms of staff development can be very informative. The box at the bottom of page 5 gives three examples of staff development activities and builds on the East Midlands CPD Partnership work in suggesting a cost-benefit analysis of each, highlighting drawbacks and ways to maximise efficiency.

Cost-benefit analysis of different staff development activities
Activity Cost 
Benefits Drawbacks How to maximise efficiency
Course High
  • Input from specialists
  • Immerse yourself in the topic
  • Meeting others
  • Sharing ideas
  • Can be inspirational
  • Supporting resources
  • Expensive
  • Disruptive
  • Cover usually needed
  • May not be good quality
  • Not personalised to individual needs
  • Inefficient dissemination
  • Ensure clarity of purpose and impact
  • in advance
  • Possibly have more than one person attending
  • Set up a system for dissemination and implementation
Action research Low
  • Encourages teamwork and sharing of good practice
  • Sense of working towards a common goal is stimulating
  • Can be viewed merely as an extension to the ‘day job’ and not as professional development
  • Establish goal, purpose and timeline
  • Set groundrules to ensure all colleagues make a valid contribution
Teachers TV Low
  • Flexible
  • Quality video
  • Discussion of practice
  • Can try out ideas viewed
  • You never see the complete picture
  • Have a clear focus
  • Provide time to engage with it
  • Ensure time to implement it
(Bubb and Earley, 2010, p.68)

But there’s no time!

Curriculum leaders have to be creative in finding time for staff development during the normal school day or working week.

People spend lots of time in meetings so how can they be organised to aid develop­ment? Making more use of technology and online diaries cuts down time spent on admin, and having an agenda and pre-meeting tasks can mean that more is achieved in a shorter amount of time. Bill Edgar, Headteacher of Gaynes School in East London, has written an interesting article on this. The box at the top of page 5 gives his example for a departmental meeting to explore personalised learning.

Case example: using departmental meeting for staff development on personalised learningThe following is a list of statements designed to prompt discussion at the next departmental meeting. It is important to look at them and come along with some ideas as each person in the department will be asked to open discussion on at least one of the statements.

  • There is no difference between differentiation and personalised learning
  • There is a shared definition in the department of personalised learning, which is …
  • An example of a lesson I taught where I personalised the learning was …
  • Personalising learning is a nice idea in theory but involves too much work in practice
  • Developing thinking skills is the key to personalising learning
  • Ultimately what matters is the exam performance of individual students
  • Developing personalised learning in the department requires us to …

(Edgar, 2009, p44)

What about before-school training? Schools that have tried this find the tight time limit means that much is covered and time is used well in that people are receptive to learning because they are fresh. How about devoting part of your meetings to a discussion of recent research findings or policy documents facilitated by individuals who circulate readings a week or so in advance? What about having ‘thinking dinners’? Staff that have tried this leave school promptly, go home to change, and feel they achieve more because they are refreshed and food stimulates discussion.

Schools involved with initial teacher education have found that having trainees on placements are valuable. It frees up time for more professional development and is in itself a powerful development activity for the staff who support, monitor and assess them. It can bring about a strong coaching-mentoring culture for all staff. One school liaises with quality universities that are highly selective so that they are sent strong trainees. This benefits the departments in which they work during training and when there are teacher vacancies they have the pick of the crop without the costs of advertising and interviewing.

Make a difference

Whatever the professional development activity, the important thing is the outcome:

It should encourage a commitment to professional and personal growth; and increase resilience, self-confidence, job satisfaction and enthusiasm for working with children and colleagues. (Bubb and Earley, 2007, p4)

John Hattie suggests that visible teaching and learning occurs when learning is the explicit goal: when there is feedback given and sought and when there are active, passionate, and engaging people, including teachers, students, and peers participating in the act of learning. He was talking largely about classroom learning but the same could be said of staff development.

Teaching demands passion, creativity, commitment, resilience and energy as well as intellectual and managerial skills. As Chris Day said, ‘teaching at its best is a passionate affair’ (Day and Gu, 2010, p181).

Sara Bubb, Education Consultant, England’s Advanced Skills Teacher Network Leader and Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Institute of Education, University of London

This article draws on the ideas in Sara’s latest book Helping staff develop In schools, published by Sage (2010), which she co-authored with Professor Peter Earley.