Graham Guest provides an introduction to the basics of continuing professional development in schools

We are all used to hearing about the rapid pace of technological and organisational change and the fact that there is no longer such a thing as a job for life. It is not so long ago that the main, if not the sole, focus of a person’s career was on initial education and training. Too many professionals were lulled into believing that their first post-secondary academic qualification, like their job, would fit them for the whole of their working life.

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The main focus now, however, is on the need to keep up to date with learning and to develop one’s skills, knowledge, and understanding throughout life. True professionalism, as all those involved in teaching will surely recognise, relies increasingly on an ability to respond quickly and effectively to technological and organisational change, as well as to changing social and market conditions, client (that is student) requirements, government policies, and national and international regulations. In the context of work, a key aspect of lifelong learning is continuing professional development (CPD). This can be defined as:

The systematic maintenance and improvement of knowledge, skills and competence, and the enhancement of learning, undertaken throughout an individual’s working life.

It is easy to assume that CPD is just a matter of attending training courses off the job. This is certainly one aspect, but there are many more. CPD activities can include on-the-job training, open learning, short courses, conferences, seminars, workshops, self-study, preparing and making presentations, and being a coach or mentor. As the definition suggests, the basis of CPD is learning, which of course comes about in different ways. It can be formal or informal, structured or eclectic, job-centred or person-centred.

Support and Planning

There are a number of ways in which our learning can be supported. For example, many professionals now have personal, business or life coaches, mentors or career counsellors: people who support us, contribute to our personal and professional development, and help us reflect on our progress and achievements. We can also receive support from our professional bodies, our employers, and the various interlocking networks of which we are members.

So CPD today is no longer an optional extra to be undertaken according to the random needs or wishes of the individual or to meet some ill-defined, short-term organisational requirements. Planned and structured CPD is vital for survival and prosperity in an increasingly litigious society, where professional ethics are firmly, and rightly, in the spotlight and where the professions themselves – not least the teaching profession – are called upon, again rightly, to act always for the public good.

All professionals need to be able to identify and measure their CPD, both for their own purposes and in order to demonstrate it to others, including prospective employers and professional bodies. This is about more than simply clocking up points gained, or hours spent on an activity; it is also about the assessment of what has actually been learned. Part of the process for this involves planning and recording CPD, for which we need efficient and effective mechanisms. One such mechanism is a Personal Development Record (PDR), which can be in hard-copy form, on CD-ROM, or web-based. Indeed web-based PDRs may well soon become the norm, supplementing our on-line CVs and personal websites.

In planning our CPD we can profitably ask our-selves five questions:

  1. Where have I been in relation to my CPD?
  2. Where am I now?
  3. Where do I want and need to be?
  4. How will I get there?
  5. How will I know when I have arrived?

CPD can have a number of different focuses or aims. It can, for example, help us deepen our understanding of a specialist subject or allow us to broaden our knowledge into a related field. Through CPD we can even choose to change the direction of our career completely.

The Teaching Profession

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has a strategy aimed at promoting the benefits of CPD to help teachers make the most of the opportunities and choices available to them. Although aimed primarily at school-teachers, the strategy, launched in March 2001, also has relevance to teachers in other areas, including adult learning. The aim is to create a climate in Local Education Authorities (LEAs) with the following features.

  • CPD is strategically focused and integrated with performance management and school improvement, to raise standards of teaching and learning.
  • Teachers expect to engage in CPD and in supporting the development of colleagues, and their performance management arrangements reflect that expectation.
  • Head teachers and teachers are knowledgeable about the wide range of experiences and opportunities that can contribute to strengthening informed professional practice, and the conditions in which professional development has greatest impact on performance.
  • Head teachers embrace their responsibility, working collaboratively with other schools, LEAs, providers of CPD and other stakeholders, to ensure that their staff have access to appropriate professional development, responsive both to local needs and to teachers’ aspirations, and that their schools are professional learning communities which make a contribution to wider professional learning across appropriate networks.
  • LEAs make a strategic contribution to ensuring that high quality CPD opportunities are available, accessible, and known about, and that conditions are created and sustained in which outcomes of professional learning are widely shared and owned.
  • Governors are properly equipped to promote and monitor effective CPD in their schools.

Taking an international approach to CPD, the DfES is participating in the Teachers’ International Professional Development (TIPD) programme. This provides opportunities for teachers to experience best practice in international education by participating in short-term study visits to other countries. Since the programme was launched in 2000, thousands of teachers have benefited from the annual £3 million in funding from the DfES, visiting schools in over 50 countries. Similar initiatives would certainly benefit those involved in adult learning and it is important to continue to stress to decision-makers in government and elsewhere the value of lifelong learning – learning at school and far beyond – to individuals and society as a whole.

Coaching and Mentoring

The processes of coaching and mentoring can be of great benefit in facilitating lifelong learning and CPD, and it is pleasing to see these processes also being addressed by the DfES.

Many companies, professional institutions and other organisations operate mentoring systems. In the case of professional bodies, less-experienced members are assigned, or choose for themselves, a mentor who offers advice and guidance towards achieving higher professional status. The mentor can play a valuable role in helping the mentee identify appropriate career routes, including relevant future learning.

Although the qualities required of a mentor are similar to those required of a coach, the mentor-mentee relationship is different from the coach-client relationship. For example, the mentor is usually an employee of the same organisation or a member of the same professional body as the mentee, whereas more effective coaching usually takes place if the coach comes from outside the organisation. It is important to distinguish between a coach, whose contract of commitment and confi-dentiality is with the client (the person being coached), and a manager practising coaching skills, whose prime commitment is to the organisation. Coaching has been described as a way of understanding people in their wholeness, followed by conversations and actions consistent with that understanding. Such a process requires of both the coach and the client a continual reassessment of their mental models. They need to recognise that all models are ‘wrong’ by definition and accept that they, like mentor and mentee, are participating in a mutual learning process. The essence of coaching requires the coach to:

  • Discover how the client interprets, or makes sense of, the world. What do the client’s mental models look like?
  • Help the client see the structure of the mental models she/he is employing and indeed recognise that they are models and not reality.
  • Assist the client to detach herself/himself from the models for long enough to see that there are possibilities for new choices.

In short, it is the job of the coach to help the client see new possibilities and provide a space in which the client can consider making different decisions based on a wider range of possibilities. Flaherty (1999) presents coaching as a way of working with people that leaves them more competent and more fulfilled, so that they are more able to contribute to their organisations and find meaning in what they are doing. He describes the products of coaching as:

  • long-term excellent performance;
  • self-correction;
  • self-generation.

Long-term excellent performance means that the client meets the high objective standards of the discipline in which coaching is occurring. Well-coached clients can observe how they are performing and are able to make adjustments to their performance without the coach’s intervention. This self-correction on the part of clients helps the coach avoid the temptation of feeling that he or she is indispensable. As human beings we can always improve. Well-coached people are aware of this and, through a process of self-generation, will find ways of doing so on their own.

Approaches to CPD

Unfortunately CPD is an area in which there has been much ‘reinvention of the wheel’. Instead of investigating and collaborating on systems that have already been designed, developed and put in place, many organisations have been tempted to start from the beginning. There is though, evidence to suggest that this situation is changing for the better and we are beginning to see more co-operation and a more generic approach to all aspects of CPD.

Take, for example, the Institute of Continuing Professional Development. This body seeks, from a cross-professional perspective, to affirm and promote the critical importance of CPD generically and globally. Fellowship of the Institute demonstrates an individual’s commitment to CPD over and above the minimum required by his or her main professional body, for however much support a person is given with CPD, it is with that person himself or herself that ultimate responsibility for keeping up to date rests. As well as working in partnership with other professional bodies, the Institute seeks to collaborate, through a Corporate Affiliate arrangement, with all organisations demonstrating a commitment to CPD, including companies, educational establishments, employers’ organisations and trade unions.

It is clear that individuals who ignore CPD, or do not treat it seriously, will get left behind as patterns of work and leisure continue to change beyond our expectations. This article has pointed to just some of the support mechanisms – PDRs, coaches, mentors, and the TeacherNet and CPD Institute websites – available to teachers and other professionals, whilst stressing the importance of personal and professional development in what is becoming an increasingly knowledge-based world. TEX


Flaherty, J. (1999). Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others. Boston: Butterworth Heinemann.

Graham Guest is a Coach, Counsellor, and Learning & Development Consultant. 

This article has been reproduced with permission from Adults Learning, who originally published it in November 2004, Volume 16, Number 3.

First published in Teaching Expertise magazine, Issue 10 Winter 2005