Tags: Continuing Professional Development | CPD Coordinator | CPD policy | CPD provision

Do mistakes and critical professional learning go together? Should we plan for evaluation? Cliff Jones presents a list of questions to encourage reflection.

Over Christmas, while you are experiencing the withdrawal symptom of not having to go into work every day, you might care to take a look at the following. It is a series of major questions with prompts to be addressed as you plan to make your school or college into a thinking institution staffed by enthusiastic critical-thinking professionals. There is no significance in the order of the questions.

Some of the questions are more open in nature than others so it would be unfair to establish a uniform tariff for each question. I have, therefore, devised an overall self-evaluation form at the end which you can use to work out your general disposition to critical professional learning.

1. Does critical professional learning require leadership?
Prompt: what about administration, management and coordination; and collaborative, joint and self-leadership?

2. Is there or should there be an orthodox and official approach to critical professional learning?
Prompt: whose purpose is being fulfilled by critical professional learning?

3. Should critical professional learning be timed, targeted and tidy: confined to events?
Prompt: could you tell your colleagues to stop thinking because time had run out?

4. Is critical professional learning a loop or a spiral?
Prompt: does it stop or lead somewhere?

5. What is ‘professional penicillin’?
Prompt: should we always consider unexpected evidence for unintended outcomes?

6. Do mistakes and critical professional learning go together?
Prompt: if you think they do could you persuade an inspector to accept this?

7. Does reflexive professional learning lead to a critical voice?
Prompt: seriously now, how easy is it to arrange for colleagues to learn while interacting?

8. What value do you give to partnered and collaborative critical professional learning?
Prompt: is it possible to arrange to learn as a professional from and with colleagues, irrespective of status?

9. Would you recommend to colleagues some risk taking and that they continue to ‘fail better’?
Prompt: and if Ofsted are asking for your self-evaluation?

10. Should we be attempting to achieve the best quality subjective judgements?
Prompt: is objectivity ever achievable?

11. Is it worth trying to continuously improve?
Prompt: might critical professional learning mean the same as improvement?

12. Should government proposals be subject to critical professional scrutiny?
Prompt: is it the role of professionals in education to implement or to engage with government policy?

13. Have words such as ‘improvement’, ‘modernisation’, ‘effective’ and ‘reform’ been devalued because the government constantly applies them to its policies?
Prompt: do we ever dispute the way such words are used?

14. Should teachers and related professionals listen more to children (in fact, to all learners)?
Prompt: if, according to the government, parents are customers what are children; do they too become customers once past the age of consent?

15. How much notice do we give to the notion of Socrates that value comes from the examined self?
Prompt: do we really allow ourselves the opportunity to ask serious questions about or interrogate our own professional learning?

16. Can evidence be intangible as well as tangible?
Prompt: intangible evidence about self-esteem, self-confidence and feeling well motivated is not easy to describe to others so should we forget it in favour of tangible evidence such as improved SAT scores?

17. Should we plan for evaluation?
Prompt: is planning for evaluation simply another way of improving thinking from the outset?

18. Should professionals get involved in defining the impact of professional learning?
Prompt: can we rise above merely trying to learn as professionals within a framework of standards?

Evaluating your disposition to critical professional learning

Having responded to the above questions now examine the following categories and decide which best describes you (and yes I am aware that the categories overlap in places but you are about to have a holiday so please take a relaxed approach).

Category A: The Proactive Professional

  • You are aware that there are other ways of doing things and other purposes than meeting externally given or derived targets.
  • You may possess NPQH or similar but feel that it lacked theory and critical reflection.
  • You know how to cope with inspection but wonder if it has anything at all to do with engendering a positive, enjoyable approach to learning for children.
  • You encourage colleagues to transform ‘failure’ into learning.
  • You know that measuring what is easy to measure is not the way to improve.
  • You are willing to take a few risks.

Category B: The Reactive Professional

  • Managing the CPD budget is very important to you.
  • Your database is up to date.
  • Meeting targets is a priority.
  • Implementing school policy dominates your actions.
  • Statutory Instruments are the first documents you consult before taking action.
  • You are compliant.

One last question: how do you know that professional learning and what happens in the classroom are connected?

This article first appeared in CPD Update – Dec 2006

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