Ten questions to ask yourself about your CPD policy and your performance as leader of CPD so far this year.
How might you know if your CPD policy is any use or merely an ornament? There is so much advice available from government and its agents these days and so much commercial material on offer that CPD Update has decided to try get to grips with the whole business of continuing professional development by formulating a set of questions to help you make sense of the professional learning that takes place as a result of your CPD policy. The questions are designed to work for individuals, groups of professionals working together, schools, schools working together and also working with other partners. As well as helping to check how a CPD policy is working, these questions can help you to formulate one. The exercise is based on the notion that the main purpose of a CPD policy is the exploration of professional practice. It also adopts the view that good communication is crucial to good CPD. These questions have not been formulated to address concerns raised by Ofsted, the DfES or the TDA. They have, however, in one form or another, been tested over 10 years, with more than 2,000 teachers, and in more than one country, to see if they help teachers and schools make useful sense of their professional lives. Each question is accompanied by some prompts to act as guidance. They are presented here for you to adopt, adapt or think of something better; but mainly to help generate some further critical thinking about CPD.
Since, however, this is our last issue before the holidays, we have decided to present this as though it were a holiday quiz. There is a tariff for your responses to the questions in order that you will be able to return to school in the new year and astound your colleagues with how well you have scored.
1. Have you really explored professional life?
Prompts Could you demonstrate that you and your colleagues decided upon an area or areas of professional life that needed to be looked at more closely? If you have explored something it must have been unknown territory that you needed to explore otherwise why organise an expedition?
What area or areas of professional life did you decide to explore? How did you know that it needed exploring? Did you carry out a thorough needs analysis on an individual, group or whole-school basis?
How well have you done? If you and/or colleagues carried out serious needs analysis such as outlined in previous issues of CPD Update you can award yourself 10 points here. If you merely asked people what they wanted (in fact, if the word ‘want’ rather than ‘need’ appeared anywhere in your policy) you can only award yourself 5 points.
If you limited professional exploration to sending colleagues on courses to use up the budget I am afraid the score is zero.
2. Did you or colleagues, before starting, identify a range of appropriate sources of information, including literature?
Prompts This might have included people, academic works, official documentation, school-based and personal professional materials and policy documents.
Do you believe that the sources you decided to call upon were relevant and appropriate?
How well have you done? If you have systematically put together, or made sure that colleagues put together, a well balanced range of sources of information to consult prior to the professional exploration then award yourself 10 points. If the sources were confined to only one of the following you must limit your score to 5 points: 1. official, regulatory and inspection sources 2. practical, professional sources or 3. academic and theoretical sources. If there was no attempt to systematically engage with sources of information then the award is zero.
3. How did you use your sources of information?
Prompts Did you, for example, use the sources of information to make more clear the questions you wanted to ask? Did you use these sources of information to help you work out how to make a better plan for the exploration?
Did you ensure that you extracted the most possible from your sources (for example, the discovery of further sources)?
How well have you done? If you have addressed all of the points made in the prompts above give yourself 10 points. If you have addressed only some of the prompts then give yourself five points.
If your sources failed to provide any enlightenment then either you did not interrogate them effectively or they were badly chosen. Your score is zero.
4. How systematic were you when you began this exploration?
Prompts Did you have a purpose? What approach (methods) or kind of plan did you adopt? How did you know that the approach and method(s) adopted or plan you made was suitable for the purpose?
Were you aware of any limitations in the way that you planned to carry out the exploration?
How well have you done? If you can demonstrate that your plan or method(s) was appropriate to your purpose and that you are aware of its limitations then award yourself 10 points. If you believe that you have planned very well but cannot see any limitations then maybe you can have five points.
If your plan or methods are designed only to discover evidence to match your hypothesis(es) then it is a case of nul point.
5. Can you describe what happened during the exploration?
Prompts A good description will be sequential where it needs to be: it will not confuse a reader or listener. If you cannot describe what happened you cannot disseminate. It will also mention the key features of your professional exploration. It might, for example, have featured children, parents and colleagues engaged in particular activities.
You might also describe the key factors affecting it; in other words, those things that influenced the outcomes, some of which might not have been foreseen. But that is halfway to answering question six.
How well have you done? If your description of what happened during the exploration has led to effective dissemination, including the stimulation of critical reflection by colleagues leading to further professional exploration, then award yourself 10 points. If your description was too little or too long or too unclear so that the dissemination process felt unsatisfactory then the score can only be five points.
If your description generated more confusion than clarity I’m afraid it’s zero again.
6. Can you reflect critically on the exploration?
Prompts Do you believe that you can identify strengths, weaknesses and significance in the way you explored professional life? Can you make any comparisons between different professional explorations or CPD activities or say something useful about the professional past, present and future? Are there any weaknesses or gaps or inconsistencies in the way you approached the exploration? Might you do things differently if you were starting out again?
Is the evidence for what you discovered strong, weak, significant or insignificant?
How well have you done? If the professional learning that took place included a comprehensive examination of the significance of what you found out and how you went about it then you may have 10 points. If you merely reflected upon the results without thinking about how you approached things then the score may not rise above five.
If you believe that there were no problems, no evidence for unintended professional learning and no weaknesses in the way that you planned things then you are unlikely to have reflected with any seriousness and may have no more than zero.
7. Have you identified key concepts and general principles that relate to evidence?
Can you connect ideas and evidence? Can you justify conclusions you have drawn about the presence of ideas, concepts or principles? Can you explain why and where evidence does or does not support conclusions about concepts such as differentiation by task and by outcome or leadership or impact? Have you made any claims like this that cannot be justified?
How well have you done? If, before you make any claims for the significance of the ideas that you have identified, you believe that you have not merely identified ideas but clearly related them to evidence, including any unexpected evidence that might indicate unintended outcomes of value, give yourself 10 points. If you have a general belief that certain concepts have arisen from, or been made clear by, your professional exploration but are having difficulty showing where and how evidence supports this then give yourself five points.
If you cannot recognise any concepts then the score is nil.
8. Can you relate specific professional learning to global?
Prompts Are there any signs that what you have learned from professional exploration has significance for, or connects with, the wider context in which you operate, for example the socio-political context, the relationship between one professional role and another, the relationship between one theory and others or one part of the school and another or the whole school?
Can you apply the conclusions drawn from the study of one particular exploration to a wider professional context?
How well have you done? If you can show that what has been learned relates to the whole school or the wider community in which it operates then give yourself 10 points. (By the way, this is not the same as fitting in unquestioningly to school plans because the result of a professional exploration may be to show the school where it needs to go next). If the connections between the specific and the global are of limited use then give yourself five points.
If the professional learning from this professional exploration is not worth disseminating then it’s zero.
9. Can you show that in talking to, or writing for, colleagues you have a clear and coherent style, including the use of argument and use of pertinent examples?
Prompts Is your meaning clear? Can others follow the structure of what you have to say? Are your arguments, conclusions and recommendations supported by evidence?
Is there a useful response to what you have to say?
How well have you done? In order to get 10 points you do not have to get everyone to agree with you but you should be able to show that dissemination also gets colleagues to engage with issues, ideas and proposals. If you are under the impression that no one disagrees but they cannot be bothered to ask questions then it’s only five points.
If dissemination leads to confusion then it’s zero.
10. Can you show that the exploration has involved independent enquiry, thought and voice leading to conclusions and recommendations for policy and/or practice?
Prompts Can you show why you believe the subject and results of the exploration(s) to be important or significant? Can you show that your own (or your colleagues’) ideas, questions, conclusions are not simply borrowed from those of known theory, official requirements or previous school policy?
Can you indicate the ways in which your own approaches and thinking differ from or are similar to those of others?
How well have you done? If you can show that strong professional voices are emerging, give yourself 10 points. If you believe that the emerging voices of colleagues are being drowned by you or by official or academic orthodoxies then it’s only five points.
If you believe that all CPD in your school is about doing what others (you, senior managers and leaders, academics, inspectors, government or its agents) tell you then it’s zero.
100 means you are too good for this job and should be running the UN.
50-100 means that you are a professional paragon, respected by all.
0-50 means that you must be a member of the government.