As we begin the final term of the school year, Elizabeth Holmes offers eight top tips to help CPD coordinators refresh their policy and give the professional learning at their school a boost

Know how to listen and you will profit even from those who talk badly.
Plutarch

We are now in to the final push towards the end of the academic year, and it’s time to focus your efforts within CPD. However successful professional and personal learning have been in your school so far, there is always room to push it a little further; extracting a little more learning and applying it a little more coherently. With this in mind, we offer eight top tips for even more successful professional learning.

No matter how successful you have been as a professional learning leader (and there is no doubt you will have had many successes), there is always scope for improvement. These ideas may help:

1. Devote some time to devising a definition of learning for your school, if it does not yet have one. A school’s reason for being is directly linked to learning; in fact, that is all it’s about. This means it is essential for all the staff at your school to share a definition of learning, so that you are united in your work as a learning institution. Remember, the definition must incorporate all members of your school’s community: pupils, parents, staff and governors should all be involved in learning processes. In particular, all staff should be utterly focused on their commitment to learn and develop from every situation they find themselves in.

2. Take a moment to go through the evaluations of professional learning that you have received. In particular, look out for negative responses. It seems that a lack of enthusiasm towards professional learning opportunities can be linked to perceptions of an increased workload. If there is a risk that learning is resisted for this reason, it will be important to refocus on it so that full benefit can be gained. It is always worth being suspicious when professional and personal learning is rejected. Dig around for the true reason.

3. Explore what factors might be preventing a curiosity about furthering professional and personal learning from flourishing at your school. It is natural for staff to be curious about opportunities for professional learning. If this does not seem to be the case in your school, or if it is but not consistently, find out why. A good place to start in this exploration is the extent to which staff experience wellbeing in your school.

4. Take a look at the inherent tension between individual and institutional needs for development. There are multiple pressures on staff development, all demanding satisfaction. The task for schools is to balance all those expectations so that progress is made. Making sure that staff have a central role to play in planning for professional and personal development, even when this is directly linked to your school’s overall development plan, is one way of retaining a sense of commitment and ownership.

5. Do a quick audit of the resources you use for professional learning. Are you using as much local expertise as you can, to keep costs down and enthusiasm high?

6. Aim to help staff learners understand the subtleties of development. A great analogy is that professional learning is like sunburn: you do not know how much you have been affected by it until after the event.

7. Reiterate the ‘change one thing’ mantra. After any professional learning that is undertaken, it will always be possible to make at least one positive change to practice. If this can be written up in a professional learning journal or reflected upon in some other way, the scope of the learning will be wider still.

8. Be a model of great learning. The more this can be infused throughout your school’s leadership team and the more staff can see that learning is something which everyone is engaged in all the time, the more fruitful your activities as a professional learning leader will be.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2009

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.

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