CPD Update editor Cliff Jones outlines an activity designed to help teachers and colleagues to explore their professional needs and gain an early understanding of the kind of impact that might result from addressing those needs

Reading through Peter Seaborne’s report on the impact of PPD it seems to me that we must, once again, examine how we might set about making sense of professional learning needs.

The UCET guidance for evaluating the impact of postgraduate professional development (PPD) for teachers, also mentioned in the previous article, includes in the annex an activity for analysing needs.

Below, I have expanded this part of the guidance and attempted to exemplify how it might be used. You can see from the title that I am trying to emphasise the links between the start of a period of planned professional learning and the point at which you can make a confident claim about its impact.

Although this activity can be carried out by individual teachers (it takes about 45 minutes done like this) there are benefits from doing it in collaboration with colleagues. It is designed to help teachers and colleagues to articulate individual and group needs and the factors affecting them and to gain an early understanding of the kind of impact that might result from addressing these needs.

It can also be carried out as a means of feeding into school CPD policy. Indeed, it can be helpful to carry out the activity on behalf of a ‘thinking school’. In other words, you could ask the senior leadership team to complete the activity from the point of view of the whole school.

As leader of professional learning with negotiated access to what individuals have compiled and what senior leaders have compiled you will have the means of making sense of professional learning needs for both the thinking school and the thinking professional. A sound understanding of professional needs is an essential basis for good quality evaluation.

If you are leading this activity, particularly with a large group, try to keep up the momentum. It is better to leave someone or some group with an incomplete task and move on to the next than to wait until everyone has finished and some have become tired waiting for the others to catch up and so drifted off the subject. Some banter and humour may be expected and desirable.

1. Make an initial list of needs
Make a simple list of what you consider to be your or your group’s professional needs. They could be any set of skills, knowledge, understanding, experience, qualification or career change. You need to be as free as possible to include what you like. You may be influenced by performance management targets, National Strategy work, the National Standards, the Teacher Learning Academy or NCSL programmes in which you are participating. Allow your list to be really wide ranging so that you begin to see if there might be potential relationships between different aspects of your professional life. Do not confine yourself to what is easily measurable. In other words, you can include items relating to self-confidence, motivation and self-esteem.

2. Classify the source
Now try to classify the items in your list by identifying their source. In other words, are they:

  • entirely personal
  • derived from the school development or improvement plan or some other aspect of school policy 
  • in response to local authority policy 
  • in response to government policy 
  • representative of particular beliefs, concerns and values 
  • a combination of any of the above
  • derived from some other source?

3. Set the timescale
Next try to classify the items in your list in terms of timescale. It may help to see these as: short term (say, a few weeks); medium term (say, a few months); long term (say, a year or more); and continuous (these are the kinds of need that never go away). There is, by the way, no compulsion to confine yourself to these timescales. This activity is designed to support and not to constrain you. When, however, you check over your list you should be able to see that some items can be achieved quickly. This may give you a psychological lift but, perhaps more importantly, it makes the point that professional development is a natural process that can start at any time and that sometimes the way to achieve the longer-term targets is to see how they relate to the shorter-term ones. It will, nevertheless, be a good idea if you plot out your intentions on, say, a half-termly basis so that you can ‘forecast and review’ for yourself as you might for children.

4. What will the nature of the evidence for impact be?
Now move on to consider what you expect to be the nature of the evidence for impact that might help you to demonstrate that you have addressed or met your needs. Before you do this, however, remember that not all evidence of professional learning will be tidy, targeted and tangible. If, for example, one of your identified needs was improved professional self-esteem then the evidence may be somewhat intangible. Sometimes the only way that you can present such evidence is to write a convincing account of what it felt like to, say, lead for the first time a working party of colleagues and how this has led to a gain in professional confidence that has encouraged you to do more. For a school, visitors often remark on the atmosphere that they experienced. This is important but, because providing evidence is difficult, people often do not bother.

5. Will it be tangible or intangible?
So, the next step in the activity is to classify your expected evidence for impact as either tangible or intangible. This should help you to avoid any tendency to ignore evidence that is not straightforward and solid. You are beginning to establish here what you consider might be the signals of success (sometimes called success criteria or performance indicators).

6. Identify the controlling conditions
The next stage in this activity is to consider the conditions controlling the generation of the evidence. In other words, although you may, for example, have identified as a professional need the re-equipment of your classroom with 30 new computers it is unlikely that you have the power to control this much resource. You do, however, have the power to address a need to submit a proposal to senior management that there will be benefits from the allocation of such a resource. If control over the conditions for the generation of evidence that you have met your needs is in the hands of others you may be setting yourself up for failure. So, ask yourself the question, ‘Who has the power to affect my achievement as a professional: others or me?’ In the case of a whole school there can be numerous reasons why its performance is subject to the power of others.

Record your completion of this activity and place it as an appropriate appendix item in a portfolio of evidence. A useful table for setting this out would look like the one above, with as many rows as you require for each need, expanded as necessary. Remember, however, that this is a preliminary exercise that will be followed up. The examples above are just that: examples. It is possible that colleagues will simply list items of evidence. I have written in a more narrative form.

Next step
The purposes of the activity you have just completed were to help you analyse professional needs before you decide upon a set of intended professional outcomes and to think about how you might meet those needs and what they might mean in the form of professional impact.

Adapted from the annex to Postgraduate Professional Development Annual Impact Evaluation: UCET Guidance, which can be obtained from [email protected]