Tags: Continuing Professional Development | CPD Coordinator | CPD provision | Networks and Networking

The General Teaching Council of England’s Connect network provides a national mechanism for teachers to keep in contact with each other. Jane Hough, the GTC’s professional networks facilitator, describes some of the ways it helps CPD leaders to pool their knowledge

While opportunities for teachers’ professional development have been growing steadily over the last few years, arguably it’s never had quite the level of attention that it’s currently enjoying. Several factors are driving this refreshing rise to prominence on the educational agenda. These include the new arrangements for performance management and revised professional standards, which come into effect from September this year. Both initiatives give added emphasis to continuing professional development (CPD) as an integral part of school improvement and career progression. They also pose a number of interesting quandaries for teachers, particularly those who lead CPD in their schools. For example, what’s the relationship between assessing a teacher’s performance and meeting their professional development needs? And how does the goal of universal participation balance with tailoring opportunities for the individual teacher? Connect – the GTC’s network for those who lead CPD in schools – is helping to explore some of these major questions. Set up in 2003, Connect supports teachers in schools throughout England to pool their knowledge and expertise, through regular workshops, conferences and project groups. Twice-termly emails offer a wealth of fresh thinking, encouraging teachers to share ideas that work in practice, delivering tangible benefits in the classroom and beyond.   Increasingly, local authorities and groups of schools benefit from thriving networks of CPD leaders who readily exchange information and ideas. Yet we know from our regular meetings with teachers that too many continue to work in relative isolation. Connect offers a particularly welcome helping hand for these teachers, enabling them to make vital links with their colleagues. With at least one in six schools in England currently represented in the network, the GTC believes that Connect provides the only national mechanism for teachers to touch base with each other. Many teachers also feel that they gain personally from becoming an active participant. As one member comments: ‘I feel that Connect has enabled my career to move forwards.’ A customised approach A topical area of our current work is building upon the advice we submitted to government in January this year. This calls for a more tailored approach to teachers’ learning, in a vision that is based upon the GTC’s conversations with teachers about their needs and aspirations. In a nutshell, just as today’s students expect learning opportunities to be matched to their needs, so do increasing numbers of teachers. And it’s a method that pays clear dividends. Our own and others’ research shows that the most effective professional development takes, as its starting point the individual teacher, who is motivated to take ownership of their learning and development from the outset. CPD is then more likely to be relevant and sustained over time, achieving greater impact for teachers, children and young people. Last year, we brought together school-based CPD leaders and local authority advisers to discuss some of the issues involved in turning such a customised approach into reality. Several key pointers emerged from our meeting. These included the crucial importance of effectively leading CPD, with a clear link between high quality CPD leadership and successful learning for both teachers and pupils. To continue to take this work forward, we invited local authorities to submit proposals for projects that would further explore a personalised approach to CPD. Eight projects were eventually selected. They include work in north London examining the future role of the local authority, asking whether it might be provider, facilitator or broker. Another, taking place in Blackpool, explored the professional development needs of early career teachers, while a third, based in Medway, looked at devising CPD opportunities for long-serving teachers, who had opted not to pursue leadership roles. (See the case studies below for more detailed information about some of the projects.)   New developments In June, 50 CPD leaders from across England attended an event we organised to disseminate some of the results discovered to date, learn about our latest research commissioned from CUREE on strategic CPD leadership and explore what the future might hold. During the day, participants were asked questions such as: what is their vision of personalised CPD? What is helping them to achieve it? What else do they need? In addition, several challenges were pinpointed, including how to engage those teachers who remain cynical; ensuring equity of access, particularly for supply teachers and those working in smaller schools; and overcoming budgetary constraints, whereby investment in CPD can too often be relegated to the back of the queue. Interestingly, when participants were asked to identify opportunities, both performance management and the new professional standards were seen as a means of relaunching and refocusing CPD. This shifting context ensures that stimulating times lie ahead for those involved in leading CPD in their schools and local authorities – and it’s a journey that the GTC is keen to share. To that end, Connect is launching a variety of projects that will begin next term, with some expected to run for at least one year. Firstly, we’re organising local learning forums, giving teachers the chance to explore the challenges and successes they’re witnessing on the ground, as the changes unfold. We want to hold smaller events around the country to be more accessible to our members. Importantly, what we learn through these forums will also inform the national debate, and this is the unique aspect of the GTC networks: that teacher views can inform our national policy work. Our work with CPD leaders creates a two-way flow of research and evidence-based learning, policy and practice between teachers and the GTC. We’re also looking at developing web resources for CPD leaders, both new and experienced in role, plus encouraging the dissemination of practice, by inviting schools to become case studies or offering their practice for our successful series ‘One CPD idea that works’. Entries in the latter series include ideas on:

  • making the most of your meeting time
  • learning by shadowing other teachers
  • sharing good practice
  • keeping track of your CPD
  • key-stage collaborative CPD.

Two further projects involve CPD for special educational needs and the Every Child Matters agenda, which will also involve our policy and research colleagues.   To take part in any of these projects, first you need to join Connect.

To find out more, visit: www.gtce.org.uk/networks/connect

You can find out about the two other GTC networks, Engage (supporting new teachers) and Achieve (promoting racial equality) at www.gtce.org.uk/networks

This article first appeared in CPD Update – Jul 2007

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