Putting the ‘Professional’ in Professional Development

This guest post written by Jon Tait @TeamTait.

Professional Development has been a hot topic of late….and not before time. My personal opinion of what teachers have been ‘subject’ to over far too many years has been far from professional. The Trade Description Act would have a field day if they had walked into most schools on a PD day over the last decade. How many times in your career have you sat through a talk on a professional development day where someone talks through a Powerpoint presentation line by line to the whole staff. Or even worse, a presentation on how to engage students delivered in this way! When it comes to professional development, we seem to forget the golden rules that we go by in the classroom and think that it doesn’t apply to adults.
The best (or worst) case that I have ever seen of this kind was witnessed in America and can be seen here….

However, as a profession we are slowly beginning to make this a thing of the past. School leaders are now looking at far more innovative ways in which to deliver professional development with the word ‘professional’ at the forefront of their thinking. This has been in part, due to the creative and innovative leaders that schools are now employing to drive forward teacher development, together the work of organisations like the Teacher Development Trust who have been campaigning for a higher quality of teacher development in all schools.

Take for instance the approach that I have adopted in my own school, Acklam Grange School in Middlesbrough. I have banned the word CPD due to the traditional negative connotations it has with the type of professional development I outlined in the opening paragraph. The majority of our sessions are now delivered in a flipped learning style with informative videos recorded for each session that teachers watch prior to attending. Digital badges are also awarded to staff who attend these voluntary sessions so they can build up their own portfolio of evidence to demonstrate that they are taking responsibility of their own high quality development.

However, in conversations with teachers from across the country, I still find that professional development is controlled by the school and not the individual. One look at the Department for Education’s Teacher Standards would suggest that this should not be the case:

A Teacher must….‘keep their knowledge and skills as teachers up-to-date’ and ‘take responsibility for improving teaching through appropriate professional development’

It is extremely unlikely that every teacher in your school will have the same professional development needs, so how are you ensuring that, just like you do with a mixed ability class, that you are providing enough differentiation to support the weaker members of the group whilst also stretching the top end?

One way of doing this is to actively encourage and support teachers in taking part in professional development activities away from your school. As school leaders we need to be less precious about where our teachers get developed and start embracing the rising number of high quality opportunities that are available for teachers in their own time. There once was a time that reading the TES supplement magazine on a Sunday morning was the height of cutting edge independent professional development. Keeping yourself up to date via this medium with government policy changes and the latest thoughts from educational journalists who’ve never taught 5 lessons in their life, never mind 5 in one day, was the most you could expect. But things have changed. With the explosion of free and easy to use technology, more and more current practitioners are writing their own blogs, producing their own videos and reviews and taking professional development to a new level. This has not only made high quality educational material far more accessible for teachers, but also given rise to far more ‘day to day’ teachers (and I mean that in the nicest way possible) speaking at conferences to packed halls of teachers. There had been a time when attending an education conference meant going to London to hear from the education minister, but this is slowly being over taken by conferences and events, run by teachers for teachers, with current serving practitioners being the big draw.


Many teachers now are beginning to recognise this as their default method of professional development, an approach that can be done when they want to and on the subjects and topics that they know they need to develop in. In the week prior to writing this article I saw 4 superb examples of this in action:

1) I, together with 150 teachers attended the ‘Talk on the Tyne’ teachmeet in Newcastle that started at 7pm and didn’t finish until 11pm on a Thursday evening.
2) At the same time on Thursday evening, the weekly ‘UkEdchat’ Twitter chat was taking place with hundreds of teachers all over the UK and beyond joining together on Twitter to talk about ‘Differentiation for All’.
3) 500 Teachers attended the ever popular ‘Northern Rocks – Reclaiming Pedagogy’ event on a Saturday in Leeds from 9am until 5pm.
4) Myself and 80 other teachers from across the globe logged in at 10am on a Saturday morning to watch the live #AppShareLive event on technology in education hosted by Mark Anderson and Rachel Smith.

But how many schools are crediting these teachers for the hours and hours that they are undertaking outside of their school building? Are the teachers that attended these amazing and inspirational events having to go back to their schools and sit through professional development sessions that don’t necessarily apply to them, just because the school say so? Or are they given the professional responsibility to build up a portfolio of evidence on how they truly are taking responsibility for improving their teaching through appropriate professional development’.

Let’s make sure our ‘professional’ development is true to it’s word.

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