What Is Effective Continuing Professional Development?

Any discussion of what constitutes effective professional development needs to begin by asking effective for whom – the individual, the school and its pupils, or the education system as a whole? And for what?

The beneficiaries of CPD may not always over-lap, although in many cases they will; what is helpful for an individual is also likely to be of benefit both for pupils and the school. On the other hand, training to meet the latest government initiative may be effective for implementing a particular strategy but not necessarily for overall long-term development of staff. Effective professional development should ideally consist of steps and parameters which enhances pupil’s outcomes but also helps to bring about changes in practice and improves teaching, management and leadership skills and qualities. It should be ‘fit for purpose’ and be able to build upon the collective learning of its people. Exposure to and participation in a wide range of professional development opportunities are likely to bring about change in classroom and school practices. Any changes should, however, lead to improvement; we are not talking about change for change’s sake!

Ultimately, any CPD courses designed should lead to improvements the following five aspects

  • health
  • Safety
  • Fun in achievement
  • Contribute positively
  • Gain economic stability

Much has been written about what constitutes effective continuing professional development, but it should be remembered that the characteristics influencing effectiveness are multiple and highly complex. We should therefore begin with an important caveat: the technical and methodological problems of measuring direct effects or impact of continuing professional development especially on classroom performance – of both staff and pupils – are considerable. This is, amongst other reasons, because the term embraces a wide variety of modes and methods, and includes professional training, education and support. The number of variables to be taken into account is considerable.

Continuing Professional Development can only have an indirect impact on pupil learning and outcomes. Very few research studies have considered the relationship between the characteristics of professional development and any change in classroom teaching practice or the gains in pupil achievement or learning outcomes more broadly.

Effective continuing professional development could take a variety of forms but have a number of key characteristics. These include:

  • Clear identification of aims and objectives
  • Analysis of training needs
  • Ensure training and development activities
  • Match existing levels of expertise

Training needs are identified at different levels after appraisal and the drawing up of the development plan. Opportunities for reflection are also important, as are action research, on-going evaluation and follow-up work. Effective training forms a part of a coherent program and is not a one off activity. The optimum use of existing resources and facilities are most likely when continuing development activities are well planned.