Hidden CPD

There’s a lot of audit noise made about CPD. To prove anything you need to log hours spent, declare the aims and the outcomes of the activity, evidence the impact, and so on. All of which encourages a model of CPD, and therefore of learning, based around measurable input leading to evidenceable output. There’s nothing wrong with this, and lots of formal, planned CPD is valuable and valid. With the audit hungry culture of education which prizes evidence of performance over the performance itself, this kind of CPD all fits rather neatly.

So yes, do the formal training events, the workshops, the conferences, and so on. Absolutely. Let me be very clear on this: these things can be very very useful indeed. Get out there. Find time. (They can be abysmal, as well: my pet hate is the overpaid consultant – i.e. most of them – who talks at you for two hours about how you should be interacting with learners and active learning, or who bores you rigid with a bunch of stuff you already knew about stretch and challenge). 

However, today I would like to speak in praise of the CPD that dare not speak its name. There is no evidencing of impact, no formal reflection model, no performance managed process at all. The CPD I mean is responsive, tailored to meet individual teachers’ needs, practical, often quickly applicable, and so achieves high levels of teacher engagement with the process. If this were a teaching methodology it would be awesome.

It goes like this: teacher A comes into the staff room: 

  • Teacher A: “oh man, that was terrible, the students were totally flummoxed by that, and I need to revisit it again tomorrow. But I can’t do it the same way… Nightmare!”
  • Teacher B: “yeah, I know what you mean, I tried that and it went like that too. But then I tried [gives explanation] and it worked really well.”
  • Teacher C: “You know, maybe you could try it this other idea [explains]?”
  • Teacher A: “I tried that too, but this happened. Any ideas?”

This could continue for some time, by the end of which, teacher A has a bunch of practical ideas for the next class, and probably a few others, as do the other teachers involved in the process. Many of these ideas will be used, and learner experience is improved and teachers develop. 

The impact of this kind of CPD is pretty profound and immediate, but I think that if we were to try and performance manage the process, you would lose some of the benefit brought about by high levels of engagement. Creating online staff social networks, for example, and saying that you have to engage by posting a certain number of times a week may have an impact, but it doesn’t recreate the spontaneous giving and taking of the staff room conversation. Imposition of a system more or less automatically creates barriers, because it becomes a thing you have to do whether you feel so inclined or not. The very fact that the staff room discussion is self-monitored and self-managed, not to mention unrecorded, is part of what creates the engagement. Certainly online activities will only really be taken up by those who already engage: online chats via Twitter, for example, can be brilliant and informative, but these are on an opt-in basis, and engagement is unenforced.

Formal “open” workshops could go some way to creating a managed version of these: something like the community of enquiry approach where questions are posed by participants, before being categorised, democratically selected, and discussed. This could work, but still won’t quite capture the immediate practicality of the staff room discussion.

All of which is fine. Because, if you’ll forgive the pretentious metaphor, by pinning down the butterfly of learning, (and let’s not forget that CPD is learning) you preserve some aspect of its value, but much of that value is lost. I don’t want to have to log every developmental discussion, or be forced into a developmental discussion that I don’t want to have. Enough of my professional life is performance-managed into disengagement already, thanks. I value those spontaneous conversations above and beyond most other CPD interaction, and so I want to keep them that way.

I’ll close with an entirely true anecdote which I wanted to use somewhere here, but simply couldn’t find a place. It links to the notion of evidencing impact. I had an email from our staff development team last week saying I had an “outstanding reflection” on a training event, which confused me somewhat. After all, I hadn’t written one yet, so how could it be Outstanding? 



  1. Hi Sam,
    Spontaneous discussions with colleagues in the staffroom after a disastrous classroom experience were the second most useful form of CPD for me during my formative years before the internet existed. Books and conferences are useful but are not helpful if you have to face the same students again almost immediately – the next, or even same day. Sometimes I didn’t actually adopt any of their suggestions but they got me out of the feeling of paralysis that prevented me from looking for a solution.

    The most useful form of CPD was learning to observe my students and let them be the guide to what I did in the classroom. If something wasn’t working to admit it to myself do something else 𝒊𝒎𝒎𝒆𝒅𝒊𝒂𝒕𝒆𝒍𝒚. I sometimes, but not always, explained to the students why I’d changed the activity.

    I don’t often comment, but I’m one of your assiduous lurkers.

  2. Hi all.
    I have just conducted a survey amongst ESOL teachers and when asked “In which country did you undertake your teacher training?” more than half answered “In UK”. Should we be worried that so many think that UK is a country?

  3. All too true, a great explanation of exactly my and many others pain.
    If you want to learn more about how a teacher has created something on those lines try http://www.teacherhelpuk.co.uk and check out the free oasis assessment and free portal there.
    Asking for help in a human way that evokes a directed answer is the way forwards and instant help online within a few minutes is provided.
    I blog regularly on self help cpd as I genuinely feel like #thecavalryaintcoming anytime soon.
    Hope that helps.
    Shaf x

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