Creating a positive professional development culture in schools

Professional development isn't always viewed positively. In this blog, we will outline some issues your school may have encountered and how you might overcome them.

Professional development in schools should benefit staff positively; however, it’s not always perceived in this way. Staff may view professional learning negatively for various reasons, and in the blog, we will outline some issues that your school might have faced and how to overcome them.

The negative perception of professional development

Recent research from TeacherTapp shows that professional development in schools is not always viewed highly: around a third of classroom teachers believe performance evaluation and CPD play a crucial role in improving teacher practice*. Reasons for the negativity can vary; for example, the process can be seen as a box-ticking exercise with staff having little to no say in their development or that staff struggle to see value in the process.

It’s very difficult to shake the negativity associated with professional development, but here are our suggestions to improve.

Teachers discussing in meeting

Separate your professional development efforts

Jo Lynch, Product Consultant for Sisra Observe, regularly discusses professional development and teacher development with schools and school leaders. One of the main problems is usually associated with the stance on professional development and how this can cause a cultural issue.

Jo has found that the most successful schools separate out their professional development and observation processes and put a CPD programme in place at the start of employment. Separating these processes helps teachers to view professional learning as a reflection process and a journey to better their practice and career.

Removing the perception that observations and professional development are a hard link helps education professionals to view professional learning as a process to support their skills and knowledge, not because they need to improve because of an Ofsted inspection.

A positive culture is set from the top

Professional development and learning culture are set from the top. Senior leaders in your school can help to create and support this culture by leading by example, including attending CPD courses, classroom sessions and all staff training.

When senior leaders are visibly present and open to furthering their own skills, it helps to show a willingness to other staff members in your school. Demonstrating that whether you are an ECT or have been in the profession for 30 years, all levels of educators can be developed.

Teachers in one to one meeting

High-quality professional development is important

It might seem obvious that high-quality professional development should be a given, but not all CPD is the same quality. When a programme is put in place, you may want to consider the following:

  • Recent: Make sure that when you’re asking staff to participate in professional development and asking for their time, it needs to be worthwhile. The content needs to be recent, evidence-based and put into practice by a professional in the relevant field.
  • Relevant: There is no use putting a professional development programme in place if it is irrelevant to the audience. When a programme is being outlined, ask your staff where they feel they need development and be mindful of your school’s overall goals. Creating open communication will help staff feel autonomy over their learning instead of a programme that has been outlined without their say.
  • Robust: Make sure learning is robust and that it can make real improvements to the individual and the school. Allow staff to suggest where they feel they need improvements and how this aligns with the organisation’s goals.

Listen to your staff

As previously mentioned, your staff’s time is precious, so you want to ensure that it’s worthwhile when putting a professional development programme in place. Listening to your staff’s needs and wants regarding their professional and personal learning is imperative. For example, your approach needs to change if your staff members feel that they don’t learn well with a one-to-all style. Giving your staff a voice in their professional development will help them gain trust in the process and build upon the learning culture your school wants or should want to create.

Ask for feedback

Ways in which you can help make sure that your staff’s opinions are being heard could be through surveys or feedback forms. You may also wish to allow staff a section for suggestions or areas in which they feel they personally need training, without any stigma attached. Building an open forum will help staff to feel that they’re being listened to and that their opinions are essential to the school. You might not get your professional development programme right from the start, but your staff can have a say in moulding the process to benefit them and the school.

In conclusion

Overall, changing your school’s culture is not an easy task, but it can be achieved. Listening to your staff, leading by example and showing that professional learning is worthwhile will help create a positive culture of learning and reflection in your schools.


*TeacherTapp research carried out by Juniper Education