You may think that continuing professional development (CPD) is the bane of many teachers’ lives, and you may even have overheard it being described as one of the most boring things on earth. My recent involvement in a range of focus groups across the country tells a different story.

Staying up to date is essential in every profession – law, medicine, plumbing, engineering, catering, accountancy, healthcare, to name a few, and teaching is no different.

Like other professionals, teachers and trainers in further education and skills need to keep a record of their CPD and declare the number of hours spent every year and the type of development undertaken to their employer and to their professional body, the Institute for Learning (IfL).

Each year, as part of the monitoring process, IfL carries out a random in-depth sample to identify effective practice in CPD and prepares a ‘state of the nation’ report to share with its members and the sector, to help inform plans and priorities for CPD.

The 2011/12 CPD review will be our third, and this year we decided to organise 18 regional focus groups, two in each of the nine regions in England.

The participants were randomly selected from IfL’s database of members and invited to attend. To complement this, we arranged a series of local focus groups, hosted by more than 40 IfL CPD reviewers in the organisations where they work.

Together, these regional and local focus groups gave us a useful insight into members’ CPD this year. Hundreds of teachers and trainers analysed and shared with IfL their enthusiasm for CPD that inspires them and leads improvement, for the benefit of their learners.

As expected, the CPD undertaken by individuals over the year varied widely, reflecting the diverse nature of our sector, the vast number of subject areas covered, a wide age range and differing lengths of service in the teaching workforce. Much of the feedback we received, however, can be distilled into four important themes:

1. Sharing the outcomes of CPD constitutes excellent CPD in itself. Learning together about what is effective and what might be transferable is vital, and organisations need to recognise and support this form of sharing.

2. Planning ahead for CPD is difficult for teachers in further education and skills. Schoolteachers and university lecturers can usually plan ahead, but our sector has to be more flexible and responsive, and many CPD needs emerge as the year progresses. What seems to be significant is that ad hoc, and in many cases self directed, professional development often has the most impact on teaching and learning.

3. In times of uncertainty, CPD to enhance a career profile and readiness for job changes or opportunities is vital. This sometimes means accredited CPD (such as master’s degrees) but also increasing breadth of experience in teaching and subject specialisms.

4. For maximum impact, it is important to involve learners in development activities. This deepens the relationship between the teacher or trainer and the learner and extends beyond surface evaluations to deep learning.

As part of its commitment to supporting members’ CPD, IfL has created an online community for members to share ideas, resources and information with each other, and to discuss the issues that are important to their teaching and training practice and professional development.

It is clear from the exchanges between members posting comments on this forum that they find sharing details of their CPD useful and empowering, as these snippets show:

“I have found that I feel more confident about trying something new in the classroom if I know it has already worked with someone else.”

“One of my colleagues from another teaching institution sends me her CPD via REfLECT [the online personal learning space that IfL gives members to plan, record and assess the impact of CPD on their practice]. Her CPD always motivates me and I feel encouraged to do more.”

“I think it’s a great idea to share CPD and to consider what actually constitutes this. What I have found to be really useful whilst in training sessions and what I feel has made a difference is when practitioners share ideas and resources and how they use these with different student groups.”

Continuing Professional Development is the bane of many teachers’ lives”

“This can really impact on an individual’s development by giving a more holistic insight into how to accommodate learners’ needs and can help inform future practice.”

One member described his happiness at being able to engage with other practitioners online:

“I have always found it difficult to share CPD in practice because historically the college timetable did not allow for informal meetings. I was sharing a particular classroom and desk arrangement with my other colleagues that could be described as ‘hot desking’ followed by ‘hot rooming’.
“When taken in concert with having to recruit, enrol, and record outcomes for learners on a rolling Skills for Life programme, this led to minute glimpses of genius being flittered away in the corridors of learning … Thank you for letting me join this forum; hope my contributions help.”

Teaching methods are continually being reviewed to reflect technological developments and changes in demand from employers.

Recent innovations include, for example, the increasing use of the Apple iPad for group work in sessions; creating YouTube films for presentations; using coloured cards for students to indicate their levels of understanding, so that the teacher gets instant and nuanced feedback from learners to see where more reinforcement of learning is needed; and other methods of assessment for learning based on robust research evidence of teaching that works and is suited to the context of FE and skills.

IfL is working with other sector agencies, including the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS), JISC and others, to ensure that teachers and trainers in further education and skills have access to CPD that helps them stay up to date in teaching methods and technological innovations, for the benefit of their learners.

IfL members are also likely to belong to the professional bodies representing their specialist subject or vocational area, and we are keen to encourage their commitment to staying up to date in their chosen specialism, as well as in teaching and training.

Their dual professionalism is a distinguishing factor for teachers and trainers in our sector, and the reason why they are vital to this country’s economy at a time when teaching essential skills to young and adult learners alike has never been more important.

IfL’s approach to CPD sampling for 2011/12 has involved increasing the opportunities for collaborative reflection across the country, generating great energy, critical review and creativity for the very best CPD.

This is an important role of the professional body for teachers and trainers in our sector.

IfL’s next report on CPD will be published in December 2011, and will be available online at www.ifl.ac.uk.

You can download previous CPD annual reports from IfL’s website:

2008-09 IfL review of CPD – Making a difference for teachers, trainers and learners
2009-10 IfL review of CPD – Excellence in professional development: looking back, looking forward

You can also watch a video of one of the CPD Focus Groups by clicking here