I recently attended a conference session on the importance of CPD, at which the presenter encouraged us to reflect on the acronym and what we understood by it. Interestingly, we discovered we didn’t all share the same assumptions about the phrase. ‘Continuing?’ ‘Continuous?’ ‘Career?’ ‘Professional?’ ‘Personal?’ In some schools, the letter ‘L’, for Learning, was added to the phrase. In others, the term ‘Professional Learning’ has replaced ‘CPD’ altogether.
This isn’t simply a semantic distinction. It’s worth considering what CPD/CPDL/PL means to us – to teachers and leaders, including headteachers – and whether we continue to invest in it throughout our careers.
The term ‘CPD’ in education was coined in the 1980s and originally stood for ‘Continuing Professional Development’, as opposed to ‘Initial Teacher Training’. The idea was that once your teacher training was completed, you would embark on an ongoing professional journey.
When I ask teachers and leaders about CPD, I find that many simply see CPD as ‘going on a course’. I’d suggest that external training is actually only a part of CPD, and arguably not the most productive part. Secondly, many believe that CPD is about securing promotion, particularly for further leadership responsibility, and think that those who don’t seek leadership positions are less likely to need CPD, or be interested in it.
I’d suggest that CPD is particularly important for those who don’t intend to change their role, or perhaps their school. Having access to professional development opportunities which stimulate, challenge and energise us is crucial if we’re to remain engaged, satisfied and fulfilled.
So what of headteachers? This role may be the pinnacle of your career, and you may have no aspirations for further career progression. Is CPD therefore irrelevant? I would suggest the following three reasons for why it most certainly is relevant.
1. We’ve never ‘cracked it’
We’re all personal and professional works in progress. There’s always more to learn, which is one of the reasons why working in schools is so appealing and fascinating. In my experience, the best teachers want to be better teachers and the best leaders want to be better leaders. CPD offers us opportunities to reflect, through our reading; through collaboration with, and learning from, others; through experimentation and review.
2. We need to understand ourselves
Headteachers must be aware of their strengths and those areas in which they’re developing. They need to work with senior leaders whose skills and talents complement their own for the good of the school, and they need to be sufficiently humble to be receptive to what they can learn from their senior team colleagues and others within their networks. Twitter, meetings and conferences give us opportunities to listen to and learn from those with different experiences and perspectives. Coaching can be invaluable.
3. Education never stands still
The one constant across my 30-year career was ‘change’. Then, as now, new challenges and opportunities continue to emerge all the time. How do we keep up to date and sufficiently well-informed so that we can meet these challenges and make the most of those fresh opportunities? Professional learning is key. Seek out and embrace training – be it beyond the school, or organised within the school – to ensure that you’re current, confident and capable. Read blogs and articles. Keep abreast of new publications and research. Discuss, debate and challenge your thinking.
You might well learn how to be even more successful in your school leader role, and your school will grow as a result.
Jill Berry is a leadership consultant, author and former headteacher