6: Revisiting professional development

Session Elements

  • reflection
  • practical exercise

Learning Intentions for this session

You will learn that:
8.1 Effective professional development is likely to be sustained over time, involve expert support or coaching and opportunities for collaboration.
8.7 Engaging in high-quality professional development can help teachers improve.
You will learn how to:
Develop as a professional, by:
8a. Engaging in professional development focused on developing an area of practice with clear intentions for impact on pupil outcomes, sustained over time with built-in opportunities for practice.


In the ECT training session at the beginning of this module, you considered some important aspects of what it means to be (a) professional and approaches to managing your professional development over time. This has been expanded through subsequent sessions in the module. In this week’s self-directed study session, you have the opportunity to revisit your thinking around professional development and to explore opportunities to continue to develop yourself over time.

Research and Practice Summary

This reading will help you understand some of the theory behind this week’s topic. We will start by introducing some of the key concepts (these are in bold). You will also see some suggestions on how to put these concepts into practice. When using these concepts in your own practice, you will need to take account of your pupils’ characteristics, the context of your classroom and the nature of the material that you are teaching.

Improving Harry’s questioning

Harry is a very effective teacher who works hard to keep improving. His pupils are doing well and enjoy their English lessons, and Harry’s colleagues recognise the excellent work he is doing.

Following a series of peer observations with colleagues, Harry has decided that he wants to further develop his use of questioning.

What should Harry think about when planning relevant professional development?

During the early years of your career, you can make rapid progress in your development as a teacher through effective professional development. Not all professional development is equally powerful, though – the types of professional development and how you engage with it make all the difference.

Overall, there is limited evidence that directly tests different forms of professional development. However, there are a number of important features that researchers think are associated with effective professional development.

Key features of effective professional development include:

  • focus – having a specific focus on something that is likely to improve pupil outcomes is a central feature of effective professional development. If professional development is too broad or focuses on things unlikely to benefit pupils, then it is unlikely to be effective at improving teaching overall
  • collaboration and expert challenge – working with colleagues, particularly with relevant expertise, can make professional development more motivating. Colleagues can also provide support and challenge to help you develop, both informally and through a more formalised coaching relationship
  • sustained – one-off professional development tends not to be very effective. Most changes to how you teach require sustained focus and effort. This is especially important for changing habits, such as how you get a class to pay attention
  • practice – there is often a big gap between ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’. Practice, sustained over time, can help you to embed habits and routines so that you can move from simply knowing about an aspect of effective teaching to using it regularly and purposefully

As you have already learnt, reflection is an important part of developing as a professional. It can help you to identify progress made, recognise strengths and weaknesses, and identify next steps in your continued improvement.

However, it is important to remember that your judgement alone can be fallible, but you can complement your reflections with information from other sources. Combining these sources of information with your professional judgement gives you the best chance of developing as a teacher.

Other sources of information to guide your professional development:

  • research evidence – using high-quality research evidence can guide you towards ‘best bets’ which are most likely to improve learning. This includes focusing your effort where it is most likely to matter, working out how to use your energy most effectively and avoiding fads that are not supported by evidence. When using evidence, it is crucial to remember two guiding questions: ‘is this evidence credible?’ and ‘is this evidence applicable to my own context?’
  • feedback from colleagues – colleagues can bring a fresh perspective and may have specialist knowledge that can help you to improve. Seeking their constructive challenge, feedback and critique can help you to improve
  • pupil data and views – ultimately, effective teacher professional development is about improving pupil outcomes. Therefore, it is important to use information about pupils, including their views, to inform your reflections. However, it is important to be mindful of the limitations of the data you are using and to exercise professional judgement in interpreting this data, as you would in all cases

Harry’s professional development

Harry knows that effective questioning can fulfil many different purposes, including checking pupils’ prior knowledge. Therefore, questioning is a powerful way of supporting pupils’ learning. Harry also knows about some of the things that research evidence suggests can improve questioning, including:

  • prompting pupils to elaborate when responding to ensure that correct answers stem from a secure understanding
  • allowing sufficient thinking time after posing questions
  • targeting a range of pupils to answer questions, rather than relying on volunteers to respond to provide a better overview of the understanding of all pupils in a group

Despite knowing these things, Harry routinely finds that he does not do them consistently, instead reverting to old habits in the midst of classroom activity – this is the gap between ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’. These ‘old habits’ are well-embedded, and it will require sustained effort to improve Harry’s approaches to questioning. To achieve this, Harry decides to focus on the three areas identified and to make this a sustained focus of his professional development. He actively plans lots of opportunities to practise, sometimes scripting out key questions or interactions in advance of a lesson. He also works with colleagues who provide advice about refining his questioning techniques, and he arranges to have some coaching and feedback over a 6-week period from an expert colleague. Harry’s coach provides ongoing support and challenge around his goal of improving his questioning. Harry finds that this sustained focus on the 3 areas he’s identified over a period of time really helps him to embed improved approaches to questioning in his practice.

Self-Study Activities

Review: 10 mins

Read the Research and Practice Summary on this week’s topic. As you read, reflect on:

  1. the practices you are already doing well
  2. the practices you are doing some of the time, but could do more of/more consistently
  3. the practices you don’t use in your teaching yet

As you work through the activities in this week’s self-directed study session and mentor meeting, aim to both refine and extend what you already do well, and to build your skill and confidence in using practices which are not yet a regular part of your teaching repertoire.

Plan and Theory to Practice: 30 mins

1. Reflection

Now repeat the activity in step 1 but with reference to other professional development activities that you have engaged with this year. These could include:

  • in-school activities such as weekly teaching and learning updates
  • external activities supported by your school, such as attendance at exam board training
  • activities you have undertaken in your own time, such as reading relevant literature or attending a weekend conference

2. Practical exercise

Drawing on the Research and Practice Summary for this week, and on your own knowledge and experience of teacher professional development, sketch out a ‘menu’ of professional development opportunities that you think are relevant and useful to teachers in your phase and specialism. You will work further on this exercise in your next mentor meeting.

As you draft your notes, consider:

  • any costs associated with the opportunity (include time and monetary costs)
  • how the opportunity meets the criteria for effective professional development
  • how relevant the opportunity is for teachers in your phase and specialism
  • how easily accessible the opportunity is
  • why you think this is good professional development – how is it expected to improve your professional practice?

Next Steps: 5 mins

Bring your draft ‘menu’ of professional development opportunities to your next mentor meeting. Be ready to discuss this activity with your mentor.