Nick Dennis's Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Tag: CPD

CPD Review

I took over the CPD programme at Berkhamsted in 2013 and after considering the work at Cramlington Learning Village, I devised a programme that:

  • was role specific;
  • included research bursaries for action research;
  • catered for personal well-being as well as pedagogical concerns;
  • enabled teachers at school to access leading experts through twilight sessions and the TLAB conferences by staying in the school grounds.


At the end of each twilight CPD session, I send a survey to all staff asking for a rating and comments on the session itself (comments are anonymous). This is an important part of any project in school – close monitoring allows for calibration and circumvents frustration from colleagues. The stats for this year are below:

  • 89% think the sessions were useful (up from 83% last year);
  • 6% think the sessions were not useful (down from 12% last year).
  • 5% were unsure about the usefulness of the session (same as last year).

Although pleased that the usefulness rating has increased, there is still more work to be done on the making sure the sessions are relevant to everyone and this will form the focus for next year. The online CPD portal (built in SharePoint) will be available for staff to request CPD and be linked to their professional development targets created by the appraisal system. On the ‘unsure’ rating, the contextual comments were usually focussed on the need to think more carefully about the training in relation to the teacher’s work. I think this is a good thing – the ‘slow hunch‘ or diffuse thinking is an essential process in making ideas stick.

Next year, I will hand over the CPD project to my colleague Rosie McColl, Deputy Head at Berkhamsted Girls. There are a few lessons I will take away that will stay with me:

  • Any CPD needs to be part of the wider strategic framework and not some ‘bolt on’ with a trendy speaker launching a ‘big idea’ which is not really mentioned again;
  • Teacher research based on classroom skills/pedagogy is invaluable;
  • Time throughout the year should be given over for CPD;
  • Work should be shared across the school community at regular intervals;
  • You should be wary of the performativity aspect of CPD when considering impact (it may look different but nothing has substantively changed);
  • A relentless focus on a few areas is best (see Greg McKeown’s Essentialism);
  • CPD should take a holistic view (personal well-being as a clear example).

Rosie will do a great job next year as the school moves towards exploring Building Learning Power in greater detail.

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CPD 2014-2015


The core principle at Saracens is that we gather talented people together, treat them unbelievably well and in return they try unbelievable hard. That is it.

Edward Griffiths, Chief Executive, Saracens Rugby Club

It is no secret that we have a great set of staff here at the school because we really do try to recruit well. It is not the only measure, but our recent exam results show how hard they work with students and if we would like for that success to continue in exams, on the sports field, on a mountain or on a stage, the professional development programme should help support their growth.

I sent this year’s professional development programme to the staff today.


Much of the programme is being led by colleagues within the school and we have partnered with Dragonfly Training again to supply a few sessions on educational research, literacy and behaviour management. The overall price is very reasonable and it is cheaper than getting high profile speakers to launch ideas at inset days over the course of an academic year.

I want to thank my colleagues for helping to put this programme together. They are the proof that the method for creating cost-effective, varied and engaging CPD lies in utilising the ‘talent’ in front of you.


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Berkhamsted School CPD Review

Earlier in the year I posted about the CPD programme at the school. As we draw closer to the end of the academic year, I thought I would share some of the feedback and where we plan to go next. The current CPD programme can be found below:

As with any change, there were concerns that the curent programme would be a drain on staff time. The answer then, as it is now, is that it is our duty as a responsible employer to provide high-quality training to colleagues and we planned to do this by:

  • Providing training that was specific to our context and led by current and recently retired staff; of staff providing training (which
  • Working with Dragonfly Training to fill in the knowledge/confidence ‘gaps’;
  • Provide ‘executive coaching’ to all staff;
  • Draw different members of the school community to become workshop leaders at #TLAB14.

The sessions (with refreshments provided – an important point!) ran over the course of the year. After each twilight course, I sent out a feedback form via Survey Monkey asking colleagues to rate the sessions on a ‘useful scale’ and provide additional contextual information (the scale is below):

  • Very Useful;
  • Quite Useful;
  • Unsure;
  • Not Very.

Overall, there was an 83% approval for the CPD programme (combining the ‘Useful/Quite Useful” categories). 12% was rated as not useful and 5% were unsure. On the ‘Not Useful’ figures, most of these came from one session where the presenter had a different idea to what we wanted. As for the ‘Unsure’ figure, I saw no reason to be alarmed. One reason behind this approach is a rejection of the simple ’cause and (perceived) effect’ of CPD provision. This is neatly summed up in Steven Johnson’s book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ and the notion of ‘Slow Hunches’. In it, Johnson argues that there are many ‘hunches’ yet they come together through ‘liquid networks’ such as the web, cities and complete ideas. In this sense, if we as a school can help nourish this sense of ambiguity through mutual conservations/observations/further sessions, then it will work. The NTEN is interested in evaluating the impact of CPD and I look forward to see how they handle the idea of ‘slow hunches’ in their research. 

NTEN also forms part of our programme next year. The first inset day and the first two twilight sessions in the first half of the Autumn (Michaelmas) term are given over to Lesson Study. This planning time will allow staff to prepare lessons within departments together and then observe the learning that has occured as a result of the joint planning. The potential ‘friction’ for this is reduced because it fits within our already existing mutual observation programme and it is the only twilight session on offer during the first half of term.

As was the case this year, staff are expected to attend four internal sessions. The other two sessions will be within our ‘pathways’:

  • Head of Department (HoD);
  • Deputy Head of Department;
  • Head of House (HoH);
  • Deputy Head of House;
  • General.

The programme as a whole has also been adjusted to cover ‘NQT to Retiree’ including sessions on financial planning for retiring members of staff and more linked sessions so single CPD activities will be eliminated. We have also augmented the ‘pathways’ by including a number of externally provided and validated courses such as Prince2 Project Management, the Independent Schools Qualification in Academic Management (ISQAM) run by HMC/GSA and the IoE for HoDs and the Emerging Leaders’ Programme run by Ashridge Business School as part of the Astra Learning Alliance for HoHs and aspiring leaders.

The one area where last year’s programme was deficient was the focus on subject knowledge. This will partly be addressed by the introduction of ‘masterclasses’ where academics will be invited to come and provide a short lecture/seminars for subject departments.  Having already asked for areas to cover I will be contacting HE providers over the next few weeks and asking them to suggest academics we can work with to introduce the latest research/new developments in their fields. For anyone planning CPD in their school, this is relatively easy to set up. University researchers now have to show ‘impact’ for the Research Excellence Framework (20% of the grading is based on this) and working with schools is an easy way to demonstrate this.

Of course, #TLAB15 will also form part of the CPD programme and so will the ‘CPD of the week’ emails and providing books for staff members to read.

With our new ‘grid’ appraisal process now in place and a new CPD booking/logging system to be released shortly, it should be a very interesting year for professional development at Berkhamsted.


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CPD development #2

Having now released our CPD programme for the year and waiting for it to appear on the iBook store, I thought I would post copies of the iBook. Making it was easy as I used:

  • iBooks Author;
  • for embedding the YouTube clips (so the iBook is not huge in terms of space required to store it);
  • iTunes producer to get it ready for the iTunes store.

You can download a copy of the iBook from Dropbox here.

There are a number of things that still need to be ironed out in relation to CPD this year. They include:

  • A move away from the time-consuming paperwork that needs to be completed for application to an external course;
  • A way of making the CPD system more transparent to all the people involved in the process;
  • Moving towards a better evaluation of CPD that fits our context;
  • Thinking how we could make more time for CPD activities within the school day in the following academic year;
  • Building capacity to run the ISQAM training within the school.

One tool we will be looking over the coming weeks is Bluesky.

As with anything else, it is a work in progress and I will share any further developments. On a related note, the Principal wrote this post last week about how he sees CPD at the school.

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CPD development #1

Now that this has been shared with staff, I can publish the twilight inset programme we are running this year at the school. Many of the sessions are being led by colleagues and a few will be provided by Dragonfly training. The sessions were created for a number of reasons but they boil down to a few key points

  • The sessions fit identified needs in the school;
  • They are applicable and appropriate to our situation;
  • It reduces the need for inset sessions outside our quality control process;
  • It introduces the ‘Multipliers’ version of leadership throughout the school by colleagues leading sessions and hearing about the idea.


Alongside these sessions, staff will also be able to apply (as usual) to external courses. Of course, this does not measure the impact. Stay tuned for a another post shortly…

We also launched the Berkhamsted Action Research Project in partnership with Expansive Education.

Comments, as always, are welcome.


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‘Stay on the f**king bus’

I originally came across the ‘Helsinki Bus Station Theory’ earlier this year and was struck by a number of key ideas from Arno Minkkinen’s commencement speech. Rather than summarise it myself, I’ll use Oliver Burkeman’s version from the Guardian:

There are two dozen platforms, Minkkinen explains, from each of which several different bus lines depart. Thereafter, for a kilometre or more, all the lines leaving from any one platform take the same route out of the city, making identical stops. “Each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer,” Minkkinen says. You pick a career direction – maybe you focus on making platinum prints of nudes – and set off. Three stops later, you’ve got a nascent body of work. “You take those three years of work on the nude to [a gallery], and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn.” Penn’s bus, it turns out, was on the same route. Annoyed to have been following someone else’s path, “you hop off the bus, grab a cab… and head straight back to the bus station, looking for another platform”. Three years later, something similar happens. “This goes on all your creative life: always showing new work, always being compared to others.” What’s the answer? “It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the fucking bus.”

What hooked me at the time, and still does, is its relevance to teaching by challenging what has become a maxim and revealing a proclivity towards the ‘new’ that can be detrimental to doing great work with students and colleagues. The precept it challenges is that feedback is useful. With the work of Hattie, Berger (and many others before) now becoming a normal part of discourse when discussing education and professional development for teachers,  it seems that sometimes we forget to explain that it is the quality of the feedback that matters, especially in a world of RTs, ‘Likes’ and ‘Favourites’.  The kind of feedback we wish for our students can be missed or in extreme cases replaced by  these tiny affirmations.  As useful and helpful as these comments may be in certain contexts, they can represent feedback of the most tenuous kind (I often think about the hopefuls in televised singing contests when they are faced with the unvarnished feedback that they are not as good as they have been led to believe by family/friends in their desire to be supportive). Consequently, emboldened by these recommendations, the blogs/writing/books/talks proliferate. For every instance of the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ there  lurks the spectre of ‘groupthink’.

According to Burkeman, the second aspect the metaphor illustrates is our propensity to ‘fetishise originality’. In education, this may be a new turn of phrase, a new technology, a new blog post or even a new book. The cost of chasing these new ideas, essentially taking the taxi back to the station and taking another bus, means that you will delay your progress in becoming the great, effective educator you hope to be. I was reminded of the consequences of keeping to the same route when I saw the project Dale Banham and Russell Hall are leading using Hattie’s work at the Schools History Project conference in July. Five years on after I was first introduced to the book by Dale, he is still grappling with the ideas to the benefit of  his students and his school.

I was also reminded of deliberate and thoughtful work when the Head of Boys, Chris Nicholls, retired at the end of term. I’ve already written about him in a previous post and I don’t want to embarrass him any more although I think the picture below captures some of the depth of feeling the students had for him on his final day after 38 years at one school.

Goodbye, Mr Nicholls

Goodbye, Mr Nicholls

I’m not suggesting that absorbing new ideas and ways of looking at things is wrong. They are vital for development and are essential for finding your own way yet they should be tempered by the realisation that there are no quick fixes or slogans that substantively lead to progress. Minkkinen writes:

The buses that move out of Helsinki stay on the same line but only for a while, maybe a kilometer or two. Then they begin to separate, each number heading off to its own unique destination. Bus 33 suddenly goes north, bus 19 southwest. For a time maybe 21 and 71 dovetail one another but soon they split off as well, Irving Penn is headed elsewhere. It’s the separation that makes all the difference, and once you start to see that difference in your work from the work you so admire (that’s why you chose that platform after all), it’s time to look for your breakthrough.

The journey to becoming a great educator is hard and can be frustrating. However, by following Minkkinen’s exhortation to ‘stay on the fucking bus’, working hard, being reflective and possessing the courage of your convictions, which motivated you to start the journey in the first place, you may just become the great teacher you hope to be.

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At Easter I took over the CPD at the school and created a plan to make it meaningful and effective. As Dan and Chip Heath suggest, I looked around for people/schools that had successful programmes and adapted them to our context (particular influences are Cramlington and their CPD programme which was firmly lodged in my mind after my visit there years ago and the work of Shaun Allison). It also fits in with the ‘Multipliers’ form of leadership at the school.

Below is what we have running next year for staff at Berkhamsted. Comments are welcome!

Twilight Courses

The idea is that it will be a mix of formal and informal training with more things tailored to the needs of staff. This will be offered to all colleagues on a voluntary basis and advertised at the start of the academic year and at the start of each term. The length of the sessions will be an hour to an hour and a half. The dates are already in the calendar for next year.

The sessions will run on the following dates with about six ‘courses’ running concurrently. Courses would be repeated through the year to make sure colleagues had the opportunity to attend the course of their choice.

The courses will cover four main areas:

  • ICT
  • Pastoral
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Additional skills/attributes and wellbeing

Under each broad heading, there will be a variety of sessions covering basics as well as building capacity over the year. The sessions will be led by colleagues, parents, teachers from other schools and professionals outside of teaching. Examples include:

ICT (suggested courses below)

  • Effective use of iPads
  • Effective use of iSams
  • Using Tracking Manager in iSams
  • Using web applications in class and for prep
  • Using Google Apps

Pastoral (suggested courses below)

  • Counselling young people
  • UCAS Guidance
  • Mentoring
  • Effective tutoring
  • Preparing for a pastoral leadership role
  • Investigations and interviews with students

Teaching and Learning (suggested activities below)

  • Effective appraisal (HoDs)
  • Lesson observation
  • Differentiation
  • Using data to support improvements in learning including SEND
  • Using assessment criteria to set improvement strategies
  • Improving literacy across the curriculum
  • Improving numeracy across the curriculum
  • Effective peer assessment strategies
  • Preparing to become a HoD
  • Understanding Midyis and Alis Data
  • Effective behaviour management

Key behaviour/skills and Wellbeing (suggested courses below)

  • Negotiation skills
  • Time management
  • Assertiveness training
  • Effective communication (including presentations and emails)
  • Wellbeing and dealing with stress

Career route CPD

Each major role would have a three year career route plan of internally provided CPD to make sure they were prepared for the role and the next step within the school/promotion elsewhere. Normally running from the point of entry into a new post, colleagues already established in the school can choose either a personalised programme of twilight sessions or join one of the routes.

The main routes are:

  • GTP
  • NQT
  • DHoH
  • HoH
  • 2nd in Dept
  • HoD (Links to ISQAM)
  •  SLT

Career Route CPD will involve the twilight sessions, away days as well as informal mentoring/coaching sessions and more formal mentoring/coaching sessions provided for participants. It also links with the Independent Schools Qualification in Academic Management (ISQAM) which is running with the help of the Institute of Education.

Research Projects

Up to five bursaries are available to carry out a project on Teaching & Learning. The project would be school based and focus on developing an innovative approach to Teaching & Learning in their subject or across a department/faculty area. The following broad principles would guide the work:

  • Be clear about the learning problem your work focusses on – why did you feel it was important to develop something in the area you are showcasing? Share the ‘Big Picture’ so colleagues can clearly see the problem you are trying to address;
  • A clear focus on classroom practice and learning with what helps children progress;
  • Ensure that there are key ‘takeaways’ from the work.

Colleagues awarded the bursary would be expected to present their work during inset and help mentor other colleagues the year after they conduct the work. Research projects would be collated and be part of the CPD library at both sites. We will be working with the Institute of Education as part of Bill Lucas and Guy Claxton’s Expansive Education network to support this work.

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