Teacher professional development involves a continuous process of reflection, learning, and action to further a teacher’s knowledge and skills, leading to enhanced teaching practices that positively impact students’ learning.
Education Brief: Teacher professional development
Teacher professional development involves a continuous process of reflection, learning and
action to further a teacher’s knowledge and skills, leading to enhanced teaching practices
that positively impact on students’ learning.
What does teacher professional
development (PD) mean?
• Teacher PD aims to improve teachers and their practice by focus on subject-specific pedagogical knowledge (the
adopting a holistic approach to developing the teacher as overlapping areas of Pedagogical and Content Knowledge).
a professional practitioner. It is an ongoing process that • Any activity that supports teachers to reflect, learn and
supports continuous development of practice throughout then act to improve their practice can be classed as
the whole of a teacher’s career. teacher PD, and such activities can occur in a face-to-face
• Teaching practice comprises a range of areas, each of or online environment. Some examples are given in Figure 1.
which can be targeted by PD activities. For example, • Teachers can engage in PD activities at the micro
in the TPACK model (Mishra and Koehler, 2006) three (individual) or macro level (collaborating with teachers
overlapping areas exist – Technological, Pedagogical and across a range of contexts; Figure 1).
Content Knowledge. PD activities could therefore
specifically target subject content knowledge or instead
Figure 1: Micro to macro scale engagement with PD activities
Number of teachers involved
Example PD activity
Large group of teachers from different
schools or even countries collaborating
through a professional online learning
community or at a national or
international teaching conference.
Small groups of teachers in the
same department or school taking
part in classroom research together.
Two teachers in the same
department or school developing
teaching practice through mentoring.
Individual teacher reading
articles or listening to
podcasts about developing
Education Brief: Teacher professional development continued 2
What other terms are associated with teacher PD? reflection process: Kolb’s Experiential Learning cycle
Other terms commonly associated with teacher PD include: (1984); Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (1988, Figure 2); Driscoll’s
‘What? So What? Now what?’ cycle (2007); and Jasper’s
• Continuing professional development (CPD) reinforces ‘Experience, Reflection, Action (ERA)’ cycle (2003).
the notion that professionals should always develop their
expertise and teaching practice. Figure 2: Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle
• Teacher (or professional) education emphasises how
engagement in educational experiences leads to learning,
advancing a teacher’s knowledge, skills and characteristics
and enhancing their practice.
• Training often develops operational features of a role,
focusing on accomplishing one specific skill, such as Feelings
understanding how to teach a syllabus or how to write What were
How will you
learning objectives. you thinking
• Mentoring and coaching are slightly different from one
another. Mentoring focuses on establishing a supportive Gibbs
relationship where a less experienced teacher benefits
from the guidance of a more experienced colleague Conclusion
What do you need What was good
(a ‘critical friend’). Coaching is a technique that provides and bad about
structured support to encourage a practitioner to review to improve on?
and develop their practice in relation to a specific skill or
change in circumstance. Analysis
What sense can
• A professional learning community/network brings you make of the
practitioners together, enabling the sharing of ideas and experience?
experiences, as well as providing mutual support, either
online or face to face.
• In action research teachers conduct research into their own What are the benefits of teacher PD?
practice with the aim of finding out how they might overcome • Improved learner outcomes: Numerous research studies
a specific issue or problem associated with their practice. highlight the vital role that teachers play in securing learner
outcomes (e.g. Creemers and Kyriakides, 2013; Hattie 2012).
What is the theory behind teacher PD? Teacher PD that is explicitly focused on improving learner
• The impact of teachers on learners: Educational research outcomes has a significant impact on learner achievement
(Cordingley et al., 2015). Therefore, by enhancing teachers’
indicates that teachers and their classroom actions play a
practice through effective PD opportunities, learner
large role in explaining variation in learner achievement
achievement will also improve.
(Creemers and Kyriakides, 2013). Therefore, effective
teacher PD can positively impact teachers’ practice and • Increased teacher motivation: PD activities that provide
teachers with a sense of agency and control over their
substantially improve learner outcomes.
professional development foster intrinsic motivation in
• Teachers as learners themselves: Dylan Wiliam captured teachers (Coe, 1998). Teachers also express higher job
the notion of teachers as lifelong learners when he said: satisfaction when they have autonomy over their own
‘Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are PD (Worth and Van den Brande, 2020).
not good enough, but because they can be even better’. • Benefits for schools and the sector: When teachers
Teachers’ expertise can also be developed through engage in PD activity, individual schools and the school
formative feedback within a professional learning sector overall can benefit through:
environment (Coe et al., 2020), echoing the social – the retention of teachers in the profession (Worth
constructivism approaches to learning (Vygotsky, 1978) and Van den Brande, 2020).
that teachers use with their own learners.
– an elevation of a school’s reputation for effectively
• Engaging in reflection is a fundamental aspect of teacher
supporting learning as learner progress accelerates
PD. By undertaking careful and deliberate critical analysis and outcomes improve.
of classroom events and asking ‘Why?’ to determine the
reasons behind the events, teachers subsequently develop – enhancing a school’s reputation as a place where staff
their practice and expertise, recognising what changes to are valued and supported to develop as professionals.
practice to make in the future (Dewey, 1933; Schön, 1983; – the wider sharing of best practice pedagogies for
Tripp, 1993). Many models depict the cyclical nature of the sector-wide improvement.
Education Brief: Teacher professional development continued 3
What are some of the misconceptions of
• More experienced teachers cannot benefit from PD:
PD is a continuous process – teachers benefit from PD
throughout, not just at the start of, their career. The
number of years of teaching experience does not necessarily
equate to expertise (Hattie, 2012) – it is also important for
teachers to adapt teaching practices as educational contexts
change (e.g. as a consequence of globalisation or emergency
situations such as a pandemic) and to keep up to date with
emerging pedagogical research and technological advances
that inform effective teaching practices.
• PD opportunities are one-off training events: PD is more
successful and leads to long-lasting and meaningful
changes in teaching practice if it is contextualised and
prolonged, with multiple opportunities for ongoing
support and follow-up (Cordingley et al., 2015). Such a PD
programme can be coordinated internally, externally, or
through both means.
• Passive engagement in PD is effective: PD activities in
which teachers remain passive recipients of knowledge and
ideas rarely result in long-term changes in teacher practice
(Cordingley et al., 2015). Teachers should instead have the
opportunity to actively engage with new ideas and content,
just as they would expect their learners to do, reflecting on
how these apply to their own context. Practical tips
• PD takes lots of time for little impact: PD should be How can schools support PD?
embedded and integrated into a teacher’s role, rather than
• Actively demonstrate that teacher PD is valued in
considered as an extra activity. If implemented effectively,
the time invested in PD will pay off. However, changing
– Provide teachers with the resources that they need to
established ways of working commonly elicits both positive
engage in effective PD and for it to have impact, such
and negative emotional responses (e.g. Kelley and Conner,
as access to internal and external expertise and
1979), meaning that reflection cycles and a support network
opportunities to follow up and consolidate learning.
are vital to ensure that implementation of learning from PD
activities occurs for long enough to see impact. We can use – Integrate PD into your teachers’ roles and schedules,
models such as the ‘five levels of professional development ensuring they can engage in PD activities regularly,
evaluation’ (Guskey, 1999) to help us gauge impact from rather than only when there is ‘spare time’.
participants’ reaction to student learning outcomes. – Elevate the status of PD in your school by formally
• PD is expensive: Sometimes PD can be expensive but recognising engagement with teacher PD, for example
investing in high-quality PD programmes can elicit through teacher retention, promotion and remuneration.
significant positive impact on teaching practices – make • Establish a collaborative learning culture where
sure to invest in the most appropriate type of PD for your opportunities for teachers to learn together – both within
context and needs. Remember that free PD can also be and beyond their school – are crafted and celebrated. This
impactful, for example, engaging with self-study guides in approach employs Vygotsky’s (1978) social constructivism
a reading group or being an active participant in learning theory by allowing teachers to build understanding and
communities through social media platforms. progress in their learning by interacting with colleagues.
• Investing in teacher PD leads to loss of teachers: Teachers Hattie (2016) also ranks collective teacher efficacy as
gain job satisfaction through engaging with PD (Worth having a very large positive impact on student achievement.
and Van den Brande, 2020) which in turn enhances their • Reflect on your school context and teacher needs to
motivation. Therefore there is a danger that teachers who ensure that any PD activity will meet your teachers’ and
do not have the opportunity to engage in PD activities school’s specific needs (Ellams, 2018). This keeps the PD
could leave their school, or even the profession. relevant, meaning it is more likely to have impact.
Education Brief: Teacher professional development continued 4
• Use the research evidence to identify the most impactful • Once you have identified one or two areas of focus,
areas to focus on for improving teaching practice and create an action plan. Set specific goals and build in time
student learning in your school, for example Hattie’s to engage in reflective cycles to determine whether the
(2012) work on effect sizes, Creemers and Kyriakides’ changes to your practice are having an impact. Decide if
dynamic model of teacher effectiveness (2013), you will share your progress with others, maybe through
Rosenshine’s (2010) 10 principles of instruction, and the a mentor relationship or professional online learning
Great Teaching Toolkit (Coe et al., 2020). community – this can help to keep you motivated.
• Remember quality assurance: Cordingley et al. (2015) • Learn from your students! Your learners are key
identified the key features of successful PD programmes, stakeholders and a great source of information about what
such as their ongoing nature, meeting teachers’ specific does (and does not) work well in your classroom. You can
needs and providing opportunities to put learning into also get feedback from your learners (quick surveys, exit
practice in the classroom – remember these features when slips or short focus groups work well) and use this in your
designing internal PD programmes. When sourcing reflections to update your action plan.
external PD providers seek quality – do not be afraid to ask
the provider how they will approach the PD programme How is Cambridge International supporting
and check it aligns with the research, such as tailoring of schools with teacher PD?
the PD offering to the needs of your teachers and school Our PD framework ensures all teachers and leaders have a wide
context. In both cases the school senior leadership team variety of PD options to choose from to meet their experience
should collectively support the PD programme and level and specific needs. Our approach to PD reflects the
teacher involvement with it. principles outlined in this brief, supporting teachers to
How can teachers engage in PD? embody the Cambridge teacher and learner attributes:
confident, responsible, reflective, innovative and engaged.
• Do not try to do everything at once. Select one or two
aspects of your practice to focus on developing and master • Our webpages include numerous resources to support all
these first before targeting further areas. Cambridge schools and their teachers. In particular, the
• Seek guidance from evidence-informed sources to Teaching Cambridge at your school webpage links to our
identify teaching practices that are likely to strongly Education Briefs, the Cambridge School Leader Standards
impact on your learners’ learning (see the, ‘Use the and Cambridge Teacher Standards and self-assessment
research evidence’, bullet point in the How can schools grids, and ‘Getting Started with…’ guides. The Getting
support PD? section above). Started with Evaluating Impact and Getting Started with
Reflective Practice resources are particularly relevant
• Take time to identify the existing strengths in your
for this brief.
practice – we can be overly critical of ourselves and focus
only on areas of weakness. Try reflecting against • The School Support Hub is a secure online site for
recognised sets of teacher standards or seek feedback from teachers at Cambridge schools, consisting of many
colleagues. Keep doing the things you do well and get even thousands of high-quality teaching and learning resources,
better at them! Teachers with specific expertise are vital including schemes of work and learner guides.
for supporting others to develop in these areas. • Online and face-to-face professional development
• Identify areas for improvement: events support teachers according to their experience and
needs, with the offer comprising syllabus-based training,
– Engage with colleagues as sometimes we do not know
as well as Enrichment Professional Development.
what we do not know – often known as unconscious
incompetence. A critical friend can help you to identify • Cambridge Professional Development Qualifications,
areas of your practice to improve. consisting of guided learning, individual study and
collaborative learning, and school-based learning, help
– Ask yourself where most of your PD activity lies. teachers develop their thinking and practice with expert
Do you mainly engage in PD on subject content guidance and support.
knowledge? Do you tend to engage in individual PD
• We regularly hold Cambridge Schools Conferences, which
activities at the micro level (see Figure 1)? Try
include keynote speakers and workshops, and bring together
broadening the types of PD activity you engage with
Cambridge teachers and principals from across the globe.
to develop your practice more holistically.
Author acknowledgment: Dr Karen Angus-Cole
Education Brief: Teacher professional development continued 5
Where can you find more information?
Coe, R. (1998). Can feedback improve teaching? A review of the social science literature with a view to identifying the conditions
under which giving feedback to teachers will result in improved performance. Research Papers in Education, 13 (1), 43–66.
Coe, R., Rauch, C. J., Kime, S. and Singleton, D. (2020). Great Teaching Toolkit: Evidence Review. UK: Evidence Based Education
and Cambridge Assessment International Education.
Cordingley, P., Higgins, S., Greany, T., Buckler, N., Coles-Jordan, D., Crisp, B., Saunders, L. and Coe, R. (2015). Developing great
teaching: lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development. London: Teacher Development Trust.
Creemers, B. P. M. and Kyriakides, L. (2013). Using the Dynamic Model of Educational Effectiveness to Identify Stages of Effective
Teaching: An Introduction to the Special Issue. The Journal of Classroom Interaction, 48 (2), 4–10.
Dewey, J. (1933). How We Think: A Restatement of Reflective Thinking to the Educative Process. Boston: D. C. Heath.
Driscoll, J. (2007). Practising clinical supervision. Edinburgh: Elsevier.
Ellams, J. (2018). Designing and Implementing a Professional Development Programme. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Oxford: Oxford Polytechnic Further Education Unit.
Guskey, T. (1999). Evaluating Professional Development. California: Corwin.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Oxon: Routledge.
Hattie, J. (2016). Third annual visible learning conference (subtitled Mindframes and Maximizers). Washington, DC, July 11, 2016.
Jasper, M. (2003). Beginning reflective practice. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes.
Kelley, D. and Conner, D. (1979). The emotional cycle of change. In: Jones, E. J. and Pfeiffer, J. W., eds. The 1979 Handbook for
Group Facilitators. California: University Associates.
Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Mishra, P., and Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge.
Teachers College Record, 108 (6), 1017–1054.
Rosenshine, B. (2010). Principles of instruction. Educational Practices Series, 21, 109–125.
Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. USA: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
Stoll, L., MacMahon, A., Bolam, R., Thomas, S., Wallace, M., Greenwood, A. and Hawkey, K. (2006). Professional Learning
Communities: Source Materials for School Leaders and Other Leaders of Professional Learning. London: Innovation Unit, DfES,
NCSL and GTC.
Tripp, D. (1993). Critical incidents in teaching: developing professional judgement. London: Routledge.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Worth, J. and Van den Brande, J. (2020). Teacher autonomy: how does it relate to job satisfaction and retention? Slough, UK:
National Foundation for Educational Research.
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