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Implementing meaningful and effective professional development

With a clear link between professional development, the quality of teaching and pupil attainment, in many schools, professional development is in the forefront of their focus as school leaders are trying to make it more coherent, integrated and motivating for staff.

Effective professional development has been defined as structured professional learning that results in changes in teacher practices and improvements in students learning outcomes. (EEF)

The quality of teaching is a crucial factor in raising pupil attainment therefore effective professional development programmes should focus on helping teachers improve through evidence-based and evidence-informed professional development which explicitly focuses on improving classroom teaching. Meaningful professional development needs to use a clear theory of change, and it should have clearly defined outcomes for improving the quality of the teaching and outcomes for pupils.

In terms of effective professional development, schools need to create a supportive professional environment based on trust, high professional standards, and culture of collaboration where the leadership provides support, time and resources needed for professional development. They also need to avoid unnecessary workload and use time effectively.

As teachers’ experiences, expertise and stage in their career differs, it is important that this factor is considered as well, thus diagnosing teachers starting points and building on their existing skills and knowledge and adapting the approach based on the assessment information.

Implementation of any new approach is an ongoing and sustained process not just an event. However, for it to be successful there are a few aspects that need to be considered. 

The implementation process is divided into 4 stages: explore – prepare – deliver – sustain.


This stage is pivotal as it involves defining the problem – a key priority that needs to be solved and identifying appropriate programme to implement it. This key priority should be amendable to change and needs to be supported by relevant and rigorous data collected from a variety of sources that is plausible and credible interpretation.

After reviewing the collected and triangulated data, evidence-informed decisions need to be made, which are based on what has and hasn’t worked before.

This should be evidenced within the school but also external evidence from schools with similar context and must be relevant to school’s values and beliefs as this will ultimately lead to adoption decision.


Once an adoption decision has been made, the leadership need to prepare the school and its staff for implementation of the new strategy. They must develop a clear and logical implementation plan of the new strategy. They must develop a clear and logical implementation plan, assess the school’s readiness to deliver the implementation plan and make practical preparation for its use such as training staff and developing the necessary infrastructure.


Delivery is a phase when the new programme is applied for the first time. First stage for the leader is to take a flexible and motivating leadership approach to support staff and to deal with the barriers and challenges that will emerge. Reinforcing the initial training with follow-on support via expert coaching, mentoring and peer support is crucial for teachers to feel confident to apply the practice in their classroom. Gathering implementation data during this phase also allows leaders to tailor and improve the approach. This stage comes to an end when most staff adopted the approach naturally and routinely.


In the final stage of implementation, the focus moves onto sustaining this approach or practice. When implementation is successful and it reaches the sustain phase, schools should concentrate on consolidating the new programme and help all staff to use it effectively and confidently. To ensure the programme is sustained, school leaders should continuously acknowledge, support and reward good implementation practice use. Up scaling of the new practice should be treated as a new implementation process and the cycle then starts again.

As described in DfE’s standards for Teacher Professional development (2016), professional development should:

  1. focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes

  2. be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise

  3. include collaboration and expert challenge

  4. be sustained over time

  5. be prioritised by school leadership

My Academy and department context:

At our Academy, and specifically, in our languages department, for the past year, the focus has been on implementing retrieval practice across the department furthermore leading to its implementation across the whole Academy. Part of my research lead role has been to research and investigate how this strategy can be effectively implemented and create an implementation plan for the department.  As I am at the moment completing the NPQLTD via, I have been using the course content and the resources to create a step by step plan.

adapted from Bedlington Academy – Northumberland

Our Academy and leadership values professional development and has ensured we have protected time on our timetable for coaching – 1 protected period per fortnight as well as two am sessions per week (15 mins each) for deliberate practice of our Academy and departmental ‘high fives’ During this time an identified strategy (this could be based on a ‘culture walk’ or teacher’s self reflection) is discussed with individual teachers, i.e entry routine, live modelling, quizzing, say it better/say it aga, scaffolding etc. During the first short weekly session – the subject leader (me), models the strategy either in person or via pre-recorded video and the teachers act as students. During the second session, staff then actively practises the strategy themselves (deliberate practice) using the rest of the team as a ‘class’ until they feel confident to apply it in the classroom. The application of the strategy is then reviewed during the longer coaching session and tweaked, if necessary. 

this example is pre-recorded modelling – the voices are staff acting as students

download here also available at: In conclusion, a number of schools in the Research School Network are able to help schools develop an evidence-informed approach to professional development through a course called Leading Learning - a comprehensive overview of some of the most important research evidence in education, so that leaders can create a high impact professional development programme. For more details, contact:



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