Continuous Professional Development


Continuous professional development has been described as ‘… an ongoing process encompassing all formal and informal learning experiences that enable all staff in school, individually and with others, to think about what they are doing, enhance their knowledge and skills and improve ways of working so that pupil learning and wellbeing are enhanced as a result… creating opportunities for adult learning, ultimately for the purpose of enhancing the quality of education in the classroom’ (Bubb and Earley, 2007:4)

Questions for reflection on continuous professional development

  • What opportunities for professional development exist in your setting?
  • How do these opportunities ‘shape’ (Evans, xxx) teacher professionalism?
  • Are there opportunities for professional development for all members of your school/college community?
  • How is professional development evaluated in your setting?
  • How is professional development planned in your setting? Does it reflect national policy requirements and/or school improvement planning or are considerations wider?
  • What opportunities for mentoring and coaching exist in your setting?  Is there potential for coaching to be developed as a professional development initiative?
  • How is good practice shared in your setting?
  • What systems are in place to ensure that adults in your learning community have a chance to contribute to their own professional development planning?



This section will explore the potential of continuous professional development in educational settings and its importance not just in modelling the importance of lifelong learning but in developing the components of professionalism, behavioural, attitudinal and intellectual (Evans, 2011).  The behavioural component relates to what practitioners physically do at work; procedures they apply to their work, their output, productivity and achievement. The attitudinal component covers perceptions, beliefs and views held, including self-perception, values, job satisfaction and morale.  The intellectual component relates to knowledge and understanding, including reasoning applied to practice (ibid).

Dictates of national policy and how they affect educational settings can often ‘shape’ (Evans, 2011) teacher professional development, as can a school or other educational setting’s improvement agenda. It has been argued (Ball, 2009, Evans 2011, Tillema and Imants, 1995) that many current models of (teachers’ ) professional development in existence do not elucidate fully the internalisation process that occurs in individuals in order to prompt them to adopt this or that new practice or process. Demands of preparation for new policy initiatives or the rapid pace of school improvement agendas mean that the behavioural component of teacher professionalism has priority, but this can ultimately be detrimental as newly encouraged pedagogies and systems that do not demand attitudinal compliance or intellectual understanding can have an inauthenticity that ultimately reflects on practice.

There is also a need to consider professional development beyond the confines of the needs of one setting, or one temporal policy priority in order to really speak to the professional development needs of individuals whose professional development needs may be wider in order to meet the needs of current and future learners as well as to sustain passion for subject and pedagogical practice.

Professional development is most effective when it is ‘sustained and intensive’ rather than ‘brief and sporadic’ (Stoll, Harris and Handscombe, 2012). Coaching initiatives have the potential to provide a sustained and intensive professional development opportunity, as well as encouraging collaborative working practice.  There are a variety of coaching models available but the benefits of authentic peer coaching (as opposed to mentoring where one has the opportunity to gain from the experience of another – which has its own valid place in a professional development provision) can  make a powerful contribution to embedding community learning.  Research undertaken by Joyce and Showers (1996) found that teachers involved in peer coaching experimented more successfully with new skills than teachers working alone.  Coaching provided opportunities for deeper reflection about practice, as well as developing collegial bonds.  Coaching resulted in new teaching practice being incorporated into regular repertoires and increased professional dialogue (Poglinco et al, 2003).

The benefits of a research active school are articulated by Frost and Durrant (2003) who demonstrate the potential of action research to create opportunities for learning, collaboration and real school improvement as well as providing agency to teachers as leaders of learning.

Stoll, Harris and Handscombe (2012) articulate nine claims for effective professional development:

  1. Effective professional development starts with the end in mind.
  2. Effective professional development challenges thinking as part of changing practice.
  3. Effective professional development is based on the assessment of individual and school needs.
  4. Effective professional development involves connecting work-based learning and external expertise.
  5. Effective professional learning opportunities are varied, rich and sustainable.
  6. Effective professional development uses action research and enquiry as key tools.
  7. Effective professional development is strongly enhances through collaborative learning and joint practice development.
  8. Effective professional development is enhanced by creating professional learning communities within and between schools.
  9. Effective professional development requires leadership to create the necessary conditions.

(Stoll, Harris and Handscombe, 2012)

Relevance to Leadership

The last of the above claims: Effective professional development requires leadership to create the necessary conditions (Stoll, Harris and Handscombe, 2012) emphasises the importance that leaders in educational settings have to create both the right opportunities and culture for professional development.  Leadership strongly influences the kind of settings where all or most teachers see their learning as cumulative and developmental and where teachers believe that you never stop learning to teach.  Leaders create the conditions where pedagogy is either great or not, and leaders at all levels have a critical role in ensuring professional development is great.  They make a profound difference to pupil outcomes by promoting and participating in teachers’ development (Robinson, 2011).  Leaders’ actions can ensure that continuous professional development is reflected in school improvement planning, and also to reflect and understanding of the provisional nature of such plans and ensure the offer speaks to wider need of teachers.  Leaders have the opportunity as well to foster and encourage research activity in education settings schools and the opportunities these create for professional learning and the sharing of good practice.  A leader’s focus on learning includes not just that of pupils or students but the teachers and other adults in the school community.

Creating such a culture might challenge particular leadership styles.  Models of command and control (Wheatley and Frieze, 2011), where those at the bottom of the hierarchy submit to the greater vision and expertise of those above, will be challenged by the idea that people support things they’ve played a part in creating and where there are ‘meaningful conversations… to engender new insights and possibilities for action’. A community where learning occurs at all levels might have to cede responsibility for determining professional development needs to professionals themselves. Crafton and Kaiser (2012) explain that what teachers need for complex learning to occur are ‘the same conditions that support students’ meaningful learning’ (2012:114).  Leaders should understand these conditions and reflect on how they are offered in turn to teachers.


  • Ball, A. (2009) Toward a theory of generative change in culturally and linguistically complex classrooms, American Educational Research Journal, 46 (1) 
  • Bubb, S. and Earley, P. (2007) Leading and Managing Continuing Professional development. 2nd Edition. London: Paul Chapman.
  • Crafton, L. and Kaiser, E. (2012) The language of collaboration: Dialogue and identity in teacher professional development, Improving Schools 14(2)
  • Evans, L. (2011) The ‘shape’ of teacher professionalism in England: professional standards, performance management, professional development and the changes proposed in the 2010 White Paper, British Educational Research Journal Vol. 37 (5)
  • Frost, D. and Durrant, J. (2003) Teacher-led development work. London: David Fulton.
  • Poglinco, S.M., Bach, A.J., Hovde, K., Rosenblum, S., Saunders, M. and Supovitz, J.A. (2003) The Heart of the matter: The coaching model in America’s choice schools. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Consortium for Policy Research in education.
  • Robinson, K. (2011) Out of our minds: Learning to be creative, Chichester: Capstone Publishing Ltd.
  • Showers, B. and Joyce, B. (1996) The evolution of peer coaching. Educational Leadership 53 (6)
  • Stoll, L., Harris, A. and Handscombe, G. (2012) Great professional development which
  • leads to great pedagogy: nine claims from research (Think Piece for NCSL,
  • Tillema, H.H. and Imants, J>G>M> (1995) Training in the professional development of teachers, in T.R. Guskey & M. Huberman (eds.) Professional development in education: new paradigms and practices, New York: Teachers College Press
  • Wheatley, M. and Frieze, D. (2011) Leadership in an Age of Complexity, Resurgence Magazine (Berrett Koehler Publishers), Winter 2011