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The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Elizabeth Holmes

Developing a positive mindset to CPD in your school

‘Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.’ Lou Holtz

Attitude is everything, so the saying goes; not least in our approach to CPD. In a publication I wrote for Schoolmanager.net 14 years ago I covered what I termed the ‘professional learning mindset’ – in other words, the attitudes we might usefully adopt in our engagement with professional learning. At the time, attitude and mindset were not part of the debate about CPD, and suggesting that teachers might positively impact their experience of professional learning by attending to the attitudes and ideas they held, whether consciously or not, met with disbelief at times. But this notion – not unique to my writing on the subject by any means – has since received the attention of researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Teachers’ beliefs

The researchers began with the premise that teachers' CPD has the potential to impact teacher quality and practice in a positive way, but the degree of engagement in professional learning varies greatly from teacher to teacher. They noted that ‘in extensive research into which factors affect teachers' participation in CPD, the effects of teachers' beliefs have received limited attention, despite their strong influences on people's working and learning.’ If teachers' beliefs about teaching and learning influence what they do in the classroom, the study states, perhaps there is a comparable relationship between these beliefs and the learning that teachers themselves engage in. So, 260 Dutch secondary school teachers completed a survey which explored their student- and subject-orientated beliefs as well as their beliefs about ‘updating, reflective and collaborative activities’. The cluster analysis undertaken showed three distinct belief profiles and concluded that ‘teachers' beliefs about learning and teaching relate to their participation in CPD: the more a teacher’s profile is student-oriented and subject matter-oriented, the higher his or her participation in CPD.’

Focus on attitudes

Regardless of the current quality of debate in education, which fads are dominating, and the perpetual squabbles over traditional versus progressive approaches to teaching (a distinction which is disingenuous at best), all schools can benefit from a focus on attitudes towards and beliefs about ongoing professional learning. If hearts and minds need to be won, it will be essential to review exactly how CPD is currently perceived and experienced in your school. Use this to inform what is offered for professional learning purposes. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that schools which have nurtured a positive mindset concerning professional learning tend to have addressed the inevitable tensions between individual and institutional development needs. Opportunities for learning are harnessed throughout the school day, despite budgetary challenges, and there is a commitment to discerning learning as occupying a broad space with boundaries far beyond the conference, training day, twilight Inset, or occasional teachmeet. It is curious that attitudes concerning CPD have received relatively little direct focus so far when they have a clear role to play in establishing and maintaining staff-wide commitment to ongoing professional learning. This is especially important if we are to banish, permanently, the limiting notion that CPD is ‘delivered’ to teachers as passive recipients.

Reference

de Vries et al, ‘How teachers’ beliefs about learning and teaching relate to their continuing professional development.’ Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, Volume 20, Issue 3, 2014, pp 338-357

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