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What can be done with experienced teachers who won't engage with CPD?

Every school seems to have its share of teachers who are averse to observation feedback and continuing professional development (CPD). Trainers and managers assign negative labels to these teachers, they scratch their heads wondering what to do about them.

The problem

Consider this:

Many teachers associate CPD with post observation feedback, and post observation feedback with criticism. Many see the observation system as an exercise in setting you up to fail, or at least to fail at some aspect(s) of teaching. The fear is one of being made to feel inadequate, like a failure, and there’s the constant expectation of criticism. No matter how the lesson went, the observer will find something wrong with it. Is it surprising, therefore, that experienced teachers become defensive and want to avoid observations? Who wants to face the typical feedback situation which feels like ‘Your teaching is OK (even good), but it could be better’. In the minds of teachers, this translates into ‘Not good enough’.

Nobody wants to be made to feel like this. New teachers are typically more open to feedback because they accept that they are not (yet) good enough and have a lot to learn. But they may also eventually become another one of these reluctant experienced teachers if they too never seem to reach the goal of being recognised as a respected, competent professional. Observation after observation, there is still always a problem to be addressed. How demotivating is that?

A solution

Perhaps what is needed is not a foolproof method for dealing with recalcitrant teachers who won’t accept observation feedback, but a wholesale change to the culture of professional development.

What is needed is a CPD culture in which people feel great, not bad. One they are dying to take part in, not avoid. One that is embedded in their working lives, not added as an additional workload on top.

We have to start by making them feel competent and a valued contributor to everyone else’s CPD. They have lots of experience, remember. Experience isn’t the same thing as expertise of course, but it is experience nevertheless. Observers need to consider that one observed lesson doesn’t represent the whole teacher. And that all teachers (including observers!) have good and bad days. But to get teachers to engage with CPD they need to come to the game with all that they can contribute, not just all they must improve.

Can you see how to do this in your school?