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I like ideas that cut through complexity – bringing clarity to things that are inherently complex, nuanced (bingo!) and variable. For the coaching process and the general outcomes of a wider professional learning programme, there is sometimes a risk of a false either/or creeping in to the discourse. Also, when I work with schools, I sometimes i find that their CPD processes can fall down because they don’t meet one of two key requirements:

Teachers have to make and sustain changes in their practice that succeed in solving the problems they encounter or, to put it differently, that lead to improvements in their teaching. To change practice requires intentionality: a deliberate decision and effort to do different things in the classroom. This requires a plan of action – a mental plan informed by a mental model the teacher trusts and understands, linking their actions to a likely positive impact.

Unless the outcome of a CPD/coaching process is a change in teacher actions – and ideally their habits – then it’s an expensive waste of time. But those actions need to be doable – tangible. They need to have meaning in the teacher’s context. You can’t, for example, ‘improve your questioning skills’ or ‘manage behaviour more effectively’ or ‘explain things more clearly’. That’s like asking a student to ‘produce better writing’. No, the actions teachers can actually take need to be steps they can describe in enough detail to enact. They need precision.

Teachers need to be motivated to change in order to make the initial effort and then, more difficult still, to sustain the change in the long term such that more effective habits form. Of course, motivation can be ‘stick’ driven – ie through ‘non-negotiables’ and compliance checks – but that’s not a culture I’m interested in. Not many people are. Much better, motivation needs to be about making teachers feel really good about themselves and seeing the rewards of feeling even better through problem solving and./or improvement in their practice.

For sure, if your processes make teachers feel scolded, chastised, undermined, weary, cynical… then you’re not likely to see much change. You breed resentment, resistance, disillusionment and defensiveness. For good reason.

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