Episode 4: Making time for CPD – 1: a story, not a list

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This series of blogposts explore different aspects of my model of expertise of teaching in higher education. This model has three interacting dimensions: pedagogical content knowledge, the artistry of teaching, and intentional learning & development. 

Today we’re going to have a look at intentional learning and development and, in particular, making time for this within our teaching practice.

Learning and development, or continuing professional development (CPD), are critical for the acquisition and maintenance of expertise in any field or profession. But in higher education often there are a number of barriers to engaging with CPD, not least ‘time’. People often express to me that they’re far to busy to be doing any CPD (except when they really have to, as I discuss in my blogpost “necessity is the mother of professional development”). This is an interesting reflection of the expectations of CPD within higher education. In many other professions, healthcare for example, we very much expect our doctors or healthcare workers to regularly be engaging with CPD so that they’re up-to-date with all the latest approaches. And yet we don’t seem to have this same expectation for teaching in higher education.

When I’ve read draft applications for Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy or National Teaching Fellowships or any other sort of rewards and recognitions where people have to outline their continuing professional development, they often read as lists of activities: I went on a training workshop, I did a PGCert, I read some literature, I did some research. When I’m supporting people in writing these sort of applications and I ask them about the development of their teaching, that’s often what they start with: “let me check my diary, see what events I’ve been to”. This can be a really difficult way of thinking about it because, if you are reflecting back on your professional development, trying to remember what you’ve done is not that easy; and planning to fit these activities into your busy schedule in the future at best postpones them and, at worst, means they never get done.

Having CPD as a list of activities externalises it from your everyday practice, your everyday experience of your teaching.

When I interviewed nine National Teaching Fellows as part of my research I asked them how they developed their teaching. Each of them started their response from the point of view of their teaching and of their students’ learning. They told me about how their teaching had evolved and changed over time. Then they told me about what had informed that evolution of their teaching: going on training events, participating in a workshop, having a conversation with colleagues, reading some literature, sharing good practice and so on. So they were engaging in what we think of as CPD but they conceptualised it as the evidence that informed the evolution of their practice.

I was hearing a narrative about their teaching development rather than a list of CPD activities. Summaries of these narratives can be downloaded from the resource section of the expertise guide on this website.

I would suggest that a first step for making time for continuing professional development is to try to change how you conceptualise it. When you are updating a module, or a teaching session or a learning resource think about what evidence would help you improve it. These activities are part of your everyday practice, they are things that you should be doing anyway throughout the year and, particularly, at the beginning of the new academic year when you’re preparing for your next cohort of students.

Conceptualising CPD as a story, rather than a list of activities, and as something that is embedded in your everyday practice will help it to become part of the everyday rather than a separate add-on for which you have to find time.

Thanks for reading! Next time we’re going to look at Pedagogical Content Knowledge and the wobble-board of professional identity.