Included in collection: Continuous Professional Development

Continuous Professional Development Lecture


This chapter is concerned with exploring continuous professional development, or 'CPD'. The first section outlines the origins of the term, and provides a working definition of the concept for the chapter. The first section also examines ways in which CPD might be experienced, and suggests that for training and development to be meaningful, it must be part of an ongoing reflective process. The second part of the chapter focuses on the importance of CPD for the educator. This element considers different ways in which a CPD-informed mindset is of benefit to the pro-active professional, and the personal and contextual benefits which may be perceived from adopting a positive attitude toward one's CPD.

Part three makes a case for the centrality of the learner in considering CPD and outlines the direct and indirect benefits to pupils which have been evidenced because of being taught be engaged, developed, and fully-professional teachers. The fourth, and final, substantive section of the chapter take into consideration approaches to CPD as an ongoing practice, and suggests two ways to approach this; a career-path approach, and a trajectory based on needs analysis. Each section is complemented by a reflective element which invites you to engage with the section's contents by focusing fresh questions relevant to your developing practice, and your experience of CPD to date.

Learning objectives for this chapter

By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Define and explain what you mean by continuous professional development
  • Develop your own CPD file
  • Appreciate the relevance of a CPD-informed approach to your educational career
  • Investigate the evidence base for the positive relationship between learner outcomes and CPD-led teaching practice
  • Develop constructive models for considering your own CPD for ongoing development

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What is CPD?

CPD, as the introduction stated, stands for 'continuous professional development'. As we shall see in this chapter, each of the three words is relevant: continuous, professional, and development. By CPD, we mean an ongoing process of maintaining a document of your skills, experience, qualifications and knowledge which you gain that are relevant to you as an education professional.

CPD as a term was developed by Richard Gardner, who sought in the 1970s to better encapsulate a holistic form of educational professional development that did not make distinctions of the values of both experiential learning in post and of directed formal learning undertaken in courses (Gray, 2005). CPD is now recognised as an approach across multiple disciplines; the term has spread beyond its original university setting focus to be embraced as a paradigm that drives professional career development in many spheres. CPD implies a shift away from the idea that career development is restricted to certificated courses (though these may be an important aspect of CPD) and towards the ongoing professional efficacy of the whole person.

As such, the term also implies a move away from training delivery by organisations to a model which privileges the individual's curation of their own career-long development, though with their employer as an interested party. CPD also indicates a move away from the delivery of training and of the specific learning outcomes of that training to individuals, and towards the perception that all encounters have the potential to be learning ones, and it is for the individual to not only recognise this, but to capture and evidence that learning, not least so that it can inform reflective processes.

You might like to think of your CPD as a file - either physical or digital - that chronicles your journey as an educationalist. CPD in some contexts may relate only to future planning of training and development, such as might be the outcome from an appraisal. Though that is an aspect of what CPD entails, it is not the whole picture. It may also be useful to conceptualise CPD as not only the file referred to above, but to your feelings connected to it; CPD involves ongoing reflection on and active management of one's development and as such, to immerse oneself in CPD, one must be both active and proactive. There is much more to CPD than simply record-keeping and filing away certificates (Craft, 2000).

That is not to say that there is no relationship between development and training. The latter is usually formal; a structured course with learning outcomes and certification to evidence course success, for example. Training tends to target specific skills and competencies, and its focus is the acquisition or other evidencing of those same competencies. Development is somewhat more holistic, and as often involves informal as much as formalised learning. Development may involve, for example, the developing of competencies in a field of operations gained with experience over time, and may chart the journey from functional competence to excellence. Development has two axes: increasing mastery of a certain set of skills, and broadening one's skillset. Over time, for example, many teachers may move towards management roles, and in so doing expand their abilities into areas such as personnel management, delegation, leadership, project management, or resource allocation in ways which were not developed through teaching alone.

CPD can support you in reviewing your career path, can help you refine your skills, identify areas for development, and suggest opportunities for personal growth and career diversification. Many teachers, for example, enter the profession without thinking too far ahead. The struggle to gain subject and teaching qualifications, to secure that first job, and to become confident in that role, are all-encompassing. And though many teachers stay where they feel they are best suited, in a delivery role, others find themselves, either through conscious design or through a slow process of accretion, or shifting their plans and/or the actual content of their roles. This often involves management, though could encompass diversification into areas such as examinership, changing subjects and/or levels of teaching, or into roles outside education. Being reflective and up-to-date with one's CPD helps support these moves, as well as helps consideration of the skills and competencies one has, which may not be fully reflected either by one's qualifications or by a short description of one's teaching career.

One way to begin a CPD process is to maintain a learning log. This can be of your own design. Record what you learn, whether informal or formal; think about what fresh ideas you were presented, and how your perception of yourself and your competencies might have been developed. Examples of such learning opportunities include (, 2016; ATL, 2015):

  • Networking opportunities
  • Ideas shared with/by colleagues
  • Contextual reading in educational or general press; about new learning technologies (or other technology which could be adapted to a learning use), for example
  • Legislative changes
  • Curriculum development
  • Shadowing or otherwise supporting a colleague
  • The experience of mentoring
  • New responsibilities and their impact
  • Role change, or organisational change
  • Temporary additional responsibilities
  • Covering for colleagues
  • Out-of-hours work and offering additionality
  • Deputising for more senior colleagues
  • Representing/accompanying others in formal meetings
  • Trade union or professional organisation membership
  • Lessons learned from errors (your own or others)
  • Lessons taken from unusual incidents or unexpected events

Each of these is a learning opportunity, and supports your continuing development as a professional.

One might also consider three key questions:

1. Where do I want to get to? What are your career goals (long or medium term)? It might be useful to think in respect of 2, 5, 10, and 20 years distant. Now think of specific objectives to help support at least the first of these, and give yourself targets to achieve those goals by.

2. How do I get there? Are there specific training needs identified by the goals you have set? Act on them; do it now!

3. When should progress be reviewed? To become a process, a cycle must begin. So, set regular dates in the future for review of progress so far and for reappraisal of the goals set. Annual reviews, supported by spot-checks at three-monthly intervals might be a suitable way ahead.

If these steps are put into place, then a cohesive CPD process is underway. The task is then twofold; to maintain the reflection and action cycle, and to make the incremental changes that you want in order to achieve the goals set within the time allowed. Remember, the goals can change; they probably will as your career development process refines itself. This is not a bad thing; it indicates that you are exerting greater clarity and control over your career path.

Settings will have policies in place regarding accessing CPD; sometimes this is articulated alongside appraisal systems, sometimes as part of more general staff development and training documentation. It is prudent to be aware of your setting's policies and how to access support and other opportunities (for example, there may be a clause defining rights to time off for staff development, and even for leave for developmental purposes).

The kinds of CPD which are most effective are those which are bespoke to your needs as defined by yourself, are relevant to career aims and to your development, as well as to the needs of the wider teaching profession, and which are sustained over time. Development, as this chapter notes throughout, is a process; there is no easy end unlike, say, for a particular course taken as part of staff development. Also important is support, both from within the setting and in your wider support networks, and collaboration wherever possible; education is a profession shared by thousands, and whatever stage of career you are at, and whatever your focus might be, there will be others with whom to share experiences and to learn from (ATL, 2015).


Is CPD what you thought it was? Are the differences between a CPD approach and training clear to you? Though CPD may be taken to mean training, the term means being invested in a lifelong reflective process of development, into which training may well be a part.

How much of what you have learned as a teacher has come from being taught about teaching, and how much has come from experience? Do you learn best through applying theory to practice, or applying practice to theory?

How well do your qualifications represent you and your skills and abilities? What don't they say about you? How might you fill in those gaps? What are those gaps?

Why is CPD important for a teacher?

Teaching union ATL notes the value of CPD in that is supports benefits at all levels of education; the regular updating of competencies, knowledge, and the full accounting of transferable skills supports innovation, freshness in post, and that it can develop both confidence and motivation (ATL, 2015). Furthermore, a proactive attitude towards CPD speaks to the self and to others of professionalism, as it evidences engagement with the changing needs of learners and the shifting priorities and contexts being faced in education.

CPD is important also because not all educationalists embark on career-long development; a CPD-informed attitude to one's profession not only gives advantages over others in career terms, but makes the current role easier, as the educator is well-versed in changing contexts and is absorbing information throughout the school year, rather than being burdened with forced learning when updates are imposed. Part of the reason for not engaging with CPD is that there can be institutional barriers in place; sometimes, it is also easier for educators to get out of the habit of career development once a teaching position has been secured. It might be more useful to think of the finishing of a teaching qualification as the beginning of a CPD journey, than the end of one's training and development (Caena, 2011).

The positive effects of CPD may be felt at four levels (Caena, 2011). First, there is the zone of teacher effectiveness; then, the effectiveness of that teaching, as experienced by learners and close colleagues; third, whole-school benefits of educators invested in their personal development; and fourth, wider social benefits beyond the school gates. Such benefits are particularly felt when the philosophy informing the organisational approach to CPD is less concerned with the mastery of new skills as dictated by management, and more connected to the support of communities of invested learning within settings, and to the development of individuals who are interested in the ways that developing themselves has positive impacts which are not restricted to the self, but which have wider ramifications.

Teacher motivation is thus key; motivated teachers not only teach better, but are more likely to be invested in others as well as themselves; CPD and a more developed learning environment for pupils are mutually reinforcing. Research suggests that there are twin processes at work in the supporting of such cultures: individual psychological factors such as teacher cognition and motivation, and organisational factors such as a leadership which embraces the positive benefits of CPD and can rationalise the costs of supporting such training development as might be appropriate, and open cultures where engaging in personal development is met positively, and experienced by others (Caena, 2011).

Not only do professional learning communities - where there is a student-focused ethos, where there is collective responsibility for learners, where collaboration and reflective practice is welcomed - support individuals' CPD, but they are better places to work, the quality of teaching is enhanced by a willingness to experiment and to share good practice, and issues such as staff retention and absenteeism may be combatted.

Levels of CPD Impact

Levels of CPD impact (Caena, 2011)

Craft (2000) identifies a series of reasons why CPD may be undertaken:

  • To develop job performance skills
  • To extend experience for career development or promotion opportunities
  • To extend general educational levels
  • To promote role satisfaction
  • To provide new challenges
  • To refocus priorities
  • To anticipate for, and to prepare for change
  • To clarify matters of internal policy or procedure

Often, there may be multiple reasons, of sometimes shifting importance, to the individual educator. At times, CPD will incorporate necessary skills updating as mandated by line management, at other times CPD will be complementary to such staff development initiatives. Underpinning all CPD, though, is the central idea that the effort will support better learning by pupils.

Much CPD will serve the needs of the organisation as well as those of the individual educator. What is useful for the teacher, though, is the maintenance of a regularly-reviewed inventory so that elements which are not being appropriately addressed by the training, staff development, or wider experience of school-related life can be taken on by the individual themselves.

The blending of personal development and institutional development is a theme which emerges across much CPD-related research, but the impetus which drives both needs to be the impact on the learner. In education, continuous professional development is always informed by the imperative to better the experience and the outcomes for pupils.


What are your reasons for wanting to teach? Have they changed over time? Do you think they will change in the future?

Do you see yourself as a career-minded person? If so, what drives you? And what sort of career would you like to have? If not, why is that, and how does teaching address other needs in you?

In what ways will your CPD investment (in time, money, and effort) benefit others?

How can CPD benefit your learners, both directly and indirectly?

For teaching union ATL, engagement with CPD is associated positively with improving learner outcomes. Teachers who are engaged with their own development are likely to be better at engaging pupils, and so motivate and inspire learners to better their own performance. Teaching is supported and reinvigorated with exposure to new ideas, to having old certainties challenged, and to the fresh engagement with curriculum subject matter from alternate standpoints (ATL, 2015).

Research commissioned by the European Commission similarly supports such findings (Caena, 2011). The development of teacher competence is the prime factor associated with learner development, both in teaching-specific areas of expertise, and with contextual competencies, such as collaborative working, and engaging with parents and other stakeholders. However, determining the precise impact of teachers' CPD on learners is not straightforward, not least because of the multiple variables which impact on student experience and on quality of teaching.

That said, the positive impact on learners' cognitive processes may be indicated through comparison of test results from before and after the CPD has been undertaken, and with peer groups who have not had the experience of their teacher having undergone specific directed training (Goodall et al, 2006). The same commentators suggest using learner experience, and the anticipated direct and indirect benefits to learners as being an important driver for optimising CPD expenditure; work backwards in effect from the learners to determine what kinds of training and development might be best used to make those positive impacts.

While there are direct benefits to learners in respect of enhanced achievement from having teachers invested in their CPD, there are indirect benefits also. Some of these have to do with attitude and approach to the profession; there are correlations between role performance, enthusiasm, ambition for self and for others, and other contextual benefits associated with CPD involvement. Teachers who invest time and effort in themselves tend to do the same with their pupils. An interest in their world might manifest itself as up-to-date examples, fresh connections to learners' worlds being made with the subject, and enhanced and flexible teaching which is not only responsive to learner needs, but which anticipates and drives those needs, too.

Studies have indicated some specific advantages to learners, particularly when their school fostered a collaborative approach to CPD between educators (Cordingley, Rundell, and Bell, 2003). Benefits to learners which were observed included improved attitudes towards their learning, increased active participation in lessons, and more developed levels of enthusiasm for the sessions, and for co-operative work with others in group tasks. Testing pre-and post- CPD interventions indicated that there were correlations between teacher development and learner test score performance; this was noted across multiple subject areas. Other developments noted in the study included more competent mathematical reasoning in learners, development of technical skills, and improvements in reading; furthermore, there was evidence that where teacher collaboration was evident to learners, then this behaviour was adopted by pupils themselves, leading to increased levels of collaboration between students. Other strategies observed between learners included developed abilities in constructively critiquing each other's work, experimentation, and a willingness to engage in other forms of collaborative learning behaviour (Cordingley, Rundell, and Bell, 2003).

Other work studying the impact of collaborative CPD further underscores the benefits to learners of teacher development, not least when teachers are working in concert to develop themselves, and where this developmental work is discernible to pupils (Cordingley et al, 2005). Benefits of this to learners include:

  • Measurable improvement in learner performance
  • Demonstrable development of learner motivation to engage in learning
  • Better organisation of learner work
  • Use of collaboration as a learning tactic
  • Better use of questioning to support learning
  • Engagement in school activities outside the classroom

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Pupil questionnaires have been used to gather information related to learner perception of improvements because of teachers developing themselves through CPD. The impact of CPD is also measurable through test results, through teacher testimony, through lesson observation and peer review of materials, and through assessing the value of the CPD investment against anticipated outcomes for learners (Education Scotland, 2009).

There are multiple factors which might support the effectiveness for learners of the impact of any CPD. Those factors include (Education Scotland, 2009):

  • Being clear about the purposes of CPD beforehand, with the aims and outcomes of the training and development being matched to learner needs in meaningful ways
  • Ensuring that CPD is mindful of the local contexts of teaching
  • Collaborative working with teaching peers
  • Clarity about what changes will result from the CPD investment
  • Basing the selection of CPD on a sound evidence base
  • Using feedback from the CPD as well as feedback from the impact of the CPD on learners to influence further training-based decisions

Simply put, there is an evidence base which suggests that CPD supports learners in respect of their development in subject-specific areas as well as in more holistic terms; in the direct sense of classroom experience and increased test performance, and in the more indirect qualities of attitude and propensity for learning. This is only as it should be, as CPD which does not have a positive impact on learners can be neither professional nor developmental. 

What kinds of CPD are the most beneficial to individual teachers, their learners, and institutions as a whole?


Think of a time when you did something new because of training or development, and it had a positive impact in a teaching session. What was it, and how did that make you feel?

Have you ever had a teacher who spoke about their own ongoing education or training? If so, what effects did that have?

Your setting will have training and development policies. What do they say? Do they make sense? What are the organisational priorities of your school? How are those priorities used to inform training and development of its staff?

What are the advantages and the risks to a teaching organisation of supporting staff development? What are the dangers of not being a proactive organisation when it comes to teachers' CPD?

The kinds of CPD which may be most beneficial to individual educators, to learners, and to their settings will vary; contextual needs will be important to take into consideration, for example, and not just the individual needs of the teacher. One approach to this is to think in terms of the experience level of the teacher, and to use this to guide the focus of one's CPD.

Newly qualified teachers

There may be a focus here on moving from competence to confidence as the new teacher settles into their role as an educator. Often, support mechanisms such as reduced timetables will be in place, and a mentoring programme will provide support. The differences and similarities between teaching as a subject in the abstract and the reality in the classroom will become more solidified.

There will be a focus also on getting up to speed with current school-wide training and development priorities. This can mean everything from first aid, manual handling, basic firefighting through to safeguarding and anti-extremism and radicalisation awareness programmes.

Second and third year teachers

Sometimes termed 'early career teachers', it is perhaps now time to think a little on your practice and reflect on your first year of experience. We all make mistakes in early teaching practice; use these as well as your successes to inform your CPD. There may be opportunities to begin to develop additional resources, to consider additional responsibilities and to expand your involvement in the wider life of the school.

Fourth and fifth year teachers

Now established in your role, and with perhaps additional responsibilities, this is a good point to consider your place in the school; it may be time for a move to a new setting and/or perhaps shift towards management. Otherwise, it may be appropriate to think about other ways to specialise or to redefine yourself as a teacher. Mentoring might be a part of your life now, or leading internal training. External opportunities, such as being an examiner, might enhance your portfolio of skills and contacts.

At some point, you might face a decision about whether to pursue a career in educational management or not; often, with seniority comes some form of leadership responsibility, but some educators prefer classroom contact over meeting rooms. Whatever your current priorities are, when taken in consideration with the contemporary needs of your school, and of the learners serving within the school, use your ongoing CPD inventory to make, pursue, and reassess your goals as an education professional.

A further approach to considering the most effective way of managing one's CPD involves consideration not necessarily of one's career stage, but of shifting priorities driving one's development. Many teachers focus their teaching into specific areas, and some develop themselves in ways that lead to university lecturing or further education rather than the compulsory sector; others will take postgraduate qualifications to support shifts into educational psychology, social work, or to specialised in specific learning difficulties. The options for teachers are many, and this potential for career diversity can be alternatively a distraction and an impetus to CPD-related thinking.

Whitehouse (2011) suggests six key characteristics which should inform CPD:

1. CPD should be driven by identified learning needs. Needs identification helps support the setting of objectives by which the usefulness of the CPD opportunity can be judged; conversely, training for its own sake is a waste of resources and helps no-one. Some settings will audit developmental needs, often derived from appraisal data; in pro-active organisations, this will be matched with identified learner needs, so that the most appropriate fit for training against learner support can be made.

Where organisations involve teachers in their learning needs identification, there is an acknowledgement of their professionalism, their experience, and of their autonomy as learners themselves; those who are invested in their own CPD are much more likely to engage well with training than those who are mandated to attend by senior management.

Needs can be identified also through one's own ongoing career-related reflection. The CPD file is a powerful motor for provoking identification of CPD needs, and it may be that those identified needs can be satisfied outside formal training and development.

2. CPD needs to be sustained. Research indicates that short-term interventions or otherwise telescoped training events have comparatively little impact, as they do not support the embedding of change in the practitioner. CPD can be sustained in many ways; this does not mean simply that courses need to be lengthy in duration, but it does mean that there needs to be ongoing engagement with the outcomes of such training. This might be facilitated through peer discussion, reflection, through focused peer review and lesson observations, for example.

3. Where possible, CPD needs to be subject-specific. For Whitehouse (2011), training and development is better-placed to inform meaningful classroom development when it is related to subject-based learning. Contextualisation of the training to its use in practice is central for its adoption. Different subjects privilege different pedagogies, and have their own emphases, so it is only right that any CPD undertaken models the practical usefulness - for the teacher and for the learners - of the training. There are ancillary benefits to this, not least in bringing subject-specialists together for networking, the sharing of practice and of resources, and for the development of a community of subject peers.

4. Taking a classroom focus. Contextualising CPD back to what may or may not occur in the teaching environment offers the potential for teachers to make their own decisions about how the new learning supports, replaces, complements, or otherwise sits with existing classroom practice. Theory needs to be applied for it to be meaningful, and techniques which make sense in the abstract may be less useful when tested in live environments. Alterations or enhancements also should be practical, and not based on idealised models of what goes on in a lesson, but on the realities and the contexts off one's daily teaching.

5. CPD and collaboration reinforce each other. Research reinforces the links between successful CPD, learner outcomes consequential to the CPD, and the collaborative nature of training and development (Whitehouse, 2011). Teaching involves ongoing reflection, and such reflective practice is enhanced by the sharing of experience, the mutual reinforcement of positives and of negatives alike, and the chance to collaborate meaningfully with peers working in similar subjects and/or educational contexts. Opportunities for such engagement may include:

  • Peer teaching observation
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Participation in online discussion groups
  • Networking
  • Collaborative research projects

6. The use of external expertise. An external perspective can be useful, particularly in offering alternatives - and perhaps even challenges - to established practice and to the cultures of teaching and learning dominant in an educational setting. Whether an outside trainer is introduced into the setting, or if a consultancy is used to offer an independent perspective, or whether teachers go outside their setting for course attendance, the value of engaging with others from outside the everyday setting can be a useful corrective.


Try to draw up a CPD plan; where do you want to be in 2, 5, and 10 years' time? Now look at the 2-year goal. What do you need to do to get there? What training needs are provoked by that goal? What experiential needs?

How are you going to meet those needs that you have identified? In what ways can your setting support you? In what ways will you have to be self-supporting? Do you have peer and wider support networks?

How and why will your development inform better educational experiences for other people?


Effective CPD is not easy; it is an ongoing process that requires periodic re-evaluation, as well as balancing formal and informal modes of learning, as well as evidencing that learning so that learners may be better supported. CPD is cyclic; each round of training and development supports a series of changes, which in turn provoke fresh challenges and so on. In the midst of this, the educational landscape will change and there will be constant updating required to remain relevant in respect of curriculum and legislative changes, to the challenges of new posts, and to fresh administrative and oversight arrangements.

However, CPD is an investment; by being proactive, engaged, and motivated, and maintaining agency over career focus and trajectory, we are better placed than our less-organised peers when it comes to navigating the sometimes-choppy waters of education. Throughout all of this, there is the imperative that the development serves end purposes beyond career enhancement or intellectual curiosity; that the learning opportunities afforded to others is improved. In that way, not only is the educator developed, but so is the education that they can offer to their students.


Now we have completed this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Define and explain what you mean by continuous professional development
  • Develop your own CPD file
  • Appreciate the relevance of a CPD-informed approach to your educational career
  • Investigate the evidence base for the positive relationship between learner outcomes and CPD-led teaching practice
  • Develop constructive models for considering your own CPD for ongoing development

Reference list

ATL (2015) Why is CPD important? Available at: (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Caena, F. (2011) Professional development of teachers: literature review quality in teachers' continuing professional development. Available at: (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Cordingley, P., Bell, M., Rundell, B. and Evans, D. (2005) The impact of collaborative continuing professional development (CPD) on classroom teaching and learning. Available at: (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Cordingley, P., Rundell, B. and Bell, M. (2003) How does CPD affect teaching and learning? Issues in systematic reviewing from a practitioner perspective. Available at: (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Craft, A. (2000) Continuing professional development. 2nd edn. London: Routledge Falmer.

Education Scotland (2009) Learning together: Improving teaching, improving learning - the roles of continuing professional development, collegiality and chartered teachers in implementing curriculum for excellence. Available at: (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Goodall, J., Day, C., Lindsay, G., Muijs, D. and Harris, A. (2006) Evaluating the impact of CPD. Available at: (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Gray, S. (2008) An enquiry into continuing professional development for teachers. Available at: (Accessed: 7 December 2016). (2009) What is continuing professional development (CPD)? Available at: (Accessed: 7 December 2016).

Whitehouse, C. (2011) Effective continuing professional development for teachers. Available at: (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

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