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Dixons Academies Trust

Bradford Research School: Connecting the Cogs of Effective Professional Development

Posted 11th July 2023

The EEF’s Effective Professional Development guidance report outlines 14 mechanisms that can be considered important cogs in the design of professional development. They are organised into 4 sections.

The EEF suggest that ​‘effective PD programmes are more likely to include a mechanism from all of the above four groups’. This would constitute a ​‘balanced design’. But rather than a pick and mix approach, the careful consideration of the how the mechanisms from each area interact can ensure that our balanced CPD doesn’t have a wobble.

Feedback from a credible source

Mechanism 9 shows us that providing feedback can be a helpful element of PD. But feedback, although positive on average, can have variable impact. According to Kluger and DeNisi (1996), when teachers are given feedback that is designed to help them ​‘close a gap’ to meet a particular standard, there are four ways that they can attempt to do so, not all of them positive:

  • They can focus their effort on improvement and addressing the feedback;
  • They can abandon the standard;
  • They can change the standard;
  • They can reject the message.

This is why mechanism 4, presenting information from a credible source is important: ​‘Where information is derived from impacts how motivated teachers are to use it. The more credible the source, the more likely they are to change their practice.’ If we don’t find the source of feedback credible, then it is more likely that we will choose one of the negative responses.

What constitutes a credible source? According to the guidance:

  • supporting a suggestion with published and robust research;
  • featuring a prominent education academic to advocate for a change;
  • using an expert teacher to promote a particular practice.

In context of feedback as part of professional development, this means we should consider whether the people giving the feedback are perceived as credible, and the sources that they use to inform their feedback are seen as credible too.

Setting and achieving goals

It would be daft to set a goal and leave it there. To ensure the goals are achieved, we require a number of different mechanisms, with more moving parts than a Rube Goldberg machine.

Setting and agreeing on goals
is necessary for behaviour change but not sufficient. Gollwitzer and Sheeran (2006) highlight ways that forming a goal is not enough due to challenges in implementation.

Failing to Get Started
– often, we simply forget to do something or fail/​choose not to seize the opportunity to act when it presents itself.

Getting derailed – we fail to shield our goal from unwanted influences. Most goals will be complex, multi-step goals and our schools are not always set up to support them.

Not calling a halt
– if we shield our goal too much, we can find it difficult to disengage from goal pursuit. Stopping a goal is a goal in itself and requires the same commitment as goal setting!

Overextending oneself
– setting too many goals can mean none are fully realised, as capacity for self-regulation is depleted.

So, to avoid these pitfalls, we need to ensure the following mechanisms are also in place:

Prompting action planning
by setting out concrete action steps and achievable sub-goals.
Providing prompts and cues
that ensure an action is more likely to be taken.
Encouraging self-monitoring
to keep us on track and help us to innovate

Our favourite way of doing this is to think about implementation intentions, often ​‘if…then’ statements which set up a simple cue>action sequence. Goals without implementation intentions are less likely to be achieved. These can prompt positive actions e.g. If I have a pupil who cannot articulate the answer, I will bounce to another pupil then bounce back. Or they may be designed to avoid missing our goals e.g. we might say: And if I am tempted to​‘round up’ almost correct answers, I will ask another pupil to do so.

There are many more ways that the mechanisms interact. When instructing (Mechanism 6) and modelling (Mechanism 8) how to perform techniques, we need to manage cognitive load (Mechanism 1). This means that when we rehearse the technique (Mechanism 10) and repeat it in context (Mechanism 14), we have concrete models that we have fully understood.

Blogs to further explore the mechanisms covered in this post:

Presenting information from a credible source

Monitoring and providing feedback

Setting and agreeing on goals

Action planning

Providing prompts and cues

Encouraging self-monitoring

Kluger, Avraham & DeNisi, Angelo. (1996). The Effects of Feedback Interventions on Performance: A Historical Review, a Meta-Analysis, and a Preliminary Feedback Intervention Theory.

Gollwitzer, P. M. & Sheeran, P. (2006). Implementation intentions and goal achievement: A meta‐​analysis of effects and processes.