Developing a professional development culture in your school

To develop any kind of culture, be it behaviour, a common vision or building a new teaching and learning culture takes a good period of time to evolve, no matter what school you work in. Over the last five years, John Hattie’s research (Visible Learning) has been cited all over the world as a possible solution for evaluating ‘what works’ and ‘what doesn’t’ in our schools.

Of course, Hattie would not advocate this and we all should take each of the findings carefully and understand the context and how this may translate into our own school setting. We should look beyond the headlines and understand what others are doing and how this may or may not work in our own school.

school sign

If you are familiar with Hattie’s research, you will know that ‘Collective teacher efficacy’ (CTE) sits at the very top of his 252 effect sizes on pupil performance (+1.58ve) – almost double the amount of progress made in one academic year when compared to any other effect size!

Yet, CTE is often misconstrued as ‘everyone doing the same thing’ in schools or has left many struggling to define what it actually is. Although ‘what teachers do makes a difference’ in keeping with a school’s vision and values are important, in its truest definition, CTE means ‘working together’ to have ‘appropriately high challenging expectations’.

For me, this is all about building a culture of regular professional conversations. The difficulty is how to put this into practice with time-poor teachers and funding challenges to ‘free up’ teachers to have time to reflect and share.

Hattie says in a series of visible learning videos: “That combined belief that it is [teachers] that causes learning”. It’s not the students or those from particular social backgrounds that impact on learning, when [teachers] believe they can make a difference and you “feed it with evidence” that you are, that is powerful.

In my view, read the research, tackle it together as a group of teachers, and then disseminate the evidence into your context and refine and revisit.

professional develop

If I can talk about some of my own work and experiences in school leadership, developing a culture for teaching and learning, building a greater degree of consistency from classroom to classroom across a large secondary school with over 100 teachers, developing a common format which also offers teachers a degree of autonomy is no easy feat.

In my recent work, working with schools all over the UK, I am frequently asked the same types of questions, particularly with schools who wish to get their teachers to ‘pull their socks up’ when it comes to delivering quality teaching and learning across all classrooms.

If we put safeguarding aside, I have always believed that teaching and learning trumps everything else in breakfast, including curriculum.

We can have the best curriculum mapped out on paper, but if we don’t have our teachers equipped to bring the curriculum to life, then a diet of content is of no use to anyone.

This starts with regular professional development and pedagogical conversations designed to develop a collective teacher efficacy from the ground up. When the logistics are put in place, and those at the very top place the greatest importance on this culture too – and take part – the transformation can happen. However, it is a long journey and it requires regular reminders and discipline from everyone.

workers arrow

On my travels, I do not think any school was getting it wrong, was changing school population, the child’s reverie skills to rebuild a culture particularly when demographics change all the goalposts. Good teaching and learning is always good teaching and learning and for me, that starts with regular professional development conversations where teachers hold themselves to account and have honest and transparent conversations with one another about their practice.

It’s not complicated, but the challenge is to make teaching and culture prominent in everything teachers do around the busy nature of school life.Nothing else should get in the way!

Ross explores this further in his summary of the paper ‘Characteristics of effective teacher professional development‘, written by Sam Sims and Harry Fletcher-Wood.

To get some of the conversations going on in your school, below I have listed some of the questions I frequently pose to headteachers I work with:

Teaching and learning:

  1. What does day-to-day practice look like?
  2. Is there an agreed common set of teaching principles?
  3. What is the expectation for pupils from classroom to classroom?
  4. How does this change for performance? For example, school inspection
  5. How does the teaching change when another adult enters a classroom?
  6. If teacher performance is weak, what is being done to support the member of staff?
  7. If your school has moved away from grading lessons, what makes appraisal lessons different?
  8. Has your school embedded a coaching culture? Do all the teaching staff receive coaching?
  9. Is there a stigma associated with ‘being coached’?
  10. What has your school done to reduce teacher workload?


  1. Does the behaviour of pupils change when a school leader enters a classroom?
  2. When last did your school staff have a say in the behaviour/teaching and learning policy?
  3. Are teachers willing to have difficult conversations with one another?
  4. Is there a weak link in your leadership team?
  5. Is it being tackled?
  6. Is there a member of school leadership available every lesson of the day?
  7. Are all middle leaders aware that they are responsible for leadership across the school?
  8. What makes a teacher on an upper pay scale, different from someone on the main scale?
  9. Do you hear swearing on the corridor? Do you sometimes hear laughter?

man hands triangle

Professional Development:

  1. How does your school promote professional development?
  2. Is there a research lead who disseminates the latest information?
  3. Is this evidence/information also shared with parents?
  4. Does your school have a bespoke CPD programme for individuals?
  5. Can your school afford to protect 0.5% of its overall budget for professional development?

School culture:

  1. Why should I work at your school?
  2. How many teachers have left your school this academic year?
  3. What are you doing on social media to promote your school?
  4. What would Mr./Mrs ‘cynical teacher’ say about the latest school initiative?
  5. What does the school playground look like 30 minutes after the bell rings? Is there still litter on the floor?
  6. Is graffiti tackled immediately after it is found? Do your staff walk past litter?

From the many schools that I have been visiting, these are the common threads that are consistently requested by headteachers in all of the schools I work with. Of course, context matters and every school is unique, but there are some typical approaches that we can all learn from one another which I will be sharing in my new book, Just Great Teaching, published by Bloomsbury in September 2019. A summary of this can be read here.

What I can tell you, is that regardless of context and location, every teacher is struggling under the burden of marking and what every school must do, is reduce this burden by stripping away all the unnecessary myths, habits, approaches and techniques that have no impact on learning.

GB map

If we can get this right in terms of teacher workload and instead replace this with forming a strong teaching and learning culture, then I do believe other ‘good’ behaviours and professional development habits will fall into place. However, all this comes with a huge disclaimer – everyone needs to do whatever is agreed, not just those school leaders within the school.

I have learnt that every school has a unique and individual journey and that these requests are common from school to school. What we need to do is strip away the compliance and replace this with commonsense conversations about teaching.


  • Standards for Teacher Professional Development.  (DfE, 2016; Menter, 2010)
  • Characteristics of effective teacher professional development (S. Sims , H. Fletcher-Wood, 2018)
  • Teacher workload and professional development in England’s secondary schools. (Education Policy Institute, P. Sellen, 2016)
  • Developing Great Teaching (Teacher Development Trust , 2015)
  • High Challenge, Low Threat (M. Myatt, 2016)

  • How To Create A Teaching and Learning Common-Sense Culture? (R. McGill, 2015)

  • Structures and Cultures (R. McGill, 2016)

  • Just Great Teaching (R. McGill, 2019)



About our Community Expert


Ross Morrison McGill
Community Expert ~ Founder of @TeacherToolkit

Ross Morrison McGill, also known as @TeacherToolkit, is the ‘most followed educator on social media in the UK’. Ross has been a teacher for 25 years and is the founder of one of the most popular education websites in the world. He is an award-winning blogger, author and today, has worked with over 100 schools in 8 countries. The Sunday Times listed Ross as one of the ‘500 Most Influential People in Britain’ and today, he remains the only classroom teacher to have featured.”

Webinar | How to Lead Change in The Face of Resistance

What will be covered?

Join Opogo Community Expert and CEO of Courageous Leadership Diana Osagie as she helps you navigate uncertain times of change and gives you the strategies to move forward courageously with the leadership plans you have.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to navigate cultural change and be prepared for displays of resistance from your staff. Some of these include:

• Active resistance

• Passive resistance

• Caution

• And enthusiasm

Who will benefit?

Any post holders within schools, especially those in middle or senior leadership.



When will the event take place?



Date: Tuesday 11 June 2019
 7:00pm – 7:45pm
Location: Online

Click here to book your free place now.


Speaker Profile: Diana Osagie

Diana is a School Inspector, Consultant Head Teacher & Leadership Coach with 16 years’ experience leading secondary education, including six years as a successful head teacher in a London secondary school; Diana works at the cutting edge of education and school improvement.

She is known as a resilient school leader, skilled in urban leadership under challenging circumstances. Diana has substantial success in developing school-wide models that strategically enhance the quality of teaching and learning across the curriculum and can couple sound strategic vision whilst giving clear operational direction.

How to improve student vocabulary

The number of teenagers reading is dropping at an alarming rate, as they shun books and newspapers in favour of social media.

According to data taken from Mentoring The Future, more than 80% of teens reportedly used social media every day, but only 20% read a book or newspaper daily for pleasure. It is to no surprise then that student vocabulary is limited. According to Oxford University Press, “Students need to be able to do so much more than reel off lists of vocabulary.

brain word

They need to be able to manipulate the language so that it can support their communicative needs.” This can happen through memorisation, voraciously reading, the use of a dictionary and online games.

To teach vocabulary effectively, teachers must first learn the techniques and methods required to deliver them. Student vocabulary instruction is an art that helps pupils retain new terms that will allow them to prosper both in school and in their futures.

Here are a few tips to improve your student’s vocabulary in a timely way:

1. Reading for meaning

It is undeniable that reading is the most effective way to learn new vocabulary. When students read, they see words being used in context, which is a lot more effective than simply memorizing word lists. Within a sentence, there is a good chance that the student can guess the meaning of a word in its context.

Finding the meaning in this way is the most natural way of learning new vocabulary. Start your pupils off with simpler texts that occasionally use unknown words, so that they can begin to infer their meanings a few words at a time.

2. Word of the day

If you introduce a new word a day, they begin to add up! In the same way, tutors tend to share a quote of the day, commit your pupils to learn at least one new word and store them in a word bank in the back of their books.

Try Dictionary Word of the Day because it provides pronunciation, definition and word history. At the end of the week, give pupils a short spelling and definition test based on the words of the week, to affirm and solidify the words they have learnt.

3. Befriend the dictionary

A dictionary is the first indispensable resource to improve your student’s vocabulary so always keep them in the classroom. When pupils are unaware of the meaning of a word, rather than telling them yourself, challenge them to find the precise meaning in the dictionary.

If your students enjoy competing, time their searches and create a dictionary leaderboard! Similarly, a thesaurus is a fantastic resource for learning synonyms and finding connections between words. Ban words like ‘nice,’ ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the classroom!


4. Introduce new words

After students have learnt a new word through reading or the dictionary, they need to use the word to truly commit it to long-term memory. In fact, research suggests that students need to use a new word 10 – 16 times before it sinks in.

Encourage them to first write the word down; say it aloud; create a sentence with it (mentally or in writing); use it in a conversation; and finally, teach it to a friend. The more they say it, the more likely they are to use this vocabulary in their writing and conversation.

5. Have fun!

Games and group activities are useful for all kinds of learning, but they are particularly effective for language learning. Try to organise some time to play word bingo, scrabble, boggle, taboo and quiddler with your students at the end of the week. You’ll be surprised by how much they enjoy them! A spelling bee is another fantastic way to create some competition and buzz around the school.

Give all students a set word list and the opportunity to participate, and then organise knock out stages and create a live final during an assembly. If you prefer your students to work independently, try online word games such as countdown or Merriam – Webster’s word games and quizzes.

Most importantly, take a systematic approach to vocabulary practice. Try not to overwhelm your students with too much at one time. Try short spurts and incorporate these words in their spelling tests and homework activities.

Spending hours a day learning vocabulary will mean most be lost in the long term. If students commit to 15 minutes a day of focused practice they’ll have a bank of new words and definitions to refer back to each lesson. Use it or lose it!



About our Community Expert


Simi Rai
Community Expert

Over 5 years of experience in educational settings throughout London, Madrid and Barcelona. Whilst studying English Literature and Language at King’s College London and the University of North Carolina, she fell in love with her subject – both the study of literature and craft of writing.

After graduating, she completed the Leadership Development Programme with Teach First, whose mission is to provide equality through education, and attained her PGCE in Secondary English at Canterbury Christ Church University. She was then appointed as Deputy Head of English at one of the highest performing schools in England in a London inner-city academy.

Following this, she completed her Leadership and Management MA at University College London (Institute of Education) and became the director of an English Language company based in Barcelona.

Can we make the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy a reality?

News earlier this year that teachers’ pay has fallen by more than £4,000 a year since 2010 in real terms helps explain why schools regularly miss their recruitment targets.

While a submission from the Department of Education to the School Teachers’ Review Body states that: “From 2002-03 to 2017-18, classroom teacher median salaries have seen a drop of 10% and overall teacher median salaries of 11% in real terms.”

With education secretary, Damian Hinds signalling that only a 2% increase can be expected for the next academic year, what action can head teachers take not just to find the staff that they need, but also to retain them?

Part of the answer lies in the new Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy, developed by the Department of Education in collaboration with teachers and head teachers. The four key recommendations of the report are to:

  • Create more supportive school cultures and reduce workloads
  • Transform support for early career teachers
  • Make sure teaching remains an attractive career as lifestyles and aspirations change
  • Make it easier for great people to become teachers

Taken together, these four steps will help to address concerns from educators that teaching is too difficult to enter as a profession, that it is too stressful and bureaucratic, that too much is expected of newly qualified teachers and that working hours and contracts are more inflexible than they are for other professions.

Supporting the strategy

The question that remains is how the strategy will be enacted in practice. Looking at the new early years’ framework, most areas that are highlighted are already covered by the teacher training curriculum, but are hampered by a lack of support, mentoring and an inclusive community.

While frameworks proposed within the strategy do come with support and budget, the danger is that – like many initiatives before them -they will not have the infrastructure to make them successful.

As an EdTech company focused on recruitment and retention, Opogo has worked behind the scenes for several years to address these same issues – and we could not be more delighted that our platform is now in a great position to help support the delivery of the DoE’s strategy.

We will do this by providing a rich, supportive talent management solution for school leaders to tap into, one that can also be used by schools to create their own internal staff platform should they wish. Our online tools and resources help improve the value proposition of education by constantly investing back into our users, assisting our schools when they don’t have the budget to do so.

This extends into support for early career teachers who often feel isolated and thrown in at the deep end for the first few years in the classroom. Through our pioneering new programme TeachGrowth, our goal is to prevent new teachers from falling out of love with teaching – and help schools retain and nurture them along the way.

Our recruitment platform enables schools to tap into the professional education gig economy and find exactly the skills that they need when they need them. Equally, educators seeking a particular work pattern or more flexible working options can search for and secure their ideal opportunities.

We want to celebrate and re-energise the teaching profession, recognising its value to our society and to our economy. We are engaging with international education experts to provide insights and support to our community.

We are committed to the ongoing development of our platform and fully support the DofE’s strategic goals. Together with our community, we can transform the experience of education for everyone, for the better.

Getting the most from a job interview

So how can we frame this process into a positive and valuable experience?

A meeting of equals – how you perceive your status in an interview will affect your performance. If you think that the people you are interviewing for are ‘better’ than you or that you are not yet capable of working at their level, you could undermine yourself.

interview panel

Consider what skills and talents you have and how they set you apart from the other candidates. Remember; if they’re interviewing for a position, they’re looking for the right person. You are helping in the search and if you’re called to meet with them, you’re already ahead of the majority of applicants!

Treat it as an opportunity

Wherever you are in your career, you can see an interview as an opportunity to practice and demonstrate the profession you love. Rather than seeing it as a test, it’s another platform for you to express your skills with a new group of people, even if you don’t get offered the job.

Especially if you are someone who hasn’t yet secured your first full-time post – what a great chance to do the very thing you’ve trained for?

Ask questions – show you’re interested – No two schools are alike

In the Q&A part of the interview, it shouldn’t be a case of you only answering questions. It could be a dialogue – come prepared with specific questions about that particular school. It might be the place where you spend the next chapter of your life, so you want to know it’s the right place for you.

Think about your ‘must haves’ or ‘would likes’ and have two or three clear questions ready. It could be relating to your work schedule, the school’s development planning over the next few years or which particular challenges that school faces. You must be able to show you have thought about the day to day demands of that school.

hand pick

Welcome feedback

Acknowledge that you’re growing – We are always encouraging a growth mindset in our students, but do you treat yourself the same way? No matter how an interview goes, have the courage to ask for feedback – either right there and then or in the days following the result of the interview.

Even if they offer you a job, you can still ask about what strengths or weaknesses they saw; these could become useful talking points at your first performance review. If you are unsuccessful, the feedback can be carried into your next interview as a possible to-do list of improvements so that the next time, you get the job!


About our Community Expert


Paul B

Paul Boyd
Community Expert

Paul is an actor and English teacher from Northern Ireland. Alongside his acting career working in theatre, film and television across the UK, he also teaches in primary and secondary schools throughout London.

Paul provides performance coaching to both individual clients and businesses.

Free Webinar | How to keep students from falling behind over the summer

Event description

Students who have experienced Summer Learning Loss consistently across their early school years can be on average, 2 years behind their peers and two-thirds of the income-based achievement gap is attributed to Summer Learning Loss. When only 48% of parents have heard of the ‘summer slide’ and only 38% of lower-income parents have heard of it, it’s important that as educators we can give parents and students the tools they need to get back up to speed over the summer break.

In this exciting new session, produced in collaboration with My Tutor, we are exploring the interventions, tips and tricks needed to do just that.

Join Education & Student Careers Expert and Head of Careers at Windsor Boys School Jo Lane and experts from My Tutor as they work through interesting activities that can provide the 2-3 hours per week needed during the summer to prevent Summer Learning Loss.


Who will benefit?

KS3/KS4 educators who are looking for ways to further support their students’ development over the summer break.



When will the event take place?



Date: Tuesday 07 May 2019
 5:30pm – 6:15pm
Location: Online

Click here to book your free place now.


Speaker Profile: Jo Lane

Head of Careers at The Windsor Boys’ School, Jo Lane has had over 8 years of experience in educational settings including FE colleges and secondary schools.

Teaching business whilst completing her part-time PGCE at Greenwich University, she transferred her business skills into the classroom and these skills resulted in her providing students with a range of vocational learning experiences linked to the curriculum, including setting up businesses and creating a youth music festival for local performers.

She is motivated to provide pupils or all abilities with the opportunity to be successful in school and helping them secure the right path for their future career