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Professional responsibilities and professional development

‘Teachers make the education of their pupils their first concern, and are accountable for achieving the highest possible standards in work and conduct. Teachers act with honesty and integrity; have strong subject knowledge, keep their knowledge and skills as teachers up-to-date and are self-critical; forge positive professional relationships; and work with parents in the best interests of their pupils.’

Teachers’ Standards, DfE, 2011

Topics on this page:

  • What is professional development for teachers?
  • Contribution to the wider life of the school
  • Working with colleagues and communications with parents
  • Your professional development
  • Visiting other schools
  • Professional training programmes
  • Less formal CPD activities
  • Professional learning communities
  • Be proactive and get involved
  • Reading and professional development
  • Engaging with professional development
  • Critical engagement with research
  • Reading

The Teachers’ Standards set out the wider professional responsibilities that you must fulfil as a teacher. This involves making a contribution to the life of the school, developing good professional relationships with colleagues and support staff and communicating with parents. There is also the expectation that you take responsibility for improving your own teaching through professional development.

There is also a second part to the Teachers’ Standards about Personal and professional conduct. A teacher must always act as a responsible professional who works within the statutory frameworks, embodies high standards of professional ethics and safeguard students’ well-being.

What is professional development for teachers?

The term professional development includes: professional learning, continuing professional development (CPD) and in-service training (INSET). The term ‘professional development’ often implies a formal process such as a course, conference, seminar or workshop. However, it also occurs in less formal contexts such as discussions among colleagues, independent reading and research, observations of a colleague’s work or coaching.

The increased use of digital communications through blogs, podcasts and webinars has brought even more possibilities for accessing professional development more widely. Professional development should be seen as part of a culture of scholarship that involves a shared commitment for teachers to support one another to develop their teaching for the benefit of students and is essential for effective teaching. It encompasses several dimensions of knowledge, practice and research as shown in the figure in Kinder (2017) p331.

Educators engage in professional development to enhance and develop their teaching. All educators from trainee teachers to experienced headteachers should take conscious and proactive control of their own professional learning and combine it with continued self-reflection. Teachers should focus on areas of professional development that will have the most impact on learners. 

Biddulph et al (2021) encourage you to focus professional development on the quality of the educational experience you provide for students and to get involved in hard thinking about the geography curriculum as part of a specialist community.

  • Read Biddulph et al (2021) Chapter 10 on ‘Professional Development’.
  • Cambridge International has partnered with Evidence Based Education (a UK-based research organisation) to produce the Great teaching toolkit: Evidence review.
  • Refer to Being a geography trainee teacher. It is your professional responsibility to undertake this role thoroughly as part of your own development.

Contribution to the wider life of the school

You should be proactive in seeking out opportunities to make a significant contribution to the wider life and ethos of the school. You should consider the specific contributions you could make as a geographer. Are you making a positive contribution to the work of the geography department? (See Getting to know the geography department).

Do you draw on your specific interests to contribute to school clubs/activities with a geography focus or get involved in the GA WorldWise Quiz? See Davies (2020) who suggests ways to run a successful geography club without making it too time-consuming. Or you could participate in school-wide initiatives in relation to environmental and sustainability issues or out-of-school visits and foreign travel.

There are a number of aspects of the wider curriculum to which geography teachers should contribute. One example is careers. The DfE (DfE, 2022) requires that: ‘throughout their programme of study (and by the end of their course) every student should have had the opportunity to experience how their subjects help people gain entry to (and be more effective workers within) a wide range of occupations’. 

This is known as ‘Gatsby Benchmark 4’and the DfE expects ‘all subject staff should link curriculum with careers, even on courses that are not specifically occupation-led’ (p. 28).

  • Refer to Hesselwood (2023) for examples of how one department is teaching students about geography-orientated careers and the value of a geography education.

Working with colleagues and communications with parents

As both a trainee and as a new teacher you should take any opportunities you are offered to work with geography colleagues. Ask if you may attend the different meetings within the geography department and try to be fully involved in planning and moderation meetings, in-service training, social events etc. These will let you work and share ideas with colleagues in different contexts.

As a new teacher capitalise on any opportunities for collaborative teaching or planning new units of work; this could be in a small curriculum development or action-research project. Such experiences will enrich your understanding of geography teaching. Building effective professional relationships with colleagues will help you to work in a team and enable you to draw on their advice and specialist support when you need to.

You should also work with other school colleagues when opportunities arise, for example other subject teachers (see Making links with other subjects) and support staff (see Working with teaching assistants). As a teacher it is your responsibility to deploy support staff in your lessons.

Refer to Owens (2023) who argues that all geographers should see collaboration as within their repertoire of disciplinary skills as part of their professional and educational practice. He believes that collaboration-working with other educators, including those who have become expert at their craft, to share ideas, insights, expertise and resources-lies at the heart of a good geographical education. 

He also argues that, ‘to reach out to and work with others is arguably a moral responsibility, not least as most if not all the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems cannot be addressed from a single perspective or with only one set of skills and expertise’.

The Teachers’ Standards require that you can ‘communicate effectively with parents with regard to students’ achievements and well-being’. New teachers need to be able to report formally to parents and communicate effectively a student’s progress to them, both orally and in writing.

As a trainee you should arrange to shadow your geography mentor and/or a class teacher when they meet parents of students in a class you teach to discuss students’ progress. You should also use your assessments of students’ progress to practise writing reports in the format used in the school for some students you teach and discuss these with your mentor.

Your professional development

As a trainee teacher, much professional development is directed for you. As an early career teacher, you will have more freedom to plan your own and identify your needs. It is important for you to take responsibility for your professional development so that you identify your own needs and look for opportunities to meet them. Forming effective habits to become reflective and make purposeful use of CPD will be beneficial throughout your teaching career.

First and foremost you are a geography teacher, so a priority for your professional development is to keep up-to-date in geography subject knowledge, new resources and teaching and curriculum developments. It is important to continue the good practice you should have established during your initial training to keep updating your subject knowledge(see Subject knowledge for geography teaching).

Explore the many different ways you can engage in professional development.

Visiting other schools

This should be part of your professional development (See Geography teaching experience indifferent phases and schools). Visits can extend your understanding of teaching by broadening your experience of other schools and settings. Speak to your mentor about this and ask if they can arrange appropriate visits to meet your needs.

Particularly during your induction, identify areas where you have limited experience and try to plug the gaps. Try to arrange visits to other geography departments with specific areas of expertise e.g. GIS. Use contacts you meet or find a local GA quality mark school (see map of locations on this page) to approach.

Ask to visit different special schools/units or a further education college. Field centres, resources centres and museums are often willing to let new teachers visit to discuss their work with their education officers and you can gain good insights from such visits about how they cater for different students’ needs. Again it is for you to be proactive in identifying your professional development needs and possible opportunities.

Professional training programmes

During your initial teacher training and induction you will follow training programmes that may include additional qualifications to QTS, Post-qualification you can choose to take courses leading to Masters degree qualifications or the new suite of National Professional Qualifications (NPQs)introduced in September 2021.

Less formal CPD activities

As well as such formal development programmes, there are many other, often less formal activities, available to you such as discussions with colleagues, independent reading and research, cooperative planning, coaching, study groups, action-research projects; all contribute to your professional development.

Many schools have open door policies and encourage staff to collaborate and visit each other’s classrooms regularly. Use such opportunities.

Read Creaby (2018) and Stewart (2020) which illustrate the range of possibilities that can be available. Note how Stewart acknowledges the ‘kindness of my colleagues for making this  happen’. Much informal professional development depends on working with other teachers.

While you will find support and guidance from teacher colleagues in your school, you are at risk of becoming too inward looking if you only rely on one school for your professional development. You need injections of geography inspiration from others get you thinking and to maintain enthusiasm and freshness in your teaching. One important way to do this is through contact with your geography community.

Professional learning communities

These have been described as activities ‘where educators continue to learn whilst educating others’ (Stoll and Louis, 2007). You should become a member of at least one of the organisations that support the specialist teaching of geography (see Belonging to the geography community). Meeting other geography teachers in local networks, the GA conference or on CPD courses can help you to keep abreast of current subject developments and point you to new ideas and materials.

Both the GA and RGS (Royal Geographical Society) play an important role in bridging the gap between school and university geography and should be the first port of call in keeping up to date with subject developments.

Read this blogpost: Healy, G. (2018) ‘Taking (geography) curriculum seriously–subject specialists, subject communities and sustaining subject expertise‘.

Discuss with your mentor how you may participate in external provision for your subject (see the GA’s Events and CPD and the RGS’s What’s On). Paying for a course and covering classes in your absence is an expensive process for schools, so you will need to justify the value of the activity for your development.

Explore online opportunities that may be more convenient than face to face activities and incur less cost. For any course or activity, ensure that it forms a recognised part of your development, give yourself the time to complete it and reflect afterwards on what you have learned and the impact it has made on your teaching.

  • Read this CPD Impact Interview of an ECT geography teacher who attended the GA’s webinar series ‘Navigating EDI through geography’ and reflected on her experiences.

The GA has developed the GA CPD toolkit as a subject-specific professional development framework to help teachers to take ownership of their own learning.

  • Read Kitchen and Ward (2023) to find out more about the GA CPD toolkit

As a GA member you can register for the GA Professional Passport. It doesn’t matter if you are a new teacher or have been teaching for many years, The GA Professional Passport framework provides a flexible tool that can be tailored to your needs and used to build your own portfolio.

Once you have registered (see GA Professional Passport) you will access the online network and can communicate with other reflective teachers of geography. You will also have access to further resources to support your professional development.

If you wish you can also submit some of your professional development evidence to be assessed for a GA Professional Award, which recognises what you have achieved.

As a GA member, there are opportunities for you to get involved in activities to support your own professional development. For example, as a trainee or ECT you can apply for the Rex Walford Geography Student Teacher Award.

Be proactive and get involved

You could also make a contribution to a Teacher to Teacher session at the GA Conference. These are 20-minute sessions and offer PGCE students and ECTs a chance to share and celebrate some of their innovative and stimulating materials and teaching ideas  with peers.

A fantastic way to enhance your professional development is through involvement in a geography project. Try to make contact with your local university geography department if you can; universities are expected to fulfil commitments to their local communities and you may well find they are very approachable.

The GA has run many different projects in recent years, recent ones include Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning and Critical Thinking for Achievement; you can find out information about past projects here.

Geocapabilities is a recent EU Comenius project that involved geography teachers across several countries. Look out for any opportunities to join such projects, local initiatives of those led by subject associations or universities (see Bustin 2019).

Using social media allows you to keep up to date in your areas of interest and publications such as the TES or Education Guardian will keep you abreast with the latest news and events in education. Professional association journals and social media networks play an important part in your professional development.

Try not to just be a ‘passenger’ in all these geography activities. Make use of opportunities to present teacher-to-teacher sessions at the GA Conference, contribute a good teaching idea to a social network, participate in a curriculum project or write an article for a journal (see Bustin, 2021).

This does not need to be as daunting as it sounds. Teaching Geography regularly includes articles written by trainee teachers and early career teachers and the GA editors provide lots of support. Read Daryl Sinclair’s blog post ‘How I completed my first Teaching Geography article‘.

Reading and professional development

It is easy to forget that one of the most accessible forms of professional development is from reading. This could be online content, publications or books. Reading about geography education in a range of contexts is essential so that, as a new teacher, you can make informed decisions about how and what you teach. If you are to develop as a geography teacher you must find out what other geographers are doing.

  • Read the chapters in Jones and Lambert (2017) that cover different debates in geographical education.

The reading list above is a good place to start and there are reading suggestions given throughout the GA new teacher webpages, but it is not exhaustive. You should read about educational changes as they happen – curriculum or organisational – so they you have an understanding of current educational issues. Signing up to publishers will give you regular updates on the latest publications and you can often ask for inspection copies if they are books you may want to use in your teaching.

Be methodical and keep abreast of reading. Maintain a small pile of ‘must read’ items of recent journals or recommendations, bookmark items on your computer/iPad so that you can have them to hand to read in spare moments, such as a train journey.

If you are reading for a Masters you will need to read quite widely. More information about expectation for these qualifications can be found on the new teacher webpage Working towards PGCE and Masters qualifications. Also see the Master’s survival guide from Marjons University.

Engaging with professional development

One of the important things to consider is to give yourself enough time for your professional development. This means managing your workload to give space for this priority. See the contributions on the Early Career Hub by Ovenden-Hope and Brimacombe, and by Hamer.

In order for professional development activity to have an impact on your teaching, you will need to engage with it seriously. Attending a conference or reading an article is not enough on its own. To ensure that it will make a difference, follow this four point plan:

1. Find out about the new knowledge or skill

As discussed above your professional learning activity can originate with any number of different stimuli or sources of information: a course, a conference lecture, a visit or a journal article; anything that introduces you to a new knowledge or skill.

Refer to this PowerPoint from the GA Conference 2020: Healy, G. ‘Strengthening geography curriculum thinking through subject scholarship’. This illustrates the wide variety of sources that can be used to find out new knowledge and explore two key questions:

  • What kind of geography education scholarship is powerful within a subject community and for classroom practice?
  • What appears to be shaping teachers’ professional decision making?

2. Reflect on this in your own context

If the new knowledge is to make a direct impact on your development and your teaching, it must be considered carefully in your current teaching context. Therefore, reflect on the new knowledge/skill and how it can be applied to and inform your practice. What challenges does the new information present you with?

What would you need to change to incorporate it in your teaching? Why might it be advantageous to do this? How might it lead to better learning for your students, and why? Work out how you could explore the use of this new knowledge or skill in your classroom and make sure you carry this out. See Becoming a reflective geography teacher.

3. Develop new insights

As a result of exploring or adopting this new knowledge or skills, what have you found out? What new insights has it brought to your teaching? Over your career you will find that new professional learning will challenge some of your previously held conceptions. This is how you will continually develop your practice.

4. Innovations in practice

Once the new knowledge/skills have been tried out, tested and further reflected upon some of the innovations will be adopted into your practice. You should not jump on every bandwagon, but adapt your practice in an informed way. Once this is embedded into your practice, you become a source of knowledge and have something worthwhile to share with other teachers. Make sure that you do this so that the professional learning cycle continues.

Critical engagement with research

Both the ITT and ECT Frameworks require new teachers to be informed by the best available educational research and learn how this should inform their teaching. New teachers need to develop the intellectual and practical skills to identify issues in their practice where improvement is indicated. They should then investigate these (through reading and action) and evaluate potential responses to improve practice.

During your training and throughout induction you should be developing your confidence and skills to improve your teaching through critically engaging with research (see Using research evidence about practice).

Reading

  • Biddulph, M., Lambert, D. and Balderstone, D. (2021) Learning to Teach Geography in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience, 4th edition. London: Routledge, Chapter 10.
  • Bustin, R. (2019) ‘Geography Education’s Potential and the Capabilities Approach: GeoCapabilities and Schools’, Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Bustin, R. (2021) ‘How to: Turn your academic research into an article for Teaching Geography’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Creaby, C. (2018) ‘Stop, collaborate and listen: How collaboration, both in and out of school, has scope to make you a better teacher, Impact (Chartered College of Teaching), June.
  • Davies, O. (2020) ‘Some simple ideas for running a geography club’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Hamer, M. Surviving and thriving – how to make the best use of your time, Early career hub, The Chartered College.
  • Hesslewood, A. (2023) ‘Teaching about geography careers: from intent to impact’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Jones, M. and Lambert, D (Eds.) (2017) Debates in Geography Education. Oxon: Routledge.
  • Kay, R. (2021)‘The deep dive geography experience: intent, implementation and impact’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Kinder, A. (2017) ‘Belonging to a subject community’ in Jones, M. (ed) The Handbook of Secondary Geography, Sheffield: Geographical Association, Chapter 24.
  • Kitchen, B. and Ward, L.J. (2023) ‘Taking control of your professional development’, Geographical Association Magazine, Autumn.
  • Ovenden-Hope, T. and Brimacombe, K. (2018) ‘Teacher wellbeing and workload: Why a work-life balance is essential for the teaching profession‘, Early career hub, The Chartered College.
  • Owens, A. (2023) ‘Working better together: geographers and collaboration’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Stewart, B. (2020) Developing your practice as an NQTEarly career hub, The Chartered College.

References